WSU freshman Cusano turning heads at spring camp

Apr. 24—While most incoming freshmen are currently planning prom proposals and preparing for high school graduation, Washington State's Frank Cusano is already turning heads on the college football field.

Cusano graduated early and enrolled at WSU for the spring semester so he could participate in spring camp — and the decision is already paying off in a huge way.

The 6-foot-1, 216-pounder from Granite Bay (Calif.) High School has made plays all over the field in WSU's two spring scrimmages.

"I think Frank Cusano, the linebacker, is just everywhere," quarterback John Mateer said. "He's a freak man. I think Frank has consistently been really good for us."

Total tackles aren't tracked in spring scrimmages, but Cusano has made enough big plays to stand out.

In the first scrimmage, he had an interception that could've been returned for a touchdown.

In the second scrimmage Saturday, Cusano notched a sack, two tackles for loss and had a big stop on a fourth down. On the fourth down stop, Cusano planted running back Lane Heeringa to the turf at the 30-yard-line to end the drive.

"One of the biggest things I've been impressed with Frank about is he has processed the defense as a true freshman," WSU coach Jake Dickert said. "As of right now, he'd be a travel guy and he's fighting to get in that rotation."

It's not unusual for skill players or defensive backs to jump into key roles as true freshmen, but it's less common at the middle linebacker position, which is basically the quarterback of the defense.

WSU senior linebacker Kyle Thornton has taken notice of Cusano's extra effort to learn the schemes in a hurry.

"What I've been most impressed with is how young he is and how dedicated he is to getting better and knowing what he's supposed to be doing," Thornton said. "This kid is always talking about film, he's always watching extra."

While many college teenagers spend their nights playing video games or socializing — basically taking their minds off school and sport — Cusano is still thinking about the Xs and Os.

"I'm getting phone calls at 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock at night before this, talking about 'Hey if this happens, what am I doing?'" Thornton said of Cusano. "(He's) just always trying to ask for extra advice and stuff like that."

Cusano's quick rise in spring practices makes some sense when considering what he did at the prep ranks. Cusano totaled 255 tackles and a plethora of all-league honors in three varsity seasons with the Granite Bay Grizzlies. He was named a three-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports.

As a junior, he tallied a whopping 111 total tackles and 18.5 tackles for loss. His numbers as a senior included 92 tackles, 13 TFLs and five sacks.

When he's not playing football, Cusano might be found on a rugby field or in a boxing ring — two other sports known for their toughness.

At the very least, he should add some key depth to the Cougars' linebackers room. WSU uses a two-linebacker system, so there's not as much playing time to go around as there is in three-linebacker defenses.

Thornton is the team's leading returning tackler and a steady leader. He had 87 tackles, 4.5 for loss and one forced fumble last season.

Sophomore Buddah Al-Uqdah showed promise as a freshman and recorded 40 tackles.

Junior Portland State transfer Parker McKenna, junior Louisville transfer Keith Brown and sophomore Hudson Cedarland are also in the mix for starting or rotation roles.

But Cusano has already shown he might need to see some serious playing time as a true freshman.

"I'm not going to put a ceiling on Frank," Dickert said. "Every time we put him out there he just keeps getting better and better."

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, or on Twitter @StephanSports.