Petersen talks 2017 recruiting class

On Wednesday, the first day of the 2017 signing period for football, Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen talked about his 17 official signings, including six from in-state and one from as far away as Australia.

Opening - “Excited for this day. Every coach at this point is really excited. We’ve got 17 kids, 10 on offense, six on defense and one specialist. Six from the great state of Washington, eight from California, two from Oregon, one from Utah. A bunch of these guys played in all-star games. I think this is a quality crew that we’re excited to get here. 

“I think the most exciting time is when we get them here in the summertime for the first time and really see them run around, see them work out. I do think we know a lot about these guys, been recruiting these guys for a long, long period of time. So we’ve gotten to watch just about every game film they played the last two years and some of them we’ve gotten to see play live, but I think we got a good handle on their skill set and, most importantly, the type of guys they are.

“I feel very similar to these guys that I have the last couple years, the classes that we signed - which I think is saying a whole heck of a lot. I hope I’m not overstating my bounds on that one because that’s pretty good with the guys that we’ve signed the last couple years have done.

“We’re really excited to coach ‘em and really proud of how they went through this recruiting process, because it’s getting harder and harder on them for sure. And their families were really impressive through this whole thing. 

“So, glad their Dawgs, and I’m glad today is here.”

How does anything change, if at all, with a smaller class compared to a full class of 25? - “I don’t ever want a class of 25 or 26. That’s a problem for us. You’re always trying to balance your classes out and it’s probably somewhere around ideally that 18 number, 17 to 20, somewhere in there. If you do the math it’s 17, but you bring in 17, 17 aren’t making it for five years. That’s not going to happen. So maybe you’re on to 20, the 20 range right there and you go from there. You don’t want it too small, because then you can’t reload and develop depth. So I think this was a decent number. We want to be somewhere around 17 to 20 in an ideal way. We’ve had it as low as maybe five or six guys and didn’t realize it until we got ourself in that situation. It’s hard to manage. Certain guys can do this thing, are good enough…leave the NFL early, so you’re always a work in progress with that.”

On committed players taking late visits - “I think we’ve had it every year. Every year I’ve been a coach we’ve had guys take visits. I always chuckle about this philosophy of being different, and I don’t think I’m much different than anybody else. I don’t think anybody is trying to take reservations to come to school. I’ll make a reservation and check it out…there’s a few schools that say fine, commit and go do your thing. But I think most are like us. All it means is, and we try and slow the process down. Don’t commit to us unless you’ve gone and seen everything. But I think when kids start committing earlier and you get professional salesmen on ‘em and this is the first time they’ve gone through it, all of a sudden it’s like maybe I need to go check out a different school. So I think the combination of that makes it harder on these kids. So that’s what I think. We’re always going to have that and it’s probably only going to get worse. It’s a fine line. Yeah we want your commitment but you need to make sure you’ve gone through the process of really checking every school out that might be on your radar. At that point if you want to commit here, that’s awesome because we want the commitment to mean something. There’s different words that mean different things. Commitment is, we are committed and we are done in this process.”

Are you dealing with higher caliber players as well? - “I will say this: we recruited guys in this class that had no offers when we started and when they were done they had every offer in the country. It was similar back where we came from. We would do the same thing and then people would start paying very close attention. I think our coaches are very good evaluators of talent and they do a good job of knowing what fits us and developing it. If a guy gets an offer from us, I think they are going to attract a lot of attention, especially if there’s a year or half a year left. Whether it’s deserved or not, we know what’s coming. That’s why it’s important for us to go through…I’m a firm believer in how we do things around here recruiting-wise than I’ve ever been for sure.”

In favor of an early signing period in December? - “Yeah, I am. It’s a little bit earlier. Month or so earlier, I guess is really all it is. Maybe in an ideal world it was right at the start of December before the coaches could get out, because that’s when I think a lot of things change. They get out to the kids and put thoughts in their heads that they’ve been committed for so long and then it makes it tougher. It’s a little bit of a Pandora’s box too because this is going to change things in recruiting dramatically. Some of it we can kind of speculate on how this is going to go and some of it is like, oh these are the ramifications from this early signing (period). And hopefully overall it’s better for the kids and better even for the schools. But everybody at this point, it’s a long, hard process and the last couple weeks are in some ways getting ridiculous.”

On some coaches like Rich Rodriguez advocating not having a signing period at all - “It’s interesting. I remember when he first started talking about that a couple years ago and at first I’m thinking no. But you can see some benefits of it. It kind of takes away some of…you don’t need to commit. Just sign. Done. We’re good to go. That makes sense in terms of those types of things. But I think at the end of the day what everybody’s trying to do is make sure the kids can get it right for them and their families. I don’t think anybody’s in disagreement with that. It’s just like some of the processes these kids have to endure can be tough.”

How important is it to get mid-year commits now? - “One thing is, if you get them here sooner you don’t have to recruit them as long. That’s a big thing. And certainly it helps the kids to come through and start lifting and if they can get spring ball, that’s really a good thing. But it’s not the end of the day. So many of these kids are so developed and come from programs that have really sophisticated schemes that they’ve seen them before. We’re playing all these freshmen that didn’t come early. I still think it has to fit the kid and the family to want to leave high school early and come here. If it does, great, and if it doesn’t that’s okay too. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to play when you get here in the fall.”

Are unaffiliated people becoming more of an issue? - “It’s different than it was a handful of years ago, for sure. You just dealt with high school coaches. Nowadays there’s more people that have these kids’ ears and are in them with this process, that go along the recruiting process with them. So yeah, it’s just different. Our job as coaches is to continually change with the times, and stay true to who you are, who we are. I mean, that’s the whole thing of our program. We’re going to continue to evaluate, develop, change, tweak, try to stay on the cutting edge of everything we do but staying true to who we are. And so that’s kind of a little bit of the uniqueness and excitedness of being a college football coach, not only the football part of things, but recruiting, as well. It’s always changing. How do we stay there and get the kids that we really feel like are the OKGs?”

On decommitting becoming so trendy - “I think that’s what we were talking about a little bit. I think sometimes these kids commit so far out in advance, and then there’s a lot of times where guys are just, continually, continually in their ear, and then maybe after a while, it’s like, well, maybe I need to go check this place out. And I think the pressure on these kids is tremendous with all the things they hear and those type of things. Everybody is trying to figure out how to make the process better for everybody involved.”

On how disappointing it is to lose commitments late in the process - “That’s one of the beauties of kids not figuring it out a year in advance, but a couple months, you’ve still got your board. I think kids changing their minds today, or a week ago, certainly that’s tougher to adjust and go that direction. But there’s a few things that I really believe strongly in, in terms of football and recruiting and all those things, and I’ll never get away from it. One of them is, we never worry about the kids that don’t come here. That has nothing to do with the success of our program. And I know everybody outside, ‘oh, this guy,’ I mean, I just laugh at some of the stars that some of these guys have when like, four months ago, they were, like, not even on anybody’s radar. And so that has nothing to do with our program. What has everything to do with our program, how good we’re going to be? These guys better be able to play. When we don’t miss on these guys, that’s everything. The guys that don’t come here, that has nothing to do with nothing. Because I’ve tracked it for a long time, and a lot of years, and it’s just amazing how that has so little effect on anything that we’re doing here.”

Whether the reception from recruits is different since the CFP appearance - “I think this – when we came here and we got Budda (Baker) and his crew and we got the next crew ... people can say whatever they want: we know who we want in our program, and we know what we can do with them. And I think the results this year spoke loud. I think we feel similar about these guys.”

On wanting comments on each player - “I don’t really have that, because I don’t know. I mean, you’ve watched as much tape as anyone has. They wouldn’t be on this paper if we didn’t feel really strongly about them.”

On the story behind Joel Whitford’s signing day photo - “I think Bob Gregory told him hey, sign the letter, take a picture so we can put it out there and see it, and he kind of took it from there. I did ask him, I said, what? He goes, ‘yeah, well, I was going to first start with them all in the barn, and they didn’t all fit in there, so we went out to a field and took a picture. I said, ‘that’s one of the greatest pictures that we’ve ever seen in recruiting. I don’t know if you know that, but it’ll go in the hall of fame.’”

On trend of QBs from Northern California named Jake - “That might be a problem, actually (laughs). We’re excited about Jake Haener, for sure. We’ve been around him, we’ve had a chance to see him throw a few different times at our camps, other camps, those type of things. We’re excited.”

Is QB recruiting mostly about decision-making and accuracy, or more than that? - “It’s not just those two things. It’s the most it’s the most complicated position in all of sports, but some things that we can latch on to, to recruit kids and all of that. I don’t know. It’s just interesting. As we talk about things changing and having to continually adapt with the times, I still go back to things we believed in for a long, long time, many years, whether it’s quarterback play with how we’re going to recruit OKGs, how we’re going to develop culture within our locker room, within our staff – it’s like the crazier things get, the more you change, there’s still things that you just go back to, and I think the same thing at quarterback. Nothing has taken us a different direction.”

On how big of a factor one game can be to a recruit deciding between schools - “One game? No. You know what, I don’t. And I’m always even kind of amazed, too. We had so many good seasons in the past and that matters, that adds up, but we’ve recruited a lot of kids that have gone other places, where I’m thinking, ‘that program’s not doing anything.’ That’s a factor, for sure. Kids want to go where they think they can win. But I don’t think any one game has anything to do with anything.”

Taylor Rapp was somewhat unheralded as a recruit but ended up being really good as a freshman … anyone on this list have the chance to do that? - “I can’t say that, because we didn’t know that about Taylor Rapp. I feel great about all these guys. I could make a case for all those guys. But I don’t know until they get here. I really don’t. It’s just not fair to say. That’s why I don’t want to. They’re not going to be on this list unless they’re big time players, in our opinion, and have a chance to have a really, really big upside. But we felt great about Taylor. Just sitting here like this a year ago. And until you get them out there, in ball, and see them go through some hard things and how fast they pick this stuff up and then what their instincts are all about … until you actually know that, when they’re with you, it’s just really hard to know. It’s very hard for me to sit here and say, ‘oh my gosh, this guy from Juanita High School, oh my gosh, you guys haven’t seen anything.’ And Salvon (Ahmed) we think is as good as anything we’ve been around, but it’s like, let’s just let them get here. They’ve got enough expectations on them already just signing with us. So we’re thrilled with these guys, but we’ll just see when they get here. Everybody’s maturation and development is at a different time than the next guy.”

Were you surprised Elijah Molden was as receptive to UW as he was, considering his family history? - “You know, certain guys have big-time ties and sometimes they grow up for a long period of time (with one school). And that’s part of the process to see, like, yeah we might like a guy or a guy might really like us. It’s got to be mutual. We knew there would be some interest just with past history with the family. But that’s what the whole recruiting process is about. I can’t tell you how many kids end up going to different places than they (thought they go to) all along. But then when they do the process right, the fits are kind of different in terms of what they’re really looking for. We feel so great about Elijah. That’s what I think about. I know you guys want to talk about all this talent and what they’re going to be like. They wouldn’t be on this list if they weren’t talented. Where I really get excited at this point is I just think these guys fit us. And they fit the culture we’re all about. They’re really good kids. Elijah Molden is — every time we’d (visit), whether he was up here or we’d go down there for a home visit with him, you’d just walk out of there going, ‘These are the kind of kids we want to coach. This is who we want to be around.’ And fortunately for us, he felt the same on their side in terms of the school, let alone the football part of things."

Are you expecting any more additions to this class? - “You never know. We’re never done. Always working.”

On three wide receivers and two tight ends in this class — passing game a priority? - “We wanted to get three receivers in this class. We always kind of have a number (for each position), but we’re not going to take guys just to fill spots. We will not do that. I think people would be surprised at how diligent we are at that, and maybe some guys we’ve passed on for one reason or another. But wanted to take three (receivers) if we could find the right three and feel really good about those guys. I think Bush Hamdan’s done a great job really finding the guys we think are really going to fit our system. That’ll be an interesting crew.”

Looks like a nice blend of receivers - “I think that’s always (the goal) at the receiver position, and I think that’s a lot of times at the tight end position as well. You’ve got to kind of mix and match the group because of the different things that we do. Some guys are big, strong and can block; and some guys can run faster. We’re always trying to do that, and I think that’s really a unique group.”

Any of these guys you could see as a two-way player a la Budda Baker or John Ross? - “We’re not going to recruit a guy at (one) position and then move him. That kind of messes with our numbers. So we always slot him in there. Salvon, I know a lot of people talked about him as a DB as well. But we’ve kind of thought all along (about him) at that running back position. A guy like that, we really try to push him to ask him where they’re heart is. And sometimes we’ve got to push hard to figure (it) out because I think you can make a case on either side of the ball for him. But we need to start him somewhere to get him going. I think in his heart, push come to shove, he’d like to be a running back, which is awesome for us."

After making the playoff, did the reception change among high school coaches? - “I don’t think so. I know everybody would like to say, ‘Hey, we won some games, got to a semifinal and it all changed …’ But I just have never felt that. I’ve just always felt like we’ve got really good relationships with these high school coaches in the West … and it’s kind of always been the same for us. We have a lot of relationships and I didn’t really feel like being treated any different. I feel like we’ve always been treated really good by so many of these high school coaches. A lot of them know what we’re all about, so they know if they think a kid fits us or not — academically, athletically, culturally, all those things.”

With the offensive line, you had a couple guards graduate. What was the plan with picking up these three new linemen? - “Sometimes, like at that offensive line position, depending on your numbers — for us, you’re always going with a three number. It’s not going to happen every year. We might be over (that amount) or we need another number somewhere else — it might even be on defense — but if everything’s how we hoped it would you’d take three offensive linemen (every year). And then it’s a matter of, are we trying to get two tackles? Are we trying to get two inside guys? Or are we just trying to take the best players? And that’s kind of what we’re working as we go. … It’s a combination of those things. It varies from year to year.”

And with legacy recruits like Jaxson Kirkland, do you approach them differently or the same as any other recruit? - “No, it’s exactly the same. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Sometimes that’s not a good thing. It’s about them. Their dad already did his thing, so it’s about (the recruit). I think it’s kind of cool if it all works out, but that really should be about the kid and not the dad.”

Looking ahead, you already have a couple public commitments for 2018. Speaking generically, how much does it help to have a quarterback in the fold so early? - “I’m not sure if I can talk about that, the specifics of that. It’s just ongoing, this whole recruiting process, and it changes as it goes.”

Aside from the guys who declared for the draft, have there been any personnel changes? - “Nope. Everybody’s back at it working hard. And those guys that are going to the draft are often somewhere in some sunny spot working hard too.”

On Browning - “Jake’s good. Jake’s doing really good. He just had a minor procedure. It really was. It wasn’t like we were in the season and said, ‘This guy’s going to have to have something done after the season.’ It was after the season, (they) kept looking at it, kept looking at it and doctors thought, ‘If we do this one little thing that might help him down the road.’ So he’s doing really good.”

Expect him for spring ball? - “He will (be available). We’ve already had a plan — you know, Jake is one of those guys that just loves to throw and throw and throw. So from really when he got here, we’ve been trying to back him off (after) these long years, to make sure. And so he should be fine for spring ball, but also want to give these other (quarterbacks) some really good work in spring ball.


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