The Cougars added 19 new players, including two grayshirts, and coach Mike Leach is happy with the haul. "As good as the class was last year — which I think was a good one — I think this one was even better," Leach said.
Washington State football coach Mike Leach cares nothing about the rankings of recruiting services.
So he absolutely doesn’t care that all 17 of the players who signed to become Cougars on early signing day Wednesday were all three-star recruits by 247sports’ composite rankings. And he certainly won’t lose a second of sleep that his class was ranked No. 53 in the nation and ninth in the Pac-12.
That’s because he gives the incoming class great marks.
Pac-12 recruiting rankings
“We’re real proud of the start we have on our recruiting class for this early signing and we put together what we think are very good players,” Leach said. “I am very proud of our coaching staff and the effort they did in a small period of time to get as many people as we have signed up.”
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The Cougars also got official signings from two members of last year’s class — linebacker Rocky Katoanga and safety Gatlin Grisso who grayshirted (delayed enrollment).
“As good as the class was last year — which I think was a good one — I think this one was even better,” Leach said.
This is the third straight year that WSU’s class has been ranked ninth in the Pac-12. But despite classes consistently ranked in the lower half of the conference, the Cougars are 26-10 in the conference the past four seasons, tied with UW for the best record.
“Stars are artificial,” Leach said of the recruiting rankings. “You have these recruiting services that assign these stars and I don’t recall anytime in my career … where I ever called one of those individuals and asked them what I should run on third down. So I certainly don’t ask them who can play.
“If I thought they knew exactly who could play, they would be invited to our staff meetings and given the opportunity to walk us through evaluations and who we should recruit. But we find the better approach is to think independently and recruit the guys we feel the best about.”
Leach said the secondary, defensive line and offensive line were the team’s priorities. With WSU losing three of its top cornerbacks to graduation, the Cougars recruited three junior college defensive backs who are expected to enroll in January and could compete for playing time.
“We’ve had some success with junior college DBs,” Leach said.
The Cougars signed one quarterback, Gunner Cruz from Casteel High School in Queen Creek, Ariz., and Leach said Cruz will also enroll in January. He is one of seven recruits who will enroll in classes in January and participate in spring practices.
Cruz could become part of the competition to replace Gardner Minshew, who is in his final season. Leach said Cruz is a big quarterback with a good arm and good feet, but is not sure whether Cruz will be ready to compete for the starting job.
“We’ll know a lot more on that in the spring,” Leach said. “One of the keys is that he adjusts quickly.”
Four players who committed to WSU did not sign Wednesday, including defensive tackle Dejon Benton from Pittsburg, Calif., who will reportedly sign with USC instead.
“I think it turned out quite well because we have about three scholarships left, and I think that’s about the right number,” said Leach. “I think this is good because between guys who don’t get signed today and because of guys who transfer, we have some flexibility there.”
Leach said he thinks the Cougars “going to bowls year after year, and stringing a number of successful seasons,” helped him with recruiting.
“I think it signifies a really strong foundation and that it continues to get better,” he said.
Wednesday was the first of the three-day early signing period before the traditional signing period in February.
Here are the players who signed Wednesday (not including the two grayshirts, Katoanga and Grisso):
Armauni Archie, CB, 6-1, 175, El Cerrito (Calif.): Also a track star, finishing fifth in the state in the 100 meters as a junior. He comes from the same high school as former Cougar DB Marcellus Pippins. Had offers from many schools, including Nebraska and Nevada.
Jouvensly Bazile, all-purpose back, 5-10, 180, Golden Gate, Naples, Fla.: Was used as a running back, receiver and returner in high school and was even the team’s punter. Committed to WSU in June despite offers from many schools, including North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Bryce Beekman, S, 6-2, 190, S, Arizona Western College, Yuma: Had 10 interceptions in two seasons at Arizona Western and had several offers, including Kansas State, Rutgers and Syracuse. Ranked as the No. 66 junior college recruit in the nation. Will have two seasons of eligibility.
Travion Brown, OLB, 6-3, 215, Linfield Christian HS, Temecula, Calif.: A four-star recruit by 247sports (three stars in 247’s composite rankings) and ranked No. 366 overall in the nation and the No. 20 outside linebacker in the country. Recruited by several other teams, including Arizona and Colorado.
Gunner Cruz, QB, 6-4½, 215, Casteel, Queen Creek, Ariz.: Ranked the No. 14 pro-style quarterback in the country by 247sports, and is the only quarterback in WSU’s class. He committed to Cougars in June 2017. Threw for 3,598 yards and 30 touchdowns this past season. Other teams to offer a scholarship included Arizona State.
Ma’ake Fifita, DT, 6-5, 250, Glacier Peak, Snohomish: Chose the Cougars over Air Force. Ranked the No. 26 player in Washington in 247sports’ composite rankings.
Tyler Garay-Harris, DE, 6-5, 230, Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland, Calif.: Had several other offers, including from Utah, Arizona State and UNLV. Ranked the No. 118 player in California by 247sports.
Konner Gomness, OT, 6-4, 270, San Joaquin Memorial, Fresno, Calif.: Had several other Division I offers, including Louisville, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii. Ranked the No. 139 player in California in 247sports’ composite rankings.
Daniel Isom, CB, 5-10, 185, Iowa Western CC, Council Bluffs: Earned second-team All-America honors from the National Junior College Athletic Association. Will have two years of eligibility. Ranked as the No. 103 junior college recruit in the nation.
Cosmas Kwete, OLB, 6-3, 220, Central, Phoenix: Other offers included Kansas, Wyoming and UNLV. Ranked the No. 31 player in Arizona in 247sports’ composite rankings.
Derrick Langford, CB, 6-3, 190, City College of San Francisco: Played one season at CC of San Francisco, and will have four years to play three seasons at WSU. Ranked the No. 120 junior college recruit in the nation.
Peni Naulu, OLB, 6-1, 210: Kapolei (Hawaii): Ranked the No. 79 outside linebacker recruit in the country by 247sports. Had many other offers, including Pac-12 foes Washington, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and California.
Donovan Ollie, WR, 6-3, 205, Wylie (Texas): Had 152 career receptions in high school for 2,357 yards aned 28 touchdowns. Also had offers from Northwestern, Boston College and Iowa State among others.
Billy Pospisil III, WR, 5-11, 190, Pomona, Arvada, Colo.: Teammate of WSU running back Max Borghi in high school, and helped lead team to a 5A state title in 2017. Surpassed 3,000 career receiving yards in high school career before a season-ending shoulder injury this season.
Jamir Thomas, RB, 6-1, 215, Washington, Massillon, Ohio: Ranked as the No. 28 inside linebacker in the country in 247sports’ composite rankings, but the Cougars will give him a chance to play offense. Also received offers from Ole Miss, Kentucky, Cincinnati and Iowa State.
Simon Samarzich, long snapper, 6-0, 200, Upland (Calif.): Also played tight end and receiver in high school and had 26 career catches for 410 yards and two touchdowns.
Patrick Utschinski, OT, 6-7, 280, Walla Walla: A four-star recruit by 247sports (three stars in 247’s composite rankings), he is ranked as the 272nd player in the country and the No. 4 player in Washington by that service. Competes in the shot put and discus on Walla Walla’s track team. His other Division I offer was from Oregon State.