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Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.

Washington State quarterback recruit Austin Apodaca sticks with Cougar commitment

By Bud Withers
Seattle Times staff reporter

When Mike Leach was done with his home visit — when he was finished chewing the fat about family, football and rodeos in Wyoming — he told Austin Apodaca something that resonated.

"They straight-up said it," said Apodaca. "They have big expectations. He pretty much told me: Expect the bowl-game lifestyle."

And finally, a quarterback who had hung tough with Washington State through all of its uncertainty could heave a big sigh of relief.

Take this to the bank: If Apodaca doesn't sign a football letter of intent Wednesday with the Cougars, it won't be because he changed his mind. He's been sold on the program since Day One. His story is illustrative, however, of some of the collateral stresses of the recruiting game.

"To be honest," said Mike Apodaca, his father and coach at Silver Creek High in Longmont, Colo., "it's way harder to be recruited twice than it is once by the same school."

The first time was a snap. Austin Apodaca, playing at the 3A level (5A is biggest) in Colorado, was a good, 6-foot-3 prospect who sent out a highlight tape of his junior year in January 2011.

He heard back from Paul Wulff's offensive coordinator, Todd Sturdy, and the Cougars expressed interest. They soon told him they were going to offer a scholarship, and Apodaca took an unofficial visit early last June.

"I just fell in love with the place," he said. "It was my kind of town, my kind of environment."

It was all so easy. Apodaca committed, shut down all the other recruiters and prepared for a stress-free senior year.

And mostly, it was. He threw for 44 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Sturdy was at his game the night before the Cougars played at Colorado, and saw Apodaca riddle eventual state champ Windsor for four touchdowns, three through the air, in a 42-21 win. (Windsor would get even, 14-7, in the title game, as Apodaca had three interceptions and a fumble.)

Apodaca kept an eye on the Cougars from a distance, and his instincts would prove prophetic. It was the Oregon State loss at CenturyLink Field that began to gather dissent against Wulff.

"That was probably the first time I saw him crack a little bit," said Mike Apodaca. "Like, 'Crap, things might get weird here a little bit.' "

Wulff's future, Austin realized, might be his future. A new staff might not only run a different offense, it might revoke the scholarship offer.

On the last day of November, Wulff was fired.

"A couple of other schools from the Mountain West, some from the Pac-12, some from the WAC, came in to see if I was still committed," Austin said.

Leach was named the next day. Apodaca was steadfast, even as he had no contact from the new staff.

"I was aware I had options," he said. "I just always loved Washington State. I'm not one to commit and wait for the next-best thing. You should be a man of your word."

"He was incredible, to be honest with you," said his father. "I'm not sure I would have done the same."

One of the new staff's first priorities was to assess the recruits committed to Wulff. Some heard quickly. Apodaca didn't. Still, he didn't waver.

The senior Apodaca said it was between 10 days and two weeks before the new staff got in touch. Even then, there was no assurance. Then came the December "dead period," which grinds recruiting to a halt from before Christmas until after New Year's.

"That was probably the most challenging part," said Mike, "the dead period."

"I was unsure for about a month," his son said. "It was nerve-wracking for a 17-year-old."

As assistant coach Eric Morris explained it to them, Apodaca might have had to go through the most rigorous process of all the old recruits.

"With it being a quarterback, and coach Leach coaching that position, he was going to make sure," said Mike Apodaca. But it's logical the Cougars were trolling to judge interest levels of other quarterbacks.

Austin, who also plays point guard in basketball and center field for the Silver Creek baseball team, weighs 187 and assumes he'll redshirt. He was The Denver Post's All-Colorado quarterback for 2011.

Apodaca has an above-average arm, is mobile and makes a lot of plays on the run. WSU fans also have to appreciate this about him: He's already stood tall in the pocket for the Cougars.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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