FALL CAMP: Early impressions on WSU rookies

PULLMAN — Considering the circumstances, Washington State's football coaches felt pretty good about the '08 crop -- their first WSU signing class. The 2009 haul, however — rookies who will complete their fifth day of college practice later today — was the result of a full year's worth of planning and effort.

Fans may recall that most of the WSU staff didn't come on board until mid-December of 2007.

Still, hard-working recruiting coordinator Rich Rasmussen spearheaded an effort that enabled the Cougars to reel in talented players like Louis Bland, Kevin Norrell, Zack Williams, Bernard Wolfgramm, Anthony Laurenzi and the injured Cory Mackay, to name a few.

With all due respect to last year's signing class, from the view of this writer's vantage point, the latest crop looks more athletic overall.

Given a full year to recruit, Cougar coaches appear to have found a number of potential gems.

Assistant coach Chris Ball, asked to name the true freshmen who have impressed him during the first week of fall camp, attached "really good" to the names of a long list of players.

Excuse Ball if he missed a name or two, but after Thursday morning's practice, he singled out middle linebacker Darren Markle, safeties Jamal Atofau and Casey Locker, quarterback Jeff Tuel, cornerback Nolan Washington, defensive end Jordan Pu'u-Robinson and wide receiver Esa Johnwell, (a preferred walk-on.)

Two other youngsters who have obviously been impressive are wide receiver Gino Simone and defensive end Travis Long.

They're the only true freshmen who sat out the Wednesday and Thursday morning practices -- because they're working with the 1's and 2's both afternoons.

The morning sessions were designed to give young players more reps and more time to focus on fundamentals.

"Guys get a lot of reps, and it's good," Ball said. "We've got some good young players...all the d-linemen are doing really well."

-- Family ties: The familiar site of wives and children greeting coaches at the end of practices is one WSU perk that Paul Wulff values highly.

Living in a college town like Pullman also permits coaches to sneak home for lunch or dinner on occasion to break up long work days/nights/weekends.

The WSU coaches virtually live at the office during various times of the year -- and fall camp is decidedly one of them. Some Cougar coaches are known to leave the office after 11 p.m. and be back at it in Bohler by 7 a.m. -- so being able to go home for dinner or lunch and get some family time is huge.

Former WSU assistant coach Kelly Skipper, now the running backs coach of the NFL's Oakland Raiders, once said it could take him 2 hours to drive to or from work during busy times on the freeways when he coached at UCLA from 1998-2002.

Citing the travel time involved, Skipper said he never -- not one time -- got to see his family at work on practice days during his five seasons at UCLA.