Western’s fortunes riding on in-state stars

  • JOHN SLEEPER / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, September 26, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By JOHN SLEEPER

Herald Writer

BELLINGHAM — The prohibitive cost of landing out-of-state football recruits forces Western Washington University to scour the state almost exclusively.

WWU tuition for in-state students for the 1999-2000 school year was $2,991. For out-of-state students, it was $9,993. Those numbers mean Western can get three in-state recruits for the price of one out-of-state recruit. That’s not to say that the Vikings’ roster is devoid of out-of-state athletes, but for the coaching staff to recruit a prospect from, say, California, he must be the next thing to a certainty.

"We’re really bound to the state of Washington," WWU coach Rob Smith said. "We’re still at the point, in terms of our scholarships, where everything’s a dollar."

WWU has available the monetary equivalent of 20 full-ride scholarships to spread among 53 players. It has one player on full scholarship. Most others have a portion of their tuition and books paid. Others get nothing.

The question is, as good as high school football is in Washington, is it enough to be competitive in the NCAA Division II level?

No, Smith says. WWU could get by at the NAIA level with a roster of nearly all in-state recruits, but Smith said one of the necessities when the Vikings went to NCAA Division II three years ago was to boost the number of transfer students. Sometimes to fill holes, but more often to contribute immediately.

While Washington is known to have some of the best prep football talent among Western states, the talent pool isn’t unlimited. And competition for Washington recruits is feverish.

"The reality is, in terms of recruiting a freshman class, we’re going to get that fourth-level kid," Smith said. "You’ve got the Pac-10 schools, then you’ve got the other Division I’s, with Idaho, Boise State and Nevada that recruit the state heavily. Then you’ve got nearly every Big Sky school coming in here. Ninety percent of the class at Eastern (Washington) is in-state. Then it’s down to us and Central (Washington) to battle for the others."

And because out-of-state tuition is so costly, bringing in a non-Washington freshman or junior college player becomes a severe economic risk.

Until recently, when Western moved up to Division II, scholarship money wasn’t an option. Now, with money available, primarily generated through projects put on by the athletic department, transfers are considering Western more seriously.

"All of a sudden, kids are saying, ‘Wait a minute. Now they can give away some money; it’s a realistic move for me,’ " said Scott Hodgkinson, a WWU assistant coach who was head of recruiting until this season. "There’s a lot more credibility now as a Division II school."

WWU is attracting the athlete it formerly could only dream about. If a highly recruited player is miffed at his position at a larger program, Western becomes a more viable alternative. One, because of scholarship money suddenly available; and two, the likelihood of immediate playing time at what’s become a winning program.

Not only that, but if an NCAA Division I player transfers to another D-1 program, regulations state that he has to sit out a season. That’s not a problem at Western.

Just a few who have made the move:

  • Linebacker Derek Noble and offensive lineman Scott Ask transferred from Washington.

  • Quarterback Scott Mitchell, recruited by Oregon State, Oregon and other NCAA Division I schools, transferred from Eastern Washington.

  • Kamiak High School grad Josh Wright, starting tackle, transferred from Idaho.

  • Wideout Lance Dawson, unhappy at Notre Dame, chose Western.

    To be sure, WWU has had to become more creative in procuring talent. But sometimes, it simply gets lucky.

    Wayne Parker, a Mariner High School graduate, walked on after impressing coaches in a WWU-sponsored tryout combine. Thirty players turned out. Only Parker was invited to join the team. Now he’s a starter.

    Early on, the idea was to pluck one or two freshmen or junior college players each year out of California. The Vikings recruited one tailback out of San Diego two years ago. The next year, they took Joachin Paratore-McNabb out of Davis, Calif. The hope was that they could contribute right away.

    The tailback lasted a season before the coaching staff decided he wouldn’t work out as well as anticipated. Smith told him that they would have to reduce his level of scholarship. He decided to leave.

    Paratore-McNabb is starting at tackle.

    "With freshmen and junior college kids, you don’t really know how they’re going to impact your program," Hodgkinson said. "You’re going to take a chance. Right now, our feeling with out-of-state kids is that we have to know everything and then some. We have to be right on. We can’t miss, because it’s going to be a $700 to $800 miss."

    Still, the brunt of recruiting efforts center on the Washington athlete whom the Division I and Division I-A schools reject. If a school like Eastern Washington really wants someone, it has the means to make an offer that Western simply can’t afford.

    But the state’s talent isn’t barren. Just picked over. There’s enough left, coaches say, to build a foundation.

    And that talent comes at a reasonable price. When it comes right down to it, most just want to play.

    "We’ve got to go after the kids who may initially be looked at and invited to a game of (larger) schools, but when it comes down to it, they aren’t exactly what those schools are looking for," said Payam Saadat, special teams coach and recruiting coordinator. "That’s the player that I can make excel at this level."

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