It may be difficult to draw too many parallels between the small coastal village of Pago Pago, American Samoa, and the sprawling metropolitan city of Seattle, other than both places should get used to regular visits from Nick Rolovich and his Washington State assistants over the next few years.
The tiny island located in the South Pacific and the western side of Washington have traditionally been valuable recruiting outposts for the Cougars, although efforts in both regions seemed to taper in the final few years of the Mike Leach era.
Among the freshmen and sophomores listed on WSU’s 2020 spring roster, just one scholarship player, offensive lineman Cade Beresford, hails from Western Washington, and the American Samoa pipeline finally dried up when starting center Fred Mauigoa played his final game two months ago.
Rolovich signed just six players Wednesday to round out WSU’s recruiting class, which officially finishes at 23, but in doing so he and his assistant coaches were not only able to address a handful of positional needs, but they also returned to a few of the regions that had been abandoned in recent years.
On paper and in almost every other capacity, the headliner of the class appears to be cornerback Alphonse Oywak, who was given four stars by 247Sports.com, and joins the Cougars on the heels of a standout career at Kentwood High.
Oywak raised a number of eyebrows when he flipped from Arizona to WSU earlier this week, and did so for a variety of reasons. His size, at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, his athleticism and his production are all suggestive of someone who could potentially help the Cougars’ embattled secondary immediately.
“Thought he could help no matter what the defensive coordinator move was,” Rolovich said Wednesday on a conference call. “I think he’s a good football player, I think he has a high ceiling and I like his character.”
The Cougars also view Oywak as someone who could help reestablish the program’s recruiting presence in Seattle. The opportunity to pitch in, Rolovich said, is partially what prompted him to decommit from a Pac-12 foe and sign with WSU.
“I think part of him enjoyed thinking about possibly being the first maybe in-state kid to come to Pullman to play,” Rolovich said. “He’d been here, he enjoyed it. It’s not (that) there hadn’t been in-state kids that had played here, it’s just I think he saw an opportunity to maybe make an even bigger impact just not necessarily on the football field, but as being almost a pioneer with the new staff. I think that intrigued him.”
Maybe a few defensive line signees can have the same ripple effect in American Samoa, where the Cougars once had a robust pipeline under ex-DL coach Joe Salave’a, unearthing players like Mauigoa, Frankie Luvu, Logan Tago, Daniel Ekuale and Robert Barber. Shalom Luani also lived on the island before moving to the U.S. for junior-college football, and eventually to Pullman.
On Wednesday, Rolovich, with the help of new defensive-line coach Ricky Logo, an American Samoa native himself, signed two players who call Pago Pago home: Modesto Junior College transfer Antonio Pule III and high school defensive end Fa’alili Fa’amoe.
Pule III didn’t report any other FBS offers, presumably because his academic transcripts last summer weren’t promising that the defensive lineman would be able to qualify.
“I think that scared a lot of people off, but he did an excellent job in his fall classes and this spring,” Rolovich said. “… I like the drive of JC players to get out. It’s their only shot. They have struggles that most DI athletes don’t have to go through, as far as finding money for living and food and all that.”
Fa’amoe is another under-the-radar pickup for Rolovich and the Cougars. There isn’t much information on the Leone High School standout, nor is there a Hudl highlight tape displaying his abilities, which might explain why Hawaii and WSU were his only offers. But 247Sports.com considered him the top recruit in American Samoa and Fa’amoe gained more exposure at the 2020 Polynesian Bowl, where recruiting guru Brandon Huffman listed him as one of the event’s standout players.
“Fa’alili, I think he started opening people’s eyes at the Polynesian Bowl, which we were trying to keep him quiet the whole season,” Rolovich said. “But we were able to get him up here and Ricky Logo did a great job. I think he will represent himself, his family, his culture in a real positive way here as a Coug.”
One other cornerback, Chicago’s Chau Smith, and two wide receivers, Alabama’s Mike Pettway and Texas’ Jay Wilkerson, rounded out the six-player class.
Smith was previously committed to Wyoming, but reneged and flipped to the Cougars when three of Craig Bohl’s defensive coaches – including defensive coordinator Jake Dickert – joined Rolovich at WSU.
“I think it’s always good to have young DBs and see what they become,” Rolovich said.
Wilkerson, a shifty 6-1 receiver from the Dallas suburbs, was a signing day flip after originally committing to Hawaii.
“I think he’s very familiar with what values we stand for and how we coach, and he’s been on two official visits with us as people,” Rolovich said. “Has great ball skills, has great love of football. I think he could be an outside receiver or could grow into a slot.”
The WSU coach also indicated Pettway, a 5-10, 170-pound speedster, could play on the inside or outside.
“I think when we got to this job, it became a much more viable thing,” Rolovich said of his staff’s relationship with Pettway. “… I think when you see the film, he’s got some explosiveness. … He has game-breaking speed.”