The Cougars expect to sign about 18 recruits when the first ever early signing period begins on Wednesday. How will early signing day affect the recruiting landscape in the long run? It's tough to say.
Jeff Phelps was one of several Washington State assistant coaches who remained in Seattle after the Apple Cup to get a head start on recruiting.
“We got right into it,” said Phelps, WSU’s defensive line coach. “It’s what you’ve gotta do, and get to a whole lot of places in a short period of time.”
The players returned to Pullman to prepare for finals, but for WSU’s coaches, the three weeks since the Cougars’ Apple Cup defeat to UW have consisted of nonstop travel and a flurry of recruiting visits mixed in with bowl practices as the early signing period loomed.
“You’ve just got to be highly organized and structured. There’s no margin for error like there used to be,” said WSU running backs coach Jim Mastro. “You’ve got recruits coming in town, you have 12 bowl practices, and you’ve got to get these kids committed. It puts a lot of pressure, which is what recruiting is all about. You’re competing to get kids.”
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In May, the NCAA passed legislation allowing for the addition of an early signing period for Division I football recruits to sign letters of intent during a three-day window that begins Dec. 20 and closes Dec. 22.
Wednesday marks the beginning of this first-ever early signing period, and WSU is expecting about 18 of its 21 committed recruits to sign letters of intent throughout the day.
The Cougars’ recruiting class currently ranks fifth in the Pac-12 and 39th nationally according to 247Sports.com. Included in that list of recruits expected to sign Wednesday are coveted four-star quarterback Cammon Cooper from Lehi (Utah) High School, Woodinville offensive tackle Cade Beresford and Pomona (Colo.) High running back Max Borghi, a versatile athlete in the mold of WSU senior tailback Jamal Morrow.
For WSU’s coaching staff, Wednesday marks the culmination of a frenzied three weeks since the end of the regular season.
“I think everything was a little more rushed,” said WSU football Chief of Staff Dave Emerick, who oversees the Cougars’ recruiting operations. “In years past, coach (Mike) Leach wouldn’t go on the road until closer to January. But as soon as the last game was over, he hit the road and went to kids’ homes.”
WSU’s assistant coaches typically spent the first few days of the week on the road, before returning to Pullman for official visits and bowl practices over the weekend. On several occasions, their tight travel schedules were derailed due to weather.
“What made it really hard this year was that fog was an issue in Seattle and in Pullman, and we had to be creative with where we flew people into, and how to make it easier on the recruits and their families trying to get to Pullman,” Emerick said.
With this being the first-ever early signing period, it’s too early to evaluate the effect it might have on college football’s recruiting landscape. But WSU’s assistant coaches have mixed opinions on this accelerated recruiting cycle.
Even though the early signing period makes December a busier month for the coaching staff, Mastro said it works in WSU’s favor because, “it gets committed guys locked up sooner.”
“I feel it helps. In the past, you had to hold on to them through January,” Mastro said. “Dec. 20 is the new signing day. Ninety percent of the class at the Power Five level will sign then.”
“For a school like us, a signing period in December is good. You don’t have to worry about going through January and worrying about if one of the so-called ‘big schools’ misses out on their guy and come after our guys,” Emerick said.
However, WSU outside receivers coach Derek Sage says he worries about whether this will be detrimental to players.
“I don’t like it,” Sage said of the early signing period. “I’m not talking from a work standpoint. It’s about the players. Somebody is gonna get left out. Someone is going to sign and coaches are going to leave. That’s inevitable. That’s the nature of our beast.”
Sage said the early signing period also made it tough for some players and their parents to jam in official visits in between their football seasons and the holidays. This was especially tricky for players whose high school teams made deep runs in the state championship tournament.
WSU has hosted 28 kids on official visits since the regular season ended. The Cougars have traditionally refrained from hosting officials during the season because they believe they can devote more time to prospective recruits after the season is over. But Emerick said they might revisit that policy for next season.
Also, you might see some kids taking visits in the summer in the years to come, Phelps says. That was something this class couldn’t do because of how late in the cycle the NCAA announced the early signing period.
The regular Feb. 4 signing day isn’t going away. But it will be less significant now. Most schools will sign the bulk of their recruits in December, and when coaches hit the recruiting trail in January, they’ll be freed up to evaluate juniors instead.
Emerick said the Cougars will always leave a couple of scholarship spots open for February in case they identify a promising recruit late in the cycle.
“That’s how coach Leach has always operated,” Emerick said. “I don’t foresee us ever signing a full 25 early. Just in case of what’s out there.”