Cougars continue wide search for football talent

By Bud Withers, The Seattle TimesNovember 22, 2012 

PULLMAN, Wash. -- When Washington State went recruiting near Disney World a few years ago, it seemed as fanciful as some of the characters there to expect the Cougars to land anyone of significance.

Prospects were coming 3,000 miles to a strange conference, a dramatically different climate and generally, a world apart.

But voila, two of the players who have performed best this season in the first-year Mike Leach regime are from Florida -- middle linebacker Darryl Monroe and receiver Isiah Myers. And that lends credence to the notion that a wide-ranging net Leach and his staff are casting might do the same thing.

The Cougars have 18 committed players for 2013, including four from Texas and one each from Oklahoma and Alabama. Leach said this week he has two assistant coaches recruiting Texas, but selectively.

"That's really based on connections out there," he said.

Recruiting long distance has often been regarded an iffy proposition, the predominating theory being: If a player is good enough to play in the Pac-12, why isn't he staying home to play in the SEC or Big 12?

It was a bit of happenstance that caused the Cougars, under Paul Wulff, to reach out to Florida. While still coaching WSU, Wulff said he felt the Cougars' recruiting pool had become too thin if restricted to the West Coast, and with video and even YouTube so prevalent, it made sense to expand the geographic reach.

About that time, Mark Rypien, the WSU quarterback standout of the mid-1980s, told Wulff of a friend coaching in central Florida who felt some prospects there were being overlooked.

Chris Ball, Wulff's defensive coordinator, had recruited that area for Alabama in the early 2000s and volunteered to take it on.

Surprisingly -- WSU, then as now, was struggling severely -- Ball found a captive audience.

"Everybody sort of questioned: 'What the heck are you doing in Florida?' " Ball, now an Arizona State assistant, said last week. "I found out I was new, it was something different. The Pac-12 was coming together. That was appealing to them."

Ball liked the fact Florida high schools allow spring practice in pads, providing a more telling setting.

"You're a little more sure when you're recruiting kids," he said. "On the West Coast, you don't always get to see kids in pads."

In short order, Ball was responsible for signing Monroe, Myers, receiver Henry Eaddy and cornerback Spencer Waseem. Eaddy has been battling injuries, while Waseem left the team early in the season.

But Monroe, a redshirt freshman who came off a torn Achilles early in 2011, has 73 tackles, second on the team, while Myers is fourth with 38 catches and might be the leader if not having missed three recent games with a concussion.

"The kids from Florida will go anywhere," said Bob Head, Myers' coach at Olympia High outside Orlando. "They're very motivated. They're just looking for an opportunity."

Ball says both players demonstrated another trait that no doubt endears them to Leach: "They were both extremely tough."

Indeed, three games into the season, the prickly relationship between departed receiver Marquess Wilson and Leach was becoming evident when Leach said, "The steadiest guy we've had at receiver is Isiah Myers."

Of course, there's a balance necessary in recruiting; the Cougars can't cast a net so broad that it neglects prospects close to home.

Ball, recalling his first stint at WSU in the latter days of the Mike Price regime, says one of the reasons the recruiting board had grown too thin in his second tour with the Cougars was a drain of good players from the state.

"When we were good," he said, "we'd get the second-tier player in Washington. What's happening now is, those kids are going to Oregon State or Cal."

Overriding any geographic issue is the bigger one for Leach and the Cougars: Do the recent charges of abuse by Wilson, validated or not, present a challenge for Leach as he tries to put a positive face on the program for recruits?

"It hasn't been a problem," Leach insisted this week. "I think they all see it for what it is, just a selfish guy that didn't buy in."

* Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithersseattletimes.com

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