March 6, 2000
PULLMAN, Wash. - True, Washington State University's first football team of the millennium will be built around 14 returning starters and 20 backups from last year.
But it is also true that new faces will play a key role in the Cougars' rebound from a pair of three-win seasons.
"I know we have some new guys who are going to help us win football games next year," predicts WSU head coach Mike Price.
"We are going to be a much better football team because of the people we have added to the program," he stressed.
In all, Price expects to add 39 new faces to the list of 44 returning letterwinners and 46 squad members out to find a significant place in the depth chart.
WSU STARTERS RETURNING
Defense (8): DT Austin Matson, DT Tomasi Kongaika, LB Curtis Holden, LB James Price (from 1998), FS Lamont Thompson, CB Marcus Trufant, CB Chris Martin (from 1998), FS Billy Newman.
Offense (6): WR Farwan Zubedi, OG Ryan Raymond, OT Reed Raymond, TE Russell Mizin, SB Collin Henderson, RB Deon Burnett.
First, factor in at least 10 key redshirts, a pair of former starters who did not play last year and eight highly touted members of WSU's recruiting class from 1999. Then mix in 11 transfers, four who had the benefit of joining the squad in January and another seven who join forces with the veterans in the fall.
Finally, 18 true freshman will be thrown into the mix, each testing the collegiate waters for the first time.
"One of our goals in recruiting this year was to bring in players who can make an immediate impact," offers Price. "We did that through the junior college ranks and with several of our high school recruits.
Price is taking a bold approach to next year, saying he is putting more pressure on himself to win than is anyone outside the program.
"We need to win, we need to go to a bowl game," he says. "I am putting the pressure on to win."
Six returning starters will be the cornerstones on offense, three sophomores and three seniors. They include receivers Collin Henderson (6-1, 180, sophomore) and Farwan Zubedi (5-9, 171, senior) and tight end Russell Mizin (6-4, 229, sophomore), plus twins Reed (6-8, 316, senior) and Ryan Raymond (6-7, 306, senior) on the line and running back Deon Burnett (5-10, 210, sophomore). The latter, in his first season out of high school, set a WSU freshman record when he rushed for 974 yards last year.
WSU HONOR CANDIDATES
All-American: FS Lamont Thompson, LB Curtis Holden, CB Marcus Trufant.
All-Pac-10 Offense: OT Reed Raymond, OG Ryan Raymond, RB Deon Burnett, WR Marcus Williams.
All-Pac-10 Defense: FS Lamont Thompson, LB Curtis Holden, CB Marcus Trufant, LB Raonall Smith, FS Billy Newman, CB Chris Martin.
The quarterback position is also in good hands with the return of sophomore Jason Gesser (6-1, 197, sophomore) and the addition of highly touted Matt Kegel (6-5, 207, freshman) coming off his freshman redshirt year. Gesser was the odds on favorite to be the starter last year until a broken hand sidelined him until late in the year. He did start and direct WSU to a season-ending win at Hawaii.
Eight starters are back on defense, four seniors, two juniors and two sophomores. The list includes linemen Austin Matson (6-3, 246, senior) and Ing Aleaga (6-2, 291, sophomore), linebacker Curtis Holden (6-2, 225, senior) and secondary specialists Marcus Trufant (5-11, 178, sophomore), Billy Newman (5-11, 198, junior) and Lamont Thompson (6-2, 208, senior). In addition, a pair of 1998 starters return who did not play last year, corner Chris Martin (6-0, 190, senior) and linebacker James Price (5-11, 210, junior).
Three Cougar defenders are among WSU's All-American candidates, Trufant for his tremendous play last year as a freshman, Holden, who is on everyone's professional list, and Thompson, who fought through several injuries and multiple shifts in positions last year to set the WSU career interception record at 14.
The list of returning defensive starters also includes Tomasi Kongaika, (6-1, 288, sophomore) who had seven starts before Aleaga took over late in the year, and Raonall Smith (6-3, 238, junior), who had five starts at linebacker last season. In all, the Cougars can put a significant starter on the field at 10 defensive positions.
WSU STARTERS LOST
Defense (6): DT Rob Meier, DE Jesse Ratcliff, LB Steve Gleason, LB Grady Emmerson, SS Earl Riley, CB LeJuan Gibbons.
Offense (5): OT Ryan Tujague, C Lincoln Walden-Schulz, OG Mike Schwarz, QB Steve Birnbaum, FL Nian Taylor.
Four of the transfers who joined the team in January are expected to have an immediate impact, including JC All-American punter Alan Cox (6-2, 194, junior), who averaged better than 43 yards over two years at Snow College. Tight end Mark Baldwin (6-5, 240, junior) from Mississippi is expected to give Mizin a battle, while wide receiver Derrick Dillon (6-2, 193, sophomore) and linebacker DeShon Weaver (5-11, 233, junior) also add to WSU's depth.
Three other players joined WSU in January and could be factors by the opening of fall camp, linebacker DD Acholonu (6-3, 230, freshman), offensive lineman Sam Lightbody (6-9, 300, freshman), and defensive tackle Tai Tupai (6-4, 300, freshman). The latter two each tip the scales at 300 pounds.
When fall camp opens in August, three more running backs will be on the field from the jaycee ranks, Eddie Linscomb (5-9, 185, junior), Dave Minnich (6-0, 210, junior) and John Tippins (6-1, 200, junior). Minnich, a 26-year old ex-Marine from Connecticut, brings the most impressive credentials, 2,679 rushing yards and a 7.4 average over two years at Mt. San Jacinto JC, but Linscomb and Tippins also had excellent seasons last fall.
Wide receivers Billy Chase (6-4, 210, junior) and Nakoa McElrath (6-3, 195, junior) and linebacker Alex Nguae (6-0, 250, junior) also join the Cougars in August and each, Price says, has the talent to see immediate action.