WSU football coach Mike Leach has decided that he likes the early signing period, and it worked out great for the Cougs. But as this year showed, recruits need to be careful about how they make their college decisions

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Washington State closed out its 2018 recruiting season with a solid haul that included a Mike Leach era-record four four-star recruits (QB Camm Cooper, WR Rodrick Fisher, RB Max Borghi and DE R.J. Stone), a coveted running back who picked the Cougars over Stanford (Borghi) and an intriguing Australian former rugby star (Misi Aiolupotea-Pei) with a high ceiling.

But what’s perhaps more impressive is that the Cougars managed to hang on to the class despite losing almost half their assistant coaches from last season.

WSU has the inaugural early signing period to thank for that.

WSU signed 20 of its 24 2018 recruits during the early signing period from Dec. 20-22.

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Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, the first of the Cougars’ four assistant coaches to leave for other jobs this offseason, did not leave the team until after the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28.

Thereafter, the Cougars lost rush linebackers coach Roy Manning to UCLA, running backs coach Jim Mastro to Oregon, and on Wednesday, offensive line coach Clay McGuire to Texas Tech.

Would every one of those 20 recruits who signed in December have stuck with the Cougars if they hadn’t had to sign until Wednesday? Unlikely.

Borghi, for one, might well be at Stanford instead of WSU.

Recruits like Borghi, who stressed that he signed with WSU in large part due to his strong relationship with Mastro, who would have been his position coach, have to live with their binding college decisions regardless of whether the coach who recruited them has left.

Of course, that’s always been the case. Regardless of any promises made during recruiting, coaches can leave a school at any time during a kid’s college career. It’s part of the game.

But as we saw this year, the introduction of the early recruiting period, and the number of recruits who will likely sign scholarship papers before the coaching carousel truly gets underway after bowl season, makes it’s more important than ever for parents and high school coaches to emphasize to high school players that they should not make college decisions based solely on their relationship with a specific coach.

Leach indicated Wednesday that while Borghi’s relationship with Mastro influenced his decision, the running back also picked WSU for other reasons.

Leach said he has spoken with Borghi several times since Mastro announced his departure for Oregon last month, and that he believes Borghi is in a good place.

“We talk all the time, about a ton of subjects, and coaches throughout our staff do because we are ‘open door’ as far as a staff,” Leach said. “I do think he likes coach Mastro, but in particular he likes what we do offensively and how we’ve utilized our backs. But also, he had close relationships with other people in the class, so that all worked together.”

It’s not to say that the early signing period won’t help kids at all. For one, it’ll motivate kids to graduate from high school expediently, enroll in college early and get a head start on their peers in learning the playbook, working with their college’s strength staff and getting to know their new teammates.

Borghi, Fisher and Cooper, WSU have become close friends in the last month, Cooper said Wednesday in an interview on WSU’s signing day radio show.

The three freshmen were part of a group of six signees who enrolled early in time for WSU’s spring semester, and so far, Leach says the extra time on campus and in WSU’s strength program has been beneficial for them.

“I think it’s really good. I think those three guys pair up really well,” Leach said of Borghi, Fisher and Cooper. “It helps everybody adjust to the newness of being on campus for the first time.”

After this first year, Leach has decided he likes the early signing period, saying, “I thought it worked out pretty well.”

“The one thing that’s most difficult (about the early signing period) is that literally the day the season is over, a bunch of fatigued coaches are hitting the road full speed,” Leach said. “Typically, rule changes are horrible ideas. But I think this one really went remarkably seamless, all things considered.”

The early signing period made it tougher for competitors to poach WSU’s recruits, WSU football Chief of Staff Dave Emerick said on the Cougar’s signing day radio show.

“For the Cougs, it’s worked great. It eliminates a lot of the drama with high school kids in Janaury. Sometimes, the big schools lose out on someone and want to cherry pick other people’s rosters,” Emerick said. “It makes sure that the guys who want to sign, do sign. Some of the kids might think it’s unfair because it’s done before the assistant coaching turnover.

“But I think most schools are taking the stance that if they’re not signed by the early period, then they’re not really committed to you.”

Cases in point: Bolles School (Fla.) offensive lineman Nick Lewis and Cy-Fair (Texas) defensive back Erick Hallett were both committed to WSU by last fall, but did not sign with the Cougars in December.

Both ended up going elsewhere. Lewis signed with Kentucky, while Hallett signed with Pitt.

The early signing period is good for schools, especially programs like WSU which have to constantly guard their recruits against overtures from bigger powerhouse programs like the Ohio States and Alabamas of the world.

But recruits need to also realize going in that now, more than ever before, there’s no guarantee that the guy who recruited you to a particular college will be there when you arrive on campus.