Rising Stars more than just a camp

Nebraska has its 'Big Red Weekend'; Florida calls theirs 'Friday Night Lights'. For years USC's Rising Stars camp was not only a great chance for prospects to make their mark on the minds of Trojan coaches, it was also an opportunity for the coaches to build a lot of early momentum with prospects and put them in one place where they could form friendships that might eventually bear fruit.

This coming weekend will be Steve Sarkisian's fourth Washington Rising Stars camp, and while his first camp didn't generate a relatively speedy verbal commitment the last two have, and his 2012 event has a chance to be a watershed moment in UW recruiting. In 2010 Scott Lawyer and Jarett Finau were two players that made quick commitments shortly after Rising Stars; in 2011 it was Korey Durkee and Kalei Auelua that pulled the trigger after their Rising Camp experience.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any successful football program, and the talent transfusions are happening earlier and earlier - nine BCS programs have 15 or more public verbal commits at this point (six coming from the SEC alone), and three non-BCS teams (SMU, Tulane and Central Michigan) have over 10 commits) - so you have to take your opportunities when presented. Add to that the fact that it's getting harder and harder to get a top prospect on campus for any amount of time during a 'camp' because all the top camps are happening at the same time, forcing players and parents into plenty of day trips in order to learn as much about a program as they can in the time they have - and you can see just how competitive the 'second season' of recruiting can get.

That being said, if you look at the talent that has already RSVP'd to this coming weekend's camp at Montlake, it's clear that the UW coaches have not only put a lot of thought into this event, but also a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make it happen. There's no question the staff hopes this year's camp pays off in a big way, even if that means it takes longer to 'maintain' those commitments.

There is no better example of that than the 2012 class, as these players were once verbally committed to Washington at some point in their recruitment: Jordan Payton (UCLA), Taylor Lagace (UCLA), Jeremy Castro (UCLA), Tairen Owens (UCLA), Michael Rector (Stanford), Bryan Harper (Arizona), Damontae Kazee (San Diego State), Malcolm Jackson (San Diego State) and Jason Thompson (Wyoming). But it's not like the Huskies weren't out there battling for prospects committed to other schools too - it just seems like that's the way business is done in recruiting nowadays. Shaquille Thompson actually verbally committed to California twice before shooting out the now-infamous news via Twitter on January 31st - "@ItsShaqThompson: Just committed to the UNIVERSITY OF Washington #HUSKYNATION". Erich Wilson once pledged his future to Colorado, Cleveland Wallace was going to Oregon State, Psalm Wooching to UCLA and Pio Vatuvei to USC before changing their minds, as well as Jaydon Mickens, who committed to USC back in 2010.

As volatile as last year was in recruiting, there are things staffs can do to help mitigate the mood swings, and brining all the prospects together at once to bond and form friendships early on is one of the more practical ways to do that. Oregon famously used to recruit that way, as Mike Bellotti was well known for putting together official visit weekends that would have 25 players in them. The purpose of bringing so many players together was to build those bonds and quickly forge some comraderie to let them know that this was the group that would push the Ducks forward. Given how UO played in Bellotti's final seasons that strategy clearly worked.

It was so successful the Oregonian soon started digging around, and once they were able to unearth receipts and accounting into just how much went into those giant official visit weekends, their research started a chain reaction that resulted in the NCAA enacting new legislation as to how much you could spend on a recruit's official visit. The Ducks, who continue to win on a regular basis, have certainly found new and creative ways to bring players to Eugene with a tighter budget, as have most colleges that are having to pinch pennies in this new budget-conscious recruiting environment.

While you can't take prospects to the Metropolitan Grill for unlimited porterhouse steaks and cheesecakes anymore, the UW coaches can still use time-tested techniques like peer pressure and thoughts of how a group of kids can become the backbone of something truly special to win them over. These aren't new concepts, so now it's just a matter of finding shinier paper or fancier bows to wrap around their words and ideas. And don't put it past this group of coaches to find the right trigger words, the right phrasing, the right buttons to push when it comes to answering questions and unleashing their vision of the Husky Experience on prospects, high school coaches, mentors and parents. Tosh Lupoi is as good as it gets in the recruiting business, and Johnny Nansen, Joel Thomas, Jimmie Dougherty, Justin Wilcox, Peter Sirmon, Keith Heyward, Eric Kiesau and Dan Cozzetto aren't that far behind. And that's not even talking about the closer, Steve Sarkisian. That's a lot of recruiting firepower, and there's no question they plan to unleash their entire arsenal Thursday and Friday in the hopes of putting a sizable dent into the pool of available talent out West.

Sarkisian has made no secret the fact that he'd love the UW Rising Stars camp to emulate the success of the same camp held yearly at USC. He learned under Pete Carroll how to create a camp environment heavy on competition and fun, and has done his best to replicate USC's camp experience in Seattle. As he is also fond of saying about his offensive philosophy, the Trojan camp experience is one that has stood the test of time and has produced results - so why wouldn't you want that in Seattle? I doubt you'd find many Husky fans that would disagree, especially if it can create the type of recruiting momentum to push the program fully around and pointed in the right direction.

Here's a short list of prospects expected to attend the two-day camp, by no means complete. This is just to give you a taste of just how big an event this is:
CB Johnny Johnson - Fresno (CA) #3 CB
S Hatari Byrd - Fresno (CA) #8 S
TE Thomas Duarte - Mater Dei (CA) #10 TE
WR Demorea Stringfellow - Rancho Verde (CA) #11 WR
OL David Maka - Tustin (CA) #12 C
OLB Deon Hollins - Missouri City (TX) #12 OLB
DT Elijah Qualls - Casa Grande (CA) #16 DT
DT Kenneth Clark - Rialto (CA) Carter HS #19 DT
CB L.J. Moore - Fresno (CA) #20 CB
ATH Danny Mattingly - Mead #24 OLB
RB Lavon Coleman - Lompoc (CA) #26 RB
DE Marcus Farria - Peoria (AZ) Centennial #28 DE
DE Austin Hooper - De La Salle (CA) #31 DE
ATH John Ross - LBJordan (CA) #32 WR
OL Na'Ty Rodgers - McDonough (MD) #33 OG
ATH D.J. Moffitt - De La Salle (CA) #34 S
DB Brandon Arnold - Crespi (CA) #39 S
TE Mat Boesen - Torrance West (CA) #40 TE
OL Andrew Kirkland - Portland (OR) Jesuit #43 OG
DL Donte Reynolds - Pinole Valley (CA) #45 DT
OL Poasi Moala - Rancho Verde (CA) #50 OT
DB Daquan Brown - Dorsey (CA) #53 CB
DL Dakota Turner - Mililani (HI) #66 DE
OLB Devin Benford - Skyline #145 OLB
WR Jermaine Kelly - Salesian (CA) #194 WR

Expect quite a bit of news pre- and post-camp on who is leaning toward joining the Purple and Gold, as well as who stood out at camp, who came out of nowhere to earn an offer, and how the results of the event might play themselves out in the next couple weeks as prospects return home to discuss what took place and whether not they see their future at Montlake.


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