Qualls puts it all together

The only other time I remember something similar was when Jake Heaps, Ross Apo and Zack Stout all committed to BYU at the same time three years ago - but the staging is about the only thing the Cougar trio had in common with what Washington fans are now calling the 'St. Tosh's Day Massacre', the day eight players from two classes verbally committed to UW.

Heaps was the player that took charge of the BYU announcement, and for the Huskies it was all set in motion by defensive line prospect Elijah Qualls.

The event that took place Friday at the RAM in University Village took the BYU announcement and multiplied it by nearly a factor of three; Qualls, Louisiana LB Caleb Tucker, Lompoc, Calif. RB Lavon Coleman, Lynnwood DL Andrew Basham, former Garfield standout Daeshon Hall, who is looking to come back to Seattle from Texas, and two players from Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley, Calif. - WR Demorea Stringfellow and OL Poasi Moala.

Earlier in the day, Scout.com's Greg Biggins broke the news that Washington had also received a commitment from Rahshead Johnson fom Jordan High School in Long Beach, Calif. - the same high school that produced current Huskies John Timu, Princeton Fuimaono and Siosifa Tufunga.

But it was Qualls that was the glue that brought everything together. There were obvious obstacles; commitments can be made to coaches, but reporters can't cover those live on campus. They have to wait until they hear from players or their high school coaches or parents. That's typically how verbal commitments are broken by the media.

But the defensive lineman from Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, Calif. always had a bigger gesture in mind, one that would make a grande statement. Ever since his first visit to UW and Seattle in March, Qualls knew in the back of his mind Washington was the program he would sign with. "The trip was amazing, I don't know what else to say," Qualls told Biggins shortly after that first trip. "The coaching staff really stood out, they're an amazing group of guys. They're young, so it's easy to relate to them but they're sill very experienced and know what they're doing.

"I spent a lot of time with Tosh Lupoi and I can see why everyone calls him the best recruiter around. On Friday, I spent a lot of time with all the coaches but Tosh never left my side. You can tell he's a great mentor and a person and as a player, you just want to hang out with him. Throughout the day, players on the team kept coming around to hang out and that showed me something. You would think they would want to be with their friends but they wanted to be the staff and talk football and that was cool."

Once Qualls got back to the Bay Area, he started doing some snooping around, seeing who else liked Washington. Everyone wants to play with the best players; Qualls is no exception. So he started to link up with other prospects via all the popular social networking angles; texting and Facebook being the most popular. He realized that Coleman was a player that was talking up Washington, as well as Stringfellow.

"I definitely been asking these guys," Qualls said after the historic event took place. "I realize a lot of them are the top guys in California, definitely - and some of them are the top in the nation. I realized that we all love Washington. I've been talking, trying to get a lot of guys committed and not worrying too much who else is going to commit. For me, I want to make sure I recruited good people, good players, and are serious about what they are doing and are looking for what I'm looking for…because if you get people on the same page, that's teamwork. It's the same thing. I wanted to do something different. Everybody wants to commit and have the attention on them, but I wanted this to be a team thing because Washington - we are a team. We are a wolf pack; we run together and we do everything together. I told all these guys, if you go to Washington we'll all have your back and everything. And they all agreed."

"It's crazy up here," added Coleman. "Everything is live. The coaches are live…we're live like Memorex!"

"I was on Stringfellow for a minute up here," said Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne quarterback Troy Williams, who had already verbally committed to Washington but was at the Rising Stars camp and also at the RAM as a show of solidarity for the event. In fact he went on camera and reconfirmed his Husky pledge with the rest of his future teammates. "When I saw him I told him that me and him would be a great connection up here and make wonderful things happen. He's a big dude."

Other players, like Tucker - who came the longest to make his purple and gold intentions known - wanted to get that positive vibe during his first trip ever to Seattle. He got it, and much more. "I didn't know if I wanted to go here or not because it was so far from home and all that type of stuff," Tucker said right after his commitment. "But then I came up here and I got close with all the guys. Me and Troy (Williams) are pretty cool and everybody else is pretty cool, so I was like why not? All the people up here are pretty quiet and stuff like that. I just liked the vibe here."

Even the one local player who committed with the group - Lynnwood's Andrew Basham - knew he wanted to commit but didn't know about the group announcement until literally right before. "I didn't really talk to any of the guys before the camp," Basham told Biggins. "I didn't know about the guys committing ahead of time but I had decided earlier in the week I wanted to commit. It was honestly a pretty easy decision for me overall."

So now all that needed to be figured out was how. He knew a group announcement couldn't happen on campus, but because of his March visit Qualls knew about the RAM and how it was the local Husky Headquarters as far as restaurants were concerned. "I knew about this restaurant, and I wanted to come here and do something no one has ever done before," he said. "I went around to camps, talking to people and asking them about Washington, and they all said they loved it. So I was like, 'Ok, then let's all commit together'. Everybody that committed today, they are all ballers. We almost had 12 commits today. We had seven for sure and about five maybes. Washington is coming up."

Qualls is a unique talent. A childhood spent with gangs, violence and the subsequent break from that life through football make Qualls wise beyond his years. When he spoke of his decision, he talked about the different between tradition and legacy and how he feels he can be a part of something special with the Huskies. Many top teams, like USC, were hot after Qualls and his special abilities on the field. But it was the situation at Washington that struck a chord with him, and it stuck.

"I started thinking about it," he said. "But I realized that…Washington used to be a powerhouse. They lost it for a few years, but now we're bringing it back. USC, they've always been a competitive school and have always brought in good players. Everybody thinks they are going to be the top school - but me personally I want to be part of a legacy instead of just being part of a tradition, instead of being 'oh, he was just a part of USC, but they've always good'. I want to be a part of, 'he was there when Washington was up and coming, and he was part of the group that won their first Rose Bowl after they went 0-12. I want to build something, build a legacy and make Washington a powerhouse like it was in the early 90's."

I know it's probably trite to look at the Husky Stadium remodel as a microcosm for Steve Sarkisian's renovation of Washington's football tradition, and more importantly the culture surrounding the program. But Sark and his staff, including the new coaches like Lupoi, Justin Wilcox, Peter Sirmon, Keith Heyward and Eric Kiesau, have completely bought in and their message is being heard and amplified by prospects like Qualls, Williams, Coleman, Stringfellow and others. "We're rebuilding, we're redoing everything," Qualls said. "We're making it a new place. We're keeping the old traditions but we're rebuilding the team, rebuilding the coaching staff, we're rebuilding ourselves and everything about us, everything that we do. We're going to make ourselves competitive so we can fight for that Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl."


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