Cougar Football -- Last `Prop 48' Crop Takes Field

Washington State University's first-year football players, including James Agnew, have begun life as Cougars with three days of orientation leading to the start of practice Saturday.

The WSU group includes freshmen (scholarship players who signed letters of intent last February and invited walk-ons), junior-college transfers and Agnew, a sophomore who is the last of more than a dozen past and present WSU players to overcome the Proposition 48 eligibility hurdle.

Now, a high-school senior who does not meet the NCAA's eligibility scale that combines grade-point average and entrance-test score is not welcome at any Pac-10 Conference school. That is a rule adopted by administrators in accordance with similar rules in other leagues.

WSU was hurt by it. The previous rule had provided opportunities for players ineligible as freshmen to become eligible as sophomores by enrolling on their own and meeting WSU's first-year academic standards. It was considered a recruiting advantage because no other Pac-10 school was as willing to accept the so-called Prop 48s.

Members of this year's Cougar team who spent their first year in athletic limbo at WSU are Nian Taylor, a junior scheduled to start at split end; redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Bender; and redshirt sophomore defensive ends Eboni Wilson and Jesse Ratcliff.

And Agnew, a 294-pound defensive tackle from Los Angeles.

Agnew graduated from Manual Arts High with a 2.66 grade-point average. But because he failed to earn a test score high enough to meet NCAA standards for eligibility (and a scholarship), he could not accept any Division I offers.

"I took the test five times - the first four times I didn't pass," Agnew said by telephone from Pullman. "I took it a fifth time and passed it but the NCAA didn't approve it. I don't know why."

That meant Agnew had three choices: stay out of college and keep trying to get a test score the NCAA would approve, enroll at a junior college or pay his way to a four-year college and meet the school's academic standards for eligibility.

Agnew said he chose the latter for two reasons: the laid-back Pullman environment and the assurances given him by WSU officials that he would receive academic counseling.

The result, he said, was a 3.43 grade-point average his first semester and a 2.8 his second.

It wasn't easy.

"It was hard because I hadn't applied myself in high school," Agnew said.

Contributing to the difficulty was a shortage of money.

"I didn't know how I was going to pay for my next meal," he said.

But he survived and now he is on scholarship and looking forward to playing football, something he hasn't done for almost two years.

"I think, once I catch on, I'll be back into it," Agnew said.

Although he could preserve a year of eligibility by redshirting, he intends to play.

"I'm not going to settle for anything less than the second string," Agnew said.

Note

-- Veterans are scheduled to report by 4 p.m. tomorrow. Two-a-day practices begin Saturday, three weeks from the Aug. 30 season opener against UCLA at Martin Stadium in Pullman.