Washington State football coach Mike Leach cares nothing about the rankings of recruiting services.
So he absolutely doesn’t care that all 17 of the players who signed to become Cougars on early signing day Wednesday were all three-star recruits by 247sports’ composite rankings. And he certainly won’t lose a second of sleep that his class was ranked No. 53 in the nation and ninth in the Pac-12.
That’s because he gives the incoming class great marks.
“We’re real proud of the start we have on our recruiting class for this early signing, and we put together what we think (is a group of) very good players,” Leach said. “I am very proud of our coaching staff and the effort they did in a small period of time to get as many people as we have signed up.”
The Cougars also got official signings from two members of last year’s class — linebacker Rocky Katoanga and safety Gatlin Grisso who grayshirted (delayed enrollment).
“As good as the class was last year — which I think was a good one — I think this one was even better,” Leach said.
This is the third straight year that WSU’s class has been ranked ninth in the Pac-12.
Despite classes consistently ranked in the lower half of the conference, the Cougars are 26-10 in the conference the past four seasons, tied with UW for the best record.
“Stars are artificial,” Leach said of the recruiting rankings. “You have these recruiting services that assign these stars, and I don’t recall anytime in my career … where I ever called one of those individuals and asked them what I should run on third down. I certainly don’t ask them who can play.
“If I thought they knew exactly who could play, they would be invited to our staff meetings and given the opportunity to walk us through evaluations and who we should recruit.
“But we find the better approach is to think independently and recruit the guys we feel the best about.”
Leach said the secondary, defensive line and offensive line were the team’s priorities. With WSU losing three of its top cornerbacks to graduation, the Cougars recruited three junior college defensive backs who are expected to enroll in January and could compete for playing time.
“We’ve had some success with junior college DBs,” Leach said.
The Cougars signed one quarterback, Gunner Cruz from Casteel High School in Queen Creek, Ariz., and Leach said Cruz will also enroll in January.
He is one of seven recruits who will enroll in classes in January and participate in spring practices.
Cruz could become part of the competition to replace Gardner Minshew, who is in his final season. Leach said Cruz is a big quarterback with a good arm and good feet, but is not sure whether Cruz will be ready to compete for the starting job.
“We’ll know a lot more on that in the spring,” Leach said. “One of the keys is that he adjusts quickly.”
Four players who committed to WSU did not sign Wednesday, including defensive tackle Dejon Benton from Pittsburg, Calif., who will reportedly sign with USC instead.
“I think it turned out quite well because we have about three scholarships left, and I think that’s about the right number,” said Leach. “I think this is good because between guys who don’t get signed today and because of guys who transfer, we have some flexibility there.”
Leach said he thinks the Cougars “going to bowls year after year, and stringing a number of successful seasons” helped him with recruiting.
“I think it signifies a really strong foundation and that it continues to get better,” he said.