SEATTLE – The Washington Huskies did not sign a soul on Wednesday’s National Signing Day. They did not sign four-star tight end Jack Yary, who recommitted to USC. They did not sign three-star defensive lineman Tanoa Togiai, who eventually inked with Utah. Much of their work was done in December, when Jimmy Lake secured 23 letters of intent – landing the Pac-12’s premier recruiting class, according to 247Sports.
Wednesday came and went, and UW didn’t make a splash.
But, a year from now, it might be a tsunami.
That’s because, for Lake and his staff, the 2021 class presents an unprecedented opportunity. The state of Washington touts three prep prospects – Eastside Catholic defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau, Steilacoom wide receiver Emeka Egbuka and Kennedy Catholic quarterback Sam Huard – who are considered five-star recruits by the 247Sports Composite. The state’s seven four- or five-star prospects is tied with the 2020 class for the most in the 247Sports database, which stretches more than two decades. And Huard – listed as the No. 2 pro-style passer and No. 11 overall recruit in his class – is already a UW commit, giving the Huskies an extra recruiter with a renowned left arm and existing relationships with the state’s top players.
So yes, for Washington, opportunity awaits.
But for the Huskies to score a top-10 class in 2021, they first have to win at home.
“If you’re not recruiting your backyard, then you’ve got the whole thing twisted,” UW director of recruiting Justin Glenn told The Times last week. “There’s nothing more important to us than keeping the best players in the state. So we’re getting that message out to everybody that needs to know that.”
Consider said message disseminated. But UW’s impending opportunity also transcends state lines. In California, the Huskies’ most consistently critical recruiting region, USC’s stranglehold has been broken. Consider that, in 2011, 19 of California’s top 20 prospects – according to the 247Sports Composite – signed with Pac-12 schools, and nine of them landed at USC. From 2011 through 2018, 79.4% of California’s annual top 20 prospects signed with Pac-12 programs and 35% of them stayed in-state, with the Trojans.
But now? In the last two classes combined, USC has signed just 7.5% of the top 20 players in the state (3 of 40). (The Pac-12, meanwhile, has held onto just 62.5% of those recruits.) The Trojans’ 2020 class improbably ranks 54th nationally and 10th in the conference by the 247Sports Composite. And on an undeniably related note, five of California’s top 10 players went to Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia in the 2020 cycle.
Not so long ago, it was assumed that USC would essentially hand-pick its in-state prospects. Now, as the Trojans stumble, other teams are swooping in.
And, in a new era at Washington, the Huskies could be primed to raid their rivals to the south.
“Coach (Chris Petersen) has laid this foundation,” Glenn said. “Jimmy (Lake) is younger. He plans on bringing this energetic attack mode mentality. The way we play on the field, that same mentality is going to be how we recruit … in terms of taking chances on guys that people think we may not have any chance with, in terms of getting them. And we’re doing it in a way that’s still thorough, that we’re still doing our homework.
“We know that if you get a kid that’s a great football player and not a great person, with what we’re trying to do here, it doesn’t work. So we’re still looking for the right fit, but we’re trying to turn it up a couple notches. We’re trying to have more excitement, bring some juice every day. When kids come on campus, they feel that – that energy, that passion and what this place is truly all about.
“Time will tell how we change some of the strategy within recruiting and some of the things we do differently, but the foundation that coach Pete set, that’s not changing. Jimmy’s been around long enough that he knows that recipe works. So he’ll put his own little sprinkle of flavor on it, and we’ll go.”
With the 2020 class secured, it’s time to get going. It’s time for Lake to prove he’s an equally lethal recruiter as a head coach. It’s time for first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Donovan to prove he can connect with current recruits. It’s time for UW to prove it can fend off national powers for its most coveted in-state prospects.
It’s time for the Huskies to make the most of an unprecedented opportunity. It’s time to take a splash and turn it into a tsunami.
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