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November 28, 2012

Leach discusses his recruiting philosophy at WSU

PULLMAN -- On Wednesday Mike Leach held his end of the year press conference following the Cougars' improbable come from behind victory in the Apple Cup and the coach had many positive things to say about his football team while recapping the season. There was a stern focus, however, on the upcoming recruiting season and the coach's thoughts heading towards signing day.

Following the win, many Washington State visiting recruits raved about their experience and the turn around they're witnessing in Pullman. Although a very small sample size in what was a very disappointing season, going out on a positive note was huge for the Cougars.

Throughout the conference, Leach discussed how important it was to end the year with that type of win heading into the offseason and alluded to how much of an impact the Apple Cup victory had on recruiting, in particular.

"You know, our reception from the beginning has been pretty good from the start," Leach said when asked whether there has been more of a positive reception from recruits following the Apple Cup. "It may be a little more enthusiastic but it's been steady. I kind of wondered those things myself."

One of the hardest things to do for any head coach at Washington State is to compete in the Pac-12 recruiting landscape to bring players to Pullman. The last coach to essentially bring in consistent talent to the Palouse was Mike Price, but he wasn't exactly landing the four star recruits rather than finding the diamonds in the rough.

After Price left for Alabama, Bill Doba also had a hard time finding talent and building the depth needed to compete at a competitive Pac-10 level and it's pretty evident that Paul Wulff had the same struggles. Leach was asked about what kind of difficulties he's had trying to recruit prospects to Pullman and how important it is to lockdown players in the state of Washington, first and foremost.

"Well, from the beginning the state of Washington is key, I knew we needed to be aggressive in the state of Washington," Leach said. "I also thought, just by looking at things, that it would be a bit of a battle because there's an awful lot of good players leaving the state of Washington, which is unfortunate because we need to try to keep them in here."

You may recall, last year there was a bundle of players from the Seattle area including Zach Banner, Joshua Garnett, Cedric Dozier and KaiVarae Russell, arguably four of the top five blue chip prospects in the state, all left for schools outside of the state. Of those four players, just one - Dozier - was considering Washington State.

This season the top two players in the state, Max Browne and Myles Jack have already committed to play at USC and UCLA respectively, so the recent trend is continuing.

Although Leach has done well to land five in-state guys, including three-stars Cody O'Connell and Peyton Pelluer, the Cougars are still getting beat out by other Pac-12 schools, including Washington, for the upper tier recruits in the state.

Only wins will help attract high-profile recruits to the state of Washington, but even wins might not be able to bring those four and five stars from the Seattle area to the fertile lands on the east side of the mountains. Therefore, there needs to be an emphasis on spot recruiting in the talent-rich state of California. Leach discussed how critical it is to scour the west coast for talent and, more importantly, how much talent is hidden in the Golden State.

"Now with spot recruiting you have California; there's lots of ability there, there's some players and they're not all necessarily in one cluster because football is much better in Southern California," Leach said. "I feel like Southern California is the most underutilized spot in the Pac-12 and so we have five coaches down there."

Of the Cougars' current 18 commitments, one-third of them hail from California and you can expect the Cougars to land several more from the Southern portion of the state as we inch closer to signing day. With five coaches spending all of their time in California and Southern California, in particular, you can be assured the coaching staff is leaving no stone unturned and the reception from those recruits has been great, according to Leach.

"Our reception in Southern California has been tremendous really from the beginning, I thought it would be good, and it's been better," Leach said.

When Leach was hired, it was widely speculated whether he was going direct a bigger focus towards recruiting the state of Texas and if he would even be able to attract recruits from the Lone Star state. Leach spent no time answering that question when he landed Keith Ewing, his first commitment, out of Bellaire, Texas.

"We spot recruit Texas," Leach said when asked about how much emphasis he puts on recruiting his former stomping grounds. "We have a couple guys in Texas and some of them do utilize some of the connections from before [at Texas Tech] and so we are in Dallas and Houston."

Already this year, with a full recruiting season at his disposal, Leach has secured four verbal commitments from Texas including three-star ATH Demarcus Ayers, a highly sought after recruit with 20 offers and counting.

The Cougars have also landed a commitment from Carlos Freeman from Oklahoma and Gerald Sterling from Alabama. With so many players coming from remote destinations, Leach discussed how the scheme he implemented at Texas Tech has attracted some of those recruits and the type of player they're looking for out-of-state.

"It's just different," Leach said of recruiting players from Texas while at TTU versus WSU. "When I was at Texas Tech we were chasing guys that wanted to stay in-state and go to a Texas school and now we're looking for the guys that want to go out of the state and see the world a little bit."

Leach admitted that the reason he went to BYU for college after high school was because he was just like the players he's recruiting - he wanted to get away for a bit, see what else the country had to offer and he has no regrets.

From the looks of it thus far, Leach is using his story as an example to lure talent to the Palouse - a place, as we all know, is the toughest in the conference at attracting young men to play football.

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