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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bellevue's Atofau picks WSU

Safety gives Cougs' defense a glimmer of hope

By DARREN FESSENDEN
SPECIAL TO THE P-I

One of the worst defenses in Pac-10 history received a glimmer of hope Wednesday night.

Bellevue senior strong safety Jamal Atofau's verbal commitment to Washington State figures to help shore up the second-worst scoring defense in America in coming seasons.

Atofau, the hard-hitting, opportunistic defensive centerpiece of Bellevue's top-ranked team, turned down offers from Arizona, Boise State, Oregon and Oregon State. He phoned WSU coach Paul Wulff on Wednesday night with his decision.

"I let him know that I'm behind him 100 percent, and that I want to try to be a part of something real big the next few years," said the 5-foot-10, 185-pound nephew of former Cougars legend Jack Thompson and cousin of current Cougar Tony Thompson.

Former Wolverines teammate Eric Block, a WSU redshirt freshman who was recruited by Bill Doba's coaching staff, feels the same.

"You can't expect to change the whole culture and expect wins right away," Block said. "I think they have a great philosophy and have great coaches."

Block was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis several months ago. The condition has kept him sidelined since mid-August, when he was getting regular second-team repetitions at free safety and figured to play in WSU's nickel and dime packages.

"It kind of got bad again, I lost a lot of weight and now I'm trying to get it back," said Block, who is trying different medications and has changed his diet.

Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff is saddened by the fact that his former dual-threat quarterback can't do something about WSU's Swiss cheese D: "He's such a smart kid and he sees the field so well."

Atofau, who plans to compete in spring practices after graduating early, said he envisions a day sometime down the road -- maybe 2010 -- when the Cougars' starting safeties are a pair of Bellevuites.

"That would be ideal. We've got great chemistry together," Block said.

Added Goncharoff: "That would be pretty cool to see."

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