During the early morning hours of Wednesday, February 6, Rich Rasmussen enters the Washington State University football office carrying two boxes, each containing a dozen donuts, and places them on the front counter.
Rasmussen opens the door to his office, where, taped on its outer side, is a piece of paper:
Core Values for WSU Football 2008:
Compete – Compete to win
Execution – Attention to detail
Effort – Relentless on every rep
Encouragement – Positive response to all situations
Rasmussen turns on his computer, checks his e-mail, and waits for the future of WSU football to commence.
Today is National Letter of Intent Signing Day. On the first Wednesday of February each year, high school players select the university they will attend, and play for.
It is a day that determines their future and shapes the future of the university’s football program.
For Rasmussen, the recruiting coordinator for Washington State football, and the rest of head coach Paul Wulff’s staff, this Wednesday caps a whirlwind 57 days.
Taking over from Bill Doba, Wulff became the first WSU football letterwinner and graduate to lead the Cougars since Phil Sarboe served as head coach from 1945 to 1949.
A 1990 graduate of WSU and a four-year letterwinner as center, Wulff has spent the past 15 seasons at Eastern Washington University, the final eight as head coach.
When he officially became head coach, there were precious few days available to recruit before the NCAA-mandated recruiting “dead period” started on December 17.
Wulff and members of his coaching staff, whom he hired just a day after accepting the position, hit the recruiting trail hard.
“Hectic but productive” is how Rasmussen puts it.
The results begin to reveal themselves when Kevin Frank and Zack Williams’s national letters of intent come through the fax machine in the compliance office at 7:09 and 7:10 a.m.
They are the first of a flood of NLIs that come pouring out of the machine all morning.
As frenzied as things are in the compliance office, which certifies each student-athlete’s NLI, the mood is calm in the football office one floor below in the Bohler Athletic Complex (BAC).
“It’s not as intense as people think,” Wulff says of the atmosphere surrounding signing day, “unless you are fighting to get a kid, which usually doesn’t happen too often.”
The tough part for Rasmussen is waiting for the e-mails from assistant compliance director Catherine Walker officially confirming the receipt of the NLIs.
At Eastern, Rasmussen was used to standing watch over the fax machine, waiting for the NLIs to arrive. At WSU, he is relegated to standing watch over his computer.”I can’t get used to waiting for the e-mails.”
Once he does receive an e-mail, Rasmussen makes a congratulatory call to the recruit welcoming him to the WSU program.Then it’s back to waiting.
By 9:30 a.m., the tally of NLIs to come through the fax has reached 18, and coordinator of football operations Shawn Deeds drops off Wulff’s itinerary.
Wulff is slated for a Spokane radio show at 1:30 p.m., a news conference at 2, a donor gathering at the Hotel Lusso in Spokane at 5, and a signing-day party for the general public at the Northern Quest Casino at 6:30. Then it’s back to Pullman, where winter conditioning begins for current Cougar players at 6 the following morning.
But a winter storm is due this evening. Returning to Pullman for the 6 a.m. workout is not a sure thing.
The University has experienced one of the worst winters to hit the region in years, so bad that WSU was forced to close just a week earlier due to heavy snow.
Wulff says the winter weather concerned a couple of kids he was attempting to recruit.
Regardless, the appeal of the University and the Pacific-10 Conference made the recruiting process “a lot easier” at WSU compared to Eastern. “I would say that 95 to 98 percent of kids out there want to hear us out.”
Part of that allure is the ongoing renovation of Martin Stadium.
At 11:30 a.m., with only five donuts remaining, all the NLIs that the coaches were expecting have arrived—a total of 24.
Wulff heads to lunch with members of his staff at the Cougar Fitness Café, just across the street from BAC. Rasmussen stays behind to participate in an online chat at wsucougars.com.
After lunch, Wulff confers with sports information director Bill Stevens on a quote for a press release, conducts his radio interview, speaks with reporters at the news conference, and takes off for Spokane.
The predicted severe weather holds off until Wulff and his party leave the Hotel Lusso for the Northern Quest Casino. There, before a standing-room-only audience, Wulff, defensive coordinators Chris Ball and Sears, offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, and Rasmussen speak and take a few questions. Afterward, Wulff shows video highlights of each signee.
It takes Wulff and his entourage nearly three hours to drive back through the snowstorm to Pullman.
In the office early next morning, the coaches find a single donut box still on the counter. Although the box is nearly empty, the WSU football cupboard is much fuller than it had been just 24 hours earlier.
The 2008 season opener is 175 days away.