Eduardo Middleton is one of WSU remaining players on the Cougars' roster who were part of Mike Leach's first recruiting class

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Of all the players on Washington State’s roster, only five remain from that first recruiting class that came to WSU in 2012 and have been part of the Mike Leach rebuild from the very beginning.

Offensive lineman Eduardo Middleton, receiver Gabe Marks, nose tackle Robert Barber, nickelback Parker Henry and defensive back Willie Roach all joined the Cougars the year after Paul Wulff’s final season in 2011, when WSU went 4-8.

Regardless of how WSU does against Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27, this senior class will leave Pullman as the first class of Cougars in more than a decade who can say they went to three bowl games in five years.

That, Middleton (6-foot-5, 316 pounds) says, is what Leach promised in those early days right after he took over the program in November 2011 and made the rounds to convince some of Wulff’s recruits to stick with WSU.

“When I visited with Leach and coach (Clay) McGuire, they told me to expect to play in bowl games,” said Middleton, who was originally a Wulff recruit.

So Middleton, then a Rivals three-star recruit coming out of Oceanside (Calif.) High, bought the recruiting pitch and came to WSU despite an offer list that included Utah, Boise State and Oregon State.

“I wanted to be part of a program in the Pac-12 and part of a building process, and being the guy who helped the team to get back to where they were in the past,” said Middleton, WSU’s starting right guard.

He redshirted in 2012, but has since started 37 career games for WSU – second on the team only to Marks’ 41 starts. He’s given WSU stability on the right side of the offensive line for three years, and was recently named an All-Pac-12 second team selection by Pro Football Focus.

He’s also part of this small group of fifth-year seniors who lived through the culture change at WSU, and hope the blueprint Leach has set in motion will endure in the years to come.

“There’s definitely a different environment now,” said Middleton. “I’m proud of the way I’ve developed with my teammates. We had some rough years early on, and I’m proud of the program and the guys on the team, and how we were resilient and pulled through and accomplished things and got to bowls.”

The Holiday Bowl will be particularly special for Middleton because he grew up in Oceanside, about 40 miles north of San Diego. Middleton is one of 37 Southern Californians on WSU’s roster, and one of eight who call the San Diego metro area home.

Due to logistics and financial concerns, Middleton’s parents weren’t able to make it to Pullman for his Senior Day ceremony before the Apple Cup. So it’s particularly fortuitous that the final game of Middleton’s WSU career will be played in San Diego, and will be easy for his parents to attend.

“I’m definitely excited to go home and play my last game in San Diego,” Middleton said. “I’ve played in some high school championship games at Qualcomm Stadium, three times. It’s a great venue. One of the older NFL stadiums, with real grass.”

Middleton expects to have almost two-dozen friends and family members in his cheering section at Qualcomm Stadium.

“They want to see me in my last game, and want to see us go out with a win,” Middleton said.