Commitment Impact: Michael Neal

With his verbal commitment late Thursday night, Michael Neal of Etiwanda, Calif. became Washington's fourth public commitment for their 2015 recruiting class. At nearly 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, his size alone gives the Huskies a body type they can work with in a number of ways. But how will they do it? And what does his commitment mean for others looking at UW?

Neal was recruited as a hybrid TE/WR, meaning he'll play on the edge at times as an in-line traditional tight end, but he'll also be asked to split out wide and create mismatches on the outside. HERE is a link to Neal's HUDL film, which shows off his size, as well as his ability to play outside the hashmarks as a bigger receiving threat against smaller cornerbacks.

Given how players like Josh Perkins and Darrell Daniels were used in the spring, as well as the signing of 6-foot-5 Brayden Lenius for the incoming recruiting class, it's no wonder the UW coaches are enamored with the idea of getting bigger out on the fringes of play. Take into account Kasen Williams' injury and Damore'ea Stringfellow's departure from school, and frankly the Huskies need size out wide. Right now only DiAndre Campbell affords them size at either the split end or flanker positions, so being able to utilize current hybrid offensive players makes sense. It also makes sense for UW to start stockpiling such talent, especially if they are two-way stars at the high school level. If offense doesn't pan out for them, there's a role for them on special teams at the very least, or possibly defense; their size and physical ability should always afford them at least a chance to find the field in some capacity.

What does his commitment mean for others? - Neal made a quick decision, a bit of a shock to those that spoke to him after he was offered a scholarship last week. Most expected him to take his time and see if the UW offer created a bit of momentum for him on the recruiting trail. But Thursday night he made his decision known, and Friday he told Dawgman.com's Scott Eklund one of the reasons he decided to commit now was the simple fact that there was no real reason to wait after being convinced of Washington's sincere early interest.

Central Kitsap's Brion Anduze must have had the same idea, because Friday he verbally committed to Arizona. We expect to see Anduze at the UW Rising Stars Camp that day, but when the news came out that he had made his decision for the ‘Cats, the timing started to make sense. Maybe it was simply a coincidence, but the timing of Neal's commitment to UW, followed by Anduze's pledge to UA had the feel of players taking scholarships in hand while they were still in hand. Obviously we'll be looking to see if Anduze shows up Saturday, but Neal's commitment may have shut things down for Anduze as far as the Huskies are concerned.

Expect to see more commitments like this down the road, for a couple of reasons - First, it's not unexpected for UW fans to be mixed in their reaction to Neal's commitment. Obviously there's not a ton known about him, and UW was his first offer. Everyone wants to get excited when the Huskies beat out all the top schools for a player like a Budda Baker or a Jake Browning, but the reality is that's not going to happen on a regular basis.

But fans need to remember how Chris Petersen made a killing at Boise State. He did it by evaluating players early, projecting them, and then developing that talent. Chase Baker, Geraldo Boldewijn, Richie Brockel, Ryan Clady, Tyrone Crawford, Tyrone Crawford, George Iloka, Demarcus Lawrence, Charles Leno, Doug Martin, Shea McClellan, Kellen Moore, Matt Paradis, Austin Pettis, Nate Potter, Orlando Scandrick, Jamar Taylor, Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, Kyle Wilson, and Billy Winn are all on current NFL rosters, and of those 19 players (one more than Washington), only one was rated over three stars - Moore.

The simple fact is, they saw something in Neal early, followed up during their recent Redlands camp, and it confirmed what they were hoping to see. They quickly responded with a scholarship offer, and the rest is history. That's having confidence in your evaluations and how you project a player at the next level. This particular staff under Petersen solidified their reputation as one of the best staffs in the business of college football doing exactly that for years. Just because they moved to a fancy uptown address doesn't mean you try and fix what isn't broken. The formula is in place, the methods remain.

Second, Neal's relatively early offer came around due to potential. At his size, Neal has wide shoulders and hips, and is expected to play in college closer to 240 than 210. He has room to grow, and the UW coaches are going to make sure he does just that - get bigger, stronger, and faster. The staff can take a chance at that particular position now because Steve Sarkisian left the cupboard full of quality talent. By taking a flyer on Neal, who oozes upside, the offensive coaches can now completely sell-out to the idea of using the bigger hybrid players in multiple situations - not only catching passes in tradition tight end areas (seams, zones, crossing routes), but they can also work out wide and create mismatches and also act as bigger blockers in all sorts of screen packages.

The recent California camp visibility is already paying off - The Washington staff took advantage of NCAA rules which allow coaches to work camps more than 50 miles from their campuses. So on June 12th, they helped coach up kids at the University of Redlands, were at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks the next day, and at Laney College in Oakland June 14th.

These three camps were in very heavily-populated territory for college football prospects. The University of Redlands, like Etiwanda, is part of the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles. It's next to schools like Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Los Osos, Pomona, Chino, Fontana, Fontana Summit, Fontana Kaiser, Upland, Ontario Colony, Redlands East Valley, Riato Eisenhower, Colton, and others - roughly 60 high schools in total.

Thousand Oaks is in a talent-rich recruiting area about 15 miles north of Los Angeles, while Oakland is recruiting central when talking about the East Bay Area in Northern California.

Neal was coached up at the Redlands camp, and the Huskies haven't really been a force in the Inland Empire since the late 90's, when the 1997 and 1998 classes, for example, brought in Sam Blanche (Pomona Eisenhower), Darnell Parhms (Rancho Cucamonga Damien), and Andrae Perry (Fontana). In fact, you have to go back to the 2001 recruiting class to find an Etiwanda player on a UW roster - RB Chris Singleton. Going back all the way to the beginning of the Don James era, the furthest east the Huskies would typically recruit out of Los Angeles was Pasadena.

That might be changing a little bit. Right now, Andrew Hudson (Redlands East Valley), Joe Mathis (Upland), Azeem Victor (Pomona), and Josh Shirley (Fontana Kaiser) have all been on the UW roster the last couple years, and Chris Polk and Ronnie Fouch are notable UW alumni from REV in the recent past.

If we see verbal commits from where the satellite camps were held - UW coaches were also at the Maximum Exposure Camp at Mililani High School on the island of Oahu the week prior - one could reasonably suggest that these opportunities to coach (and presumably scout at the same time) prospects has become an invaluable tool in an attempt to reach out to those that may not have the resources or time to travel and attend the UW Rising Stars camp.

So the reality of these camps is a win-win as far as Washington is concerned; the coaches can come to talent-rich areas and personally coach players that could turn into legitimate prospects, and the players don't have to shell out a lot of money in an attempt to gain significant attention in the recruiting process.

Mike Neal is a testament to that.


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