INCOMING ROOKIE QB Marshall Lobbestael won't be the only one from Oak Harbor's Class 4A state championship team joining the Cougars when the curtain on Washington State's 2007 fall camp goes up Sunday. Will Hunter, a massive 6-5, 290-pound offensive lineman, and all-classifications first team all-state selection, will also don the crimson and gray as an invited Cougar walk-on.
Hunter heard from numerous Pac-10 teams during the recruiting year, and the UW appeared close to offering at one point. When an offer ultimately didn't materialize, he took WSU recruiting coach Timm Rosenbach up on the Cougs' offer to come to the Palouse as an invited walk-on.
Quality walk-on players are, undeniably, critical to a program's success. The better the competition, the better and more prepared the team to do battle on Saturdays. Typically, a walk-on's role is on the scout team. But there's also the ultimate goal: earning a scholarship and playing time.
Make no mistake, it's a tall order indeed.
But Josh Duin did it. So did another WSU offensive lineman, Mike Shelford. As did Cory Withrow, who is entering his ninth NFL season this year.
In addition to the o-line trio, notable walk-ons of recent crimson vintage who earned scholies and became starters and/or impact players include the likes of LB Mawuli Davis, LB Grady Emmerson, WR Scott Lunde and DT Tomasi Kongaika. On the 1998 Cougar Rose Bowl team, Washington State starters Shawn Tims, Withrow , Todd Nelson, Lee Harrison and Rian Lindell all began their careers on the Palouse as walk-ons.
Hunter hopes to add his name to the aforementioned list over the course of his Wazzu career.
"It was about the opportunity to play in the Pac-10. Mainly, I had been talking to coach Rosenbach and he was just encouraging me to come along. He sounded really positive and said if I work hard, I could contribute to Washington State's program in the future. I felt he was being honest with me and I decided to go there," said Hunter.
HUNTER WAS an all-classifications first-team All-State pick in 2006, helping Oak Harbor to its first-ever state title as the Wildcats averaged 35 points per game. Also voted first-team Class 4A All-State by the Associated Press, Hunter was first-team All-Wesco two consecutive years as both an offensive lineman and d-tackle. A star in the classroom as well, he carried a 3.5 GPA.
He is also versatile on the gridiron, having played all positions on the offensive line at Oak Harbor, which should certainly music to WSU o-line coach George Yarno's ears -- his system is crafted so each lineman is so well schooled as to be able to move into virtually every other spot. Hunter was the left tackle his senior year, and the tackle spots are likely to be the two on the line where Washington State will field new starters at in '07 as Bobby Byrd moves inside to left guard and with '06 RT Charles Harris lost to graduation.
"They like my quickness, my size and how quick my feet are for a big guy. And I guess they liked my pass protection, too," said Hunter.
THE CRIMSON INFUSION from Oak Harbor this year might not end with Lobbestael and Hunter.
Brendon Kays (6-3, 180) was a great player and fantastic athlete for the Wildcats last season at both free safety and receiver, and he's already enrolled at Washington State. An exemplary student with a 3.9 GPA, Kays, Oak Harbor coach Dave Ward told CF.C earlier this year, might choose to focus solely on academics. although he loves the game of football and in particular, defense.
"We're trying to convince him to walk on and play and at least go out and practice," said Hunter. "We think he's starting to lean. He can definitely help the team out, whether it's by playing or being on the scout team. He is big and he's athletic."
For the class of '08, keep an eye on Oak Harbor's Jake Rouser (6-3, 210) and Chris Valencia (5-8, 185) this fall. Rouser, a tight end for the Wildcats, has an explosive first step, good hands and a great frame. "He is just an animal," Ward says. Valencia has lateral quickness and a nice burst and though he does not feature top end speed, many who saw Valencia this past season, and particularly in the state title game, were more than a little impressed by the play of the RB/OLB. "He's an animal, too," says Ward.