All things considered, I wouldn’t go into the lion’s den to recruit a college football player. Nor would I embark on an itinerary that would make a travel agent shudder.
But this is college football recruiting, it’s how these coaches survive, and damn the torpedoes.
The lists of letter-of-intent signees around the country Wednesday tend to look antiseptic, and then you realize that behind each signature is a different kid, with a different background, and the pursuit of each one is different, too.
Kind of like the snowflakes that straitjacketed Atlanta last week were all different. More on that later.
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Mike Leach, the Washington State coach, said his third Cougars class is his best there, that this is the “best recruiting staff” he’s been around, and that the class “had the fewest surprises of any I’ve ever been involved with in recruiting.”
In a 23-man group heavy with six defensive backs (the Cougars graduate three starters), the closest thing to an upset was that JC cornerback Joseph Turner isn’t coming, because he couldn’t enroll until the summer.
When I asked him if the whole process is exhausting, Leach said, “Very. You think you’re exhausted pushing buttons on a computer. It’s pretty magnified when you start throwing a bunch of airports and freeways in there.”
So we take you to Cottondale, Ala., and a 6-foot, 170-pound WSU cornerback signee named Patrick Porter. His high school is Paul W. Bryant — the legendary Bear — and the street it’s on is Mary Harmon Bryant Drive, who was Bear’s wife.
When I caught up with Porter late Wednesday, he said it’s less than a mile from his school to the University of Alabama campus, where the Bear did his most famous work. The high school mascot, naturally, is an elephant, same as at ’Bama, and Porter says the replica in the high school courtyard is “huge.”
WSU got on to Porter through its director of player relations Jarrail Jackson. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske played the point, and that brought him to last Wednesday, seven days before signing, when he’d travel to Cottondale to seal the deal.
First leg was to Denver “on a small plane half-full of Seahawks fans” bound for New York, Breske said. “They’re drinking, going wild. They’d started their party.”
The storm that cold-cocked Atlanta canceled his flight there. He got rerouted to Chicago and then to Memphis at midnight. He bunked down there and drove four hours to Tuscaloosa, where he’d hoped to catch Porter in a basketball game, but it was postponed because of light snow. He did get to spend time with the family.
Now it’s Friday. Up at 5 a.m. to fly from Birmingham to Atlanta, but there are no flight crews, “So they end up putting me in a cab with a couple going to Jamaica. They’re getting married.”
Breske and the betrothed miss flights out of Atlanta anyway. Eventually, Breske winds his way back to Seattle that night, where he finds himself on the same flight as the Washington basketball team headed for WSU and Seattle U.’s going to play Idaho.
They circle the Pullman airport twice, but fog shuts them out and they have to land in Lewiston, 30 miles away.
Why all the bother over a three-star prospect? Porter, says his coach, Errol Jones, ran a 4.39 40 at a camp at Florida last summer, and “is just one of those kids coaches love to coach.” Jones describes a leader, somebody who watches film voraciously and isn’t afraid to go 2,500 miles away to school.
Leach’s tastes are nothing if not eclectic, so it figures the Cougars would recruit from American Samoa to Cottondale, Ala. Or, as Breske puts it, “There are a lot of great players in the Georgia-Alabama area. Everybody can’t go to Auburn or Alabama.”
Porter says Arkansas and USC came offering Tuesday, but either way, Leach wouldn’t be moved.
Asked about recruiting ratings, Leach said, “When I start paying attention to it is when I’m going to call media people outside of football and say, ‘We’re playing so-and-so this week and we’re drawing up the game plan. Tell me everything you’d run on first, second and third down.’ ”
The best thing about the class: “We didn’t ‘settle’ on any of these guys,” Leach said.
They didn’t settle. They did travel.
“But,” said a weary Breske, “it was well worth it.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org