SEATTLE — National Letter of Intent day in college football, also known as the Brett Favre day, always brings joy to one program and heartbreak to another. Seventeen and eighteen year old kids make their college decisions official, but not before some late drama.
For the Washington Huskies this recruiting period has been nothing short of heart-stopping. After an embarrassing defensive performance against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl Steve Sarkisian had seen enough. In a four day period Sarkisian overhauled the defensive coaching staff with a new philosophy, and more importantly a new emphasis on recruiting.
Led by defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi and linebackers coach Pete Sirmon Washington began immediate pushing for elite defensive recruits. Not only was Washington pushing, recruits were listening and taking official visits and having in-home visits.
One of those recruits, five-star safety Shaquille Thompson, expressed interest in Washington before and after his verbal commit to Cal. Once Lupoi left Thompson reopened his recruitment, and Steve Sarkisian and Co. pounced. Getting down to the wire Thompson’s close friend, Arik Armstead, committed to Oregon and several thought that Shaq would join him.
Thompson went as far as to get an Oregon hat, with his name engraved on the back, before making his commitment to Washington. Thompson made his decision on an unofficial visit to Washington last weekend, along with wide receiver Jordan Payton. After that visit Thompson became one-hundred percent sure he wanted to be a Husky.
He made the announcement via Twitter that he was committing to Washington. Once Thompson committed it brought a lot of national attention to the program, and possibly landed Washington several other recruits. On Monday Oaks Christian High wide receiver Jordan Payton went on ESPNU to make his decision.
After coming down to Washington, Cal and UCLA Payton committed to Washington. “For the next four years I will be going to the University of Washington.” Said Payton “I feel in love with everything so it was a tremendous experience to go up there, so I’m going to spend the next 3-4 years at Washington.”
Normally, the day before signing day when a player goes on national television you would think that it was solid as gold. Not with Payton, who less than 24 hours ago committed to Washington, switched his decision to UCLA and sent his letter of intent to Jim Mora Jr. That means Payton, a four-star wide receiver, committed to one third of the Pac-12.
While losing Payton does hurt Washington, losing a wide receiver is the least of Sarkisian’s worries. Washington picked up Jaydon Mickens (Dorsey High School/California), Dwayne Washington (Gahr High School/California), and possibly Kendyl Taylor (Hamilton High School/Arizona), depending on where he fits in.
Those four will join Kasen Williams, James Johnson, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins in a deep receiver corps. While deepening their receiving corps Washington also made a great move to get to elite quarterbacks in this class, Jeff Lindquist (Mercer Island High School/Washington) and Cyler Miles (J. K. Mullen High School/Colorado).
Lindquist made his decision back in April of last year while Miles didn’t make his until 45 minutes before announcing on signing day. Miles, who had already made a verbal commitment to Washington, began to waver when USC offered him within the last two weeks. As it came down to the wire, Miles realized and admitted “I committed to a school, not a coordinator”, referring to Doug Nussmeier.
With Keith Price as the starter and Nick Montana transferring Washington needed to get two quarterbacks. With Lindquist and Miles Washington now carries seven quarterbacks on the roster. Washington’s most pressing need coming into this recruiting class was the offensive line and the entire defense. Both areas were covered well highlighted by Nathan Dean and Shaq Thompson.
On the offensive line Washington picked up commitments from Nathan Dean (Juanita High School/Washington), Jake Eldrenkamp (Bellevue High School/Washington), Shane Brostek (Hawaii Preparatory Academy/Hawaii), Corey English (Auburn High School/Washington) and Taylor Hindy (Chaminade College Prep School/California). Washington picked up a lot of offensive guards in this class, with Brostek, English and Dean who projects to be a guard instead of tackle in college.
Having graduated left tackle Senio Kelemete and losing out on in-state recruits like Zach Banner and Josh Garnett, Washington needed to get a strong, deep offensive line group from this class. Eldrenkamp is likely to start immediately according to both Jake and head coach Steve Sarkisian.
On the defensive side of the ball Washington hit a massive home run. Beyond star safety Shaq Thompson Washington picked up several quality commits all over the defense. Landing highly touted cornerback Brandon Beaver (Dominguez High School/California) was a crucial get for Washington and has a chance to play immediately.
At 6’1 185 Beaver has the body of a free safety and the technical skills, along with great hands and solid speed to make him a complete cornerback. While he has a very high sealing he’s got the body that will allow him to become more than a cover corner in nickle packages.
One of the more underrated commitments Washington picked up was Blake Rodgers, an great two-way outside linebacker. At 6’2 215 Rodgers has good size and is solid against both the run and pass and is a true leader.
With signing day some surprises do come out and Washington got a warm surprise with the commitment of Pio Vatuvei (Patterson High School/California) who flipped from USC to Washington. The first recruit defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox visited, Vatuvei is an instinctive pass-rushing defensive end. The key for Washington about Vatuvei is that he can move around and play multiple positions.
Rounding out the defensive side are DE Damion Turpin (Dominguez High School/California), DE Kalei Auelua (Saint Louis School/Hawaii), DE Cory Littleton (Mount Miguel High School/California), S Darien Washington (Lutheran High School/California), DT Josh Banks (San Joaquin Delta College/California), ATH Erich Wilson (Serra High School/California), P Korey Durkee (Gig Harbor High School/Washington), RB Psalm Wooching (Kealakehe High School/Hawaii), K Travis Coons (Mt. San Antonio College/California), and RB Ryan McDaniel (North Torrance High School/California) and CB Jaydon Mickens (Dorsey High School/California).
Overall Steve Sarkisian and his staff pulled out a solid class, even without the elite in-state recruits. Going into California and getting Shaq Thompson was a much bigger statement that USC and Stanford coming into Washington and getting Zach Banner and Josh Garnett respectively.
With new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s ability to coach two and three star recruits up into five star athletes, it’s going to be even easier to turn around the defense working with four and five star recruits. The most important thing to remember with Washington’s new coaching staff is they will have a full year to recruit the elite players to Washington instead of just under a month.
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