Most recruiting analysts see the Cougars’ recruiting class as a good program builder, but not flashy, now five years into the Mike Leach era at WSU.
With the clock ticking down to national signing day Wednesday, former USC assistant and current Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth has watched film of every recruit who is expected to sign with a Pac-12 team.
The player from Washington State’s recruiting class he’s most excited about is receiver Isaiah Johnson of Dwyer High School in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Roth has one main question in mind every time he watches film of a high-school recruit: What is his unique trait? To Roth, a “unique trait” is what sets a prospect apart from his peers — the quality that makes him most valuable to a team.
Johnson is hailed as the crown jewel of WSU’s 27-member recruiting class. For Roth, Johnson’s unique trait is rooted in the story behind his journey to Pullman.
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“His unique trait is his competitive temperament and belief in himself,” Roth said. “He was a one-time commit to Miami and Florida, but he chose Washington State because it’s the nation’s No. 1 passing offense. He could have gone to major universities in his region — Miami, Florida or Auburn. But he didn’t.
“He’s got a no-flinch mentality, and for him to not flinch when he saw Pullman, and know that it wasn’t near South Beach or a big metropolitan area but realize that it was a place where he could thrive as a student-athlete — to me, that’s a unique trait.”
At 6 feet 3 and 190-pounds, Johnson has good size for his position. And because he is an early enrollee, there’s a good chance he could play next season.
His early enrollment also means WSU coaches can breathe a smidge easier on signing day and not worry about losing Johnson to another program as they try to hold together a class that most recruiting analysts see as solid but not flashy.
WSU “did a nice job of building the program in this class,” Roth said. “For them to go out of state and go get Isaiah Johnson as a mid-year guy to me speaks volumes. In years past, this was a kid they would have lost. … This is not a class that’s going to save them, it’s a class that’s going to build them.”
Five years into the Mike Leach era at WSU, the Cougars no longer are in a position where they need the bulk of every recruiting class to play right away. Instead, WSU has the luxury of allowing recruits to develop for a year.
“In this class, when I look at this and the last couple of years, they’ve got more guys I can think of who can make an impact right off the bat but are not going to have to,” Roth said.
Up front, for instance, WSU expects to sign six offensive linemen — five of whom, Roth notes, stand 6-5 or taller — but has enough depth to redshirt all of them if needed.
Defensively, junior-college defensive end Garrett McBroom brings some pass-rush might to a unit that lost two starters.
Defensive line was an area of need for the Cougars, who signed McBroom in January and expect to sign Taylorsville (Utah) High’s Lyric Bartley on Wednesday. But WSU also is a finalist for a couple other defensive-line prospects who likely will wait until signing day to announce their decisions.
According to Scout.com national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins, WSU is on Highland (Pocatello, Idaho) High defensive tackle Wayne Kirby’s short list, but Kirby appears to be leaning toward Utah.
St. Anthony (Long Beach, Calif.) High defensive end Curtis Weaver has WSU and Boise State as his finalists and will announce his decision Wednesday, but Biggins said Monday he has heard Weaver’s WSU offer “might not be secure” even though he has not spoken to Weaver about it.
WSU isn’t expected to lose any of its currently committed recruits between now and signing day, but could stand to gain a few signing-day commitments.
Biggins said Charter Oaks (Covina, Calif.) High athlete Zion Echols is leaning toward California but could pick the Cougars instead, and Tafuna (Pago Pago, American Samoa) High offensive lineman Frederick Mauigoa will decide between WSU and Oregon State.
Palm Springs (Calif.) High athlete Tayler Hawkins is down to WSU and San Diego State, and Biggins said he’s surprised Hawkins has yet to announce his decision.
“I thought he was going to commit during his home visit (with WSU) last week,” Biggins said. “I can’t remember the last time WSU lost a kid to San Diego State.”
Still, even if WSU doesn’t get another commitment on signing day, this recruiting class can be considered a success.
“They’ve done a nice job of knowing their identity and having a clear idea of what they’re selling,” Roth said. “They’re never going to beat USC on kids like (cornerback) Jack Jones or (receiver) Michael Pittman, but they have to go after the Gabe Markses and River Cracrafts of the world, and they’ve done a nice job of staying committed to that. The (teams) they’re beating (to get recruits) are better (than in previous years).”