New signing system? Leach might like it

AP

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PULLMAN - Because the early signing period in college football involved a rule change by the NCAA, Mike Leach was predisposed to dislike it.

But after completing what he considers his best recruiting class as Washington State coach, he spoke almost fondly of the new arrangement.

"Typically these rules are lousy or temporary," said Leach, a frequent critic of NCAA legislation. "I think this one went remarkably seamless (for his program), all things considered. You're talking about a pretty far-reaching rule that encompasses a lot of things. But I thought it really did go quite smoothly - smoother than I thought it would, too."

The Cougars announced the acquisition of four players as the traditional signing period opened Wednesday, nudging the total WSU crop to 24.

Signed from the junior-college ranks were defensive lineman Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei and receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. Entering the Pullman school as freshmen are offensive lineman Blake McDonald and defensive back Tyrese Ross. All are three-star prospects.

The Cougars had announced 20 acquisitions during the new early signing period in December, including four-star quarterback Camm Cooper and highly regarded running back Max Borghi, who listened to 11th-hour overtures from Stanford for a couple of days before committing to WSU.

So the class includes one QB, one running back, five receivers, five offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, two linebackers, one rush specialist, four defensive backs and one "athlete." (It also includes three players named Jackson.)

Leach, entering his seventh season at WSU, reiterated his opinion that "it's the best class we've had since I've been here. ... I think it's a pretty complete class, as far as the positions, and again size and speed. I think we did a pretty good job of covering that."

The early signing period perhaps mitigated the effects on recruiting of four recent departures from Leach's coaching staff. The latest to leave is offensive-line coach Clay McGuire, who is headed for his alma mater, Texas Tech, as co-offensive coordinator and running-backs coach, the Texas school acknowledged Wednesday.

The departure no doubt drew a wince from Leach, who has employed McGuire for a decade and also coached him at Texas Tech - a school Leach wound up leaving in messy circumstances. Asked about the move, Leach alluded to the less-than-secure job status of Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

McGuire "has to figure out if that's a good decision," Leach said. "I mean, from his standpoint, he's going back home. But then also they're on thin ice around there, and if you fall through the ice then you're leaving home pretty quick too probably. I just wish him the best of luck."

Earlier, Leach lost defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to Ohio State, utility defensive coach Roy Manning to UCLA and running-backs coach Jim Mastro to Oregon.

Three prep signees - Cooper, Borghi and receiver Rodrick Fisher - have already enrolled at WSU and will participate in spring drills. The early arrival should be especially valuable to Cooper, a gifted 6-4 quarterback from Utah who will probably draw consideration for active duty this year.

"Real hard worker, smart, continuing to grow," Leach said of Cooper. "Inordinately fast for a guy built like him. Just a very alert, on-top-of-it, committed player. And explosive too."

Borghi, a versatile running back from Colorado, dismayed Cougar fans with his hesitation when the early signing period began, but he wound up sealing his commitment two days later.

"The two days were just a matter of constant communication - it came down to us and Stanford," Leach said. "Max really liked the setting here - the campus and the closeness that exists. You'd have to ask him, but I felt like the chemistry that everybody had was one of the big factors."

One of the more intriguing new Cougars is Aiolupotea-Pei, who grew up playing rugby in New Zealand and is relatively new to football.

"Athletically, he's really good," Leach said. "... We've just got to teach him the game."

Leach held back one scholarship from the yearly maximum of 25, possibly earmarking it for another quarterback in light of the recent death of presumed starter Tyler Hilinski.

WEDNESDAY'S SIGNINGS

Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei - DL, 6-3, 260, Keebra Park State High, Gold Coast Australia, Riverside (Calif.) City College second-team All-Southern California JC as soph, made 41 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

Calvin Jackson Jr. - WR, 5-11, 175, Pompano Beach, Fla., Coral Springs Charter, Independence CC 25 catches for 381 yards and four TDs as soph three stars by ESPN.

Blake McDonald - OL, 6-5, 315, Danville, Calif., San Ramon Valley High three stars by 247Sports, which ranked him No. 31 among guard prospects nationally.

Tyrese Ross - DB, 6-0, 180, Jacksonville, Fla., Westlake High, Atlanta. three stars by 247Sports, ESPN and Rivals ... No. 66 safety prospect by ESPN.

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Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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