June 19, 1999
PULLMAN, Wash. - Bolstered by the addition of an outstanding freshmen class and next year's super recruits, hopes are high in the WSU Cougar football program for a return next fall to the Pacific-10 Conference's elite.
The 1999 Cougar football team will feature the return of seven returning offensive starters and nine on defense, plus the addition of eight junior college transfers, three of whom participated in spring drills. They will be joined by 18 freshman now in school who will taste their first varsity action next fall, plus 17 members of next fall's rookie class many have rated the best in Mike Price's 10-year Cougar career.
Immediate help to bolster next year's squad includes the addition of two transfers from San Francisco CC, defensive lineman Melvin Camarena and linebacker Curtis Holden. They bring to four the number of SFCC teammates from 1997 who are now Cougars. Also joining them in the spring were gifted 6-3 wide receiver Milton Wynn from LA Valley CC, and mid-year freshman enrollee Kjell Nesen, a talented 6-2 quarterback noted for his athletic ability.
WSU STARTERS RETURNING
Defense: DT Austin Matson, DT Rob Meier, DE Jesse Ratcliff, LB Steve Gleason, LB James Price, LB Brad Philley, SS Earl Riley, FS Lamont Thompson, CB Chris Martin.
Offense: WR Nian Taylor, WR Jerry Roquemore/Adam Davis, FL Leaford Hackett, OH Ryan Tujague, C Lincoln Walden-Shulz, OT Reed Raymond, QB Steve Birnbaum.
Cougar coaches will look to several members of the current freshman class to play key roles in the upcoming season. Among those who were thrust into the two deep when spring drills opened in March were three defensive linemen, at least two receivers who will join four returning starters, and a couple of highly touted offensive linemen.
Starters Rob Meier, Austin Matson and Jesse Ratcliff return to anchor the defensive line, but this season they will have sufficient help. Also returning are Joey Hollenbeck and Mark Hedeen, who were forced into action last year as true freshmen. Add in four second year freshmen, Ing Aleaga, Eric Boose (brother of NY Jet tackle Dorian), Brian Hollenberg and Tomasi Kongaika, plus transfers Camarena and Adedipe, and the Cougars should have the depth needed to compete in the Pac-10.
WSU STARTERS LOST
Defense: DE Jonathan Nance, CB Dee Moronkola.
Offense: OT Rob Rainville, OG Mike Sage, TE Love Jefferson, RB Kevin Brown.
Steve Gleason, James Price and Brad Philley started the bulk of last year's games at linebacker. Veterans Grady Emmerson, Tupo Tuupo, Serign Marong and Raonall Smith also return, along with second year freshman Fred Shavies. Add Holden, who earned JC All-America honors last fall, to the mix and the Cougars have the deepest, most talented group of linebackers in Price's tenure at WSU.
The Cougar secondary already features three returning starters, corner Chris Martin and safeties Lamont Thompson and Earl Riley. In his first two years Thompson, with 10 career interceptions, has proven to be one of the best in the nation at free safety. Also returning will be seniors LeJuan Gibbons and Tory Hollimon, plus sophomores Billy Newman and Anthony Matthews. They will be joined by freshman standout Virgil Williams and a pair of transfers who arrive in the fall, Mory Banks out of LA Southwest CC and John Williams from Long Beach.
Gibbons, who has nine starts to his credit, gets the nod to replace Dee Moronkola, but Williams, Matthews and Banks will also get a shot at showing what they can do. WSU's kicking game next fall could be one of the nation's best with the return of punter Kareem Anderson and kicker Rian Lindell.
Seniors Nian Taylor, Leaford Hackett and Jerry Roquemore and sophomore Adam Davis, return to their starting wide receiver roles this fall, along with reserve Farwan Zubedi. Taylor ended the 1998 season ranked 31st nationally in reception yards per game, 84.7
Still, the Cougar receiving corps will have a different look in the fall - taller. Joining the returnees will be the 6-3 Wynn and Marcus Williams, a 6-5 speedster from Laney JC. Among the freshmen ready for their first varsity action are DeAndre Douglas and cat-quick Curtis Nettles, who also could make an immediate impact with his punt returns.
Up front, WSU's offense will center around three returning starters, guard Ryan Tujague, center Lincoln Walden-Schulz and tackle Reed Raymond. Reed's twin brother Ryan, Mike Schwarz, Erik Larson and Joe Criscione are veterans waiting to step up, but they'll get plenty of competition from transfer Garviea Freeney out of Long Beach CC, plus freshmen Derrick Roche, Tyler Hunt, Jason Hughes and Phil Locker.
The Cougar backfield will center around Jeremy Thielbahr, a 235-pound, but this is also an area where an incoming freshman like Deon Burnett could also make an impact.
WSU HONOR CANDIDATES
All-American: WR Nian Taylor, FS Lamont Thompson.
All-Pac-10 Offense: WR Nian Taylor, OG Ryan Tujague, PK Rian Lindell.
All-Pac-10 Defense: LB Steve Gleason, CB Chris Martin, DT Rob Meier, FS Lamont Thompson, P Kareem Anderson.
The battle is wide open at quarterback, with senior Steve Birnbaum and junior Paul Mencke the veteran leaders. Pushing them will be freshman Jason Gesser, who displayed his considerable talents in several fall and spring scrimmages. Newcomers Nesen and incoming frosh Matt Kegel, will join the mix in the fall. Kegel is former Cougar great Ryan Leaf's cousin.
Several fall freshmen have the ability to see playing time, including , Kegal and Burnett, WSU's number one running back recruit. Burnett, who will be joined at WSU by teammate Isaac Brown (tight end), is a gifted runner and receiver, one of the top backs on the coast a year ago. Tight end Josh Shavies (brother of Cougar Fred) and defensive linemen Jeremey Williams were on just about everyone's National Top 100 list last year, while Faafetai Tupai is a talented tackle physically ready for action.