Here's why WSU's walk-on receiver Kaleb Fossum was Dom Williams' pick for 'sleeper receiver' who's poised for a breakout season
Former Washington State outside receiver Dom Williams was a well-respected figure in the locker room last year, and he mentored many of the guys the Cougars will lean on to replace his 1,040 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns next season.
The Cougars have no shortage of talent at outside receiver this spring. Senior Gabe Marks is the unquestioned leader of the pack, freshman sensation Isaiah Johnson is raw but brimming with potential, and Tavares Martin played in 12 games as a true freshman because he was, plainly put, too athletic for WSU to leave on the bench.
All that talent aside, guess who Williams picked when he was asked, during a pre-Pro Day interview this winter, to name an up-and-coming receiver who was poised for a breakout year?
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Otherwise known as the sophomore walk on who earned his spot on the travel team last season by telling special teams coach Eric Mele that he’d been a holder in high school and was fully capable of handling holding duties for kicker Erik Powell.
“To be honest, I didn’t (hold in high school),” Fossum said. “He asked me, and I had to lie a little bit and I said I did. I held a little, but I wasn’t the main holder.”
An extension of the truth? Perhaps. But for a kid who attracted little interest from FBS programs coming out of high school, it seemed like a necessary move to earn himself a shot at the next level.
“I didn’t have a lot of love coming out of high school from Division I schools for football, and I was talking to a lot of schools for baseball. I wanted to play both here, or just play football at least,” said Fossum, a left-handed pitcher with an 87mph fastball. “I emailed a lot of schools, I wasn’t getting a lot of replies, and at the last minute I emailed coach Mele and he said, ‘you can come returns some punts and kicks for me at WSU in a preferred spot.’”
Fossum came to WSU as an invited walk on last summer, originally hoping to play play baseball and football for the Cougs.
The baseball plans fell through when the Cougars baseball team went through a coaching change. But Fossum’s white lie to Mele earned him a spot on the football travel team, while his work ethic, athletic ability and opportunistic nature gradually earned him Mele’s trust.
By the end of the season, Fossum had worked his way into a kick return role for WSU.
The highlight of his freshman year was the 48-yard kickoff return he reeled off in the Apple Cup against Washington.
This spring, Fossum appears to be well on his way to fulfilling Dom Williams’ prophecy.
He’s penciled in as one of the Cougs’ punt and kick returners and has also gotten a lot of reps as the No. 2 X receiver in a rotation behind Martin.
Fossum brings “a lot of intensity, a lot of reps, and plays really hard,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “When he stays within himself, he’s real good, especially when he uses his hands. He’s not a fast guy as much as he has a burst though, because be can get fast quickly.
“I think he’s a good technique guy, but his quickness makes up for some of the speed.”
It’s been a gratifying journey for the receiver and former baseball player from Lake Forest, Calif. who, despite finishing his senior year with 2,082 all-purpose yards, 902 receiving yards and 18 touchdown catches, was overlooked by most coaches coming out of El Toro High in 2015.
Fossum says he doesn’t know why he was under-recruited, but his current head coach has some theories. At 5-foot-10, 186 pounds, Fossum doesn’t have the measurables that a highly-sought after guy like Johnson (6-3, 211 pounds), for instance, brings to the table.
“He was very productive in high school,” Leach said. “(But he was) one of those guys in high school who had big numbers, and then everyone wanted him bigger and faster. Some of those guys, they just find a way to be productive, and they just keep doing it, which he has.”