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UW’s top recruiting priority? Big defensive tackles. On the eve of Signing Day, it looks to have paid off

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 18, 2018

Washington  head coach Chris Petersen hoists the Apple Cup after his team defeated Washington State  on Nov. 23 at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington head coach Chris Petersen hoists the Apple Cup after his team defeated Washington State on Nov. 23 at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Adam Jude Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Jacob Bandes did his homework. He studied the Huskies’ recent success of producing NFL-caliber defensive tackles – notably turning Danny Shelton and Vita Vea into first-round picks – and envisioned himself coming to Washington and doing something similar.

“I’m all about analytics,” Bandes said. “I love researching the past and the history of the school. I take pride in that. That’s the stuff I love.”

Since 1980, the Huskies have had six defensive tackles drafted in the first round: Doug Martin, 1980, Minnesota; Ron Holmes, 1985, Tampa Bay; Reggie Rogers, 1987, Detroit; Steve Emtman, 1992, Indianapolis; Shelton, 2015, Cleveland; and Vea, 2018, Tampa Bay.

Never have the Huskies brought in a class of defensive tackles as they’re expecting to sign during the first day of the early signing period Wednesday .

Bandes, Faatui Tuitele, Sama Paama and Noa Ngalu are all graded among the top 30 defensive tackles in the 247Sports.com rankings, and at a combined weight of more than 1,200 pounds, they have a chance to dramatically – and perhaps immediately – reshape the interior of Washington’s defensive line.

Two years ago, the Huskies didn’t sign any defensive tackles, having lost five-star Marlon Tuipulotu to USC just nine days before the 2017 signing day. Since then, Washington’s coaching staff made the defensive line a top priority in recruiting.

“I think they learned that you’ve got to keep all your irons in the fire, instead of focusing just on one guy,” said Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247Sports.com. “That allowed them this year to really end with all four of those guys. They recruited each guy equally, instead of prioritizing just one and ignoring the other three. They made all four of those guys feel like a priority and, amazingly enough, all four of those guys are willing to come in in this class together.”

Last year, the Huskies signed two four-star defensive tackles: Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam Taimani.

With senior defensive linemen Greg Gaines, Jaylen Johnson and Shane Bowman exhausting their eligibility after the Rose Bowl, the four incoming tackles could figure prominently into the line’s 2019 plans.

Bandes and Tuitele are ranked as the nation’s fifth- and sixth-best defensive tackles, respectively, in the 2019 class, making them the Huskies’ highest-ranked defensive linemen since Donny Mateaki in 2002.

“I’m really lucky that I get to be part of this prestigious program, to be an ‘OKG’ (Our Kind of Guy). That’s just really cool to be part of,” Bandes said. “I’m just really confused how every defensive lineman who is an OKG who has a Washington offer doesn’t commit. Because it’s just an honor to be an OKG.”

Bandes, 6-foot-3 and 306 pounds, was one of nine recruits to make an official visit to UW over the weekend. Tuitele and Paama also came from Hawaii. (Ngalu was originally scheduled to join the group in Seattle, but he was instead helping his high school team, Menlo-Atherton, to its first California state championship.)

“Best 48 hours of my life,” Bandes said of his weekend in Seattle.

On Tuesday morning, Bandes was scheduled to fly to Mexico to play in Saturday’s inaugural World All-Star Bowl game, and he plans to sign his UW National Letter of Intent on Wednesday morning in Mexico City.

Bandes plans to be back on the UW campus for the start of winter-term classes on Jan. 7. He graduated early from Pittsburg (California) High, taking an extra class during the day and enrolling in night school to earn his diploma.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said, “but it was totally worth it.”

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