"I'm excited about this group," said Gilbertson as he started out. "I'd say give the events of last summer, this is quite an effort on behalf of our staff and I just think it speaks well of what this university has to offer. It's a great city to live in and it's a great university to attend and we still have a proud, tradition-rich program."
In a year when the state was expected to produce the best crop of linemen in a long time, Gilbertson and his staff made sure that he and his staff went out full force to get some of these big boys to stay home as well as shore up any potential depth problems the future may bring.
"The number one thing that we're going to make a commitment to is making sure that our line of scrimmage situation is always deep and that we create more depth there," he said. Gilbertson noted that he only expected eight healthy linemen available for Spring Football. "This group answers a lot of those questions just in terms of the amount of numbers of linemen being in the program."
With attrition and injuries depleting the line depth, Gilbertson thought about going out and getting a junior college linemen who could come in a help immediately. However, he noted that there was not anyone in the JC ranks that caught the eye of the coaching staff and therefore, the staff concentrated on the youngsters who will eventually develop into standout linemen.
"We did not go out an identify junior college players that we thought could come right in make us better," he said. "We looked and looked, but we just didn't see any. We weren't just going to recruit junior college players to do it so we still have depth problems for next year's team but once these youngsters grow and mature, then I think you'll see a lot of quality line of scrimmage players."
But with the lack of depth, comes the need to play some true freshmen on the line. When asked which players might forgo their red-shirt season right off the bat, Gilbertson did not mention any names but noted that it would most likely come from his stable of new linemen. "I think there's an awfully good possibility that one of these freshmen linemen will be in the two-deep on both sides of the ball," he said. "We do not have numbers of veterans coming back that would keep anyone from doing that so if a guy looks like he is strong and mature and can learn and handle what we don schematically when he gets here, a couple of these guys will have a chance to be in the two-deeps in the fall.
Washington signed 12 in-state players for the 2004 class, and got two-out-of-three of the highest rated in-state recruits. While Bethel linemen Aaron Klovas decided to pack up and head south to Oregon, Woodinville quarterback Matt Tuiasosopo and Ballard safety Keauntea Bankhead decided to stay close to home and become Huskies.
"Obviously you take a guy like Keauntea Bankhead," said Gilbertson. "He really jumps out at you and someone like Matt Tuiasosopo. We just felt like those two guys were in-state guys and that it was an absolute must that they come to Washington. We just didn't feel like regardless of anything else, that if those two guys weren't on our list, we wouldn't have felt very good about this class. So the fact that both of them are here is a marvelous thing for the University of Washington."
Tuiasosopo is the obvious gem for this class. As the younger brother of former Husky quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, Matt will obviously hear the comparisons. Gilbertson was no exception.
"He seems to have that same ability to inspire the people around him to play at a level that jumps out at you," said Gilbertson. "He has run the option, but I also think he has what it takes to be a great thrower. He has all the tools. He can run, he can throw, he's tough, he can lead, and it's everything you're looking for in a college quarterback."
"So if we can put a good group around him like we did for Marques and let the guy lead, I think the future is real bright."
Tuiasosopo's future is still somewhat undecided. Earlier on Wednesday on KJR, Tuiasosopo told listeners that playing professional baseball has always intrigued him and if he was to be drafter this spring and received an offer he could not refuse, he would be willing to leave football behind.
"I've had some people tell me that he's the best baseball player in the state of Washington," said Gilbertson. "I certainly would be excited for him to be playing baseball here for the Huskies." A few season back, Gilbertson recruited an athlete by the name of Grady Sizemore, who also was drawing interest from baseball scouts. Sizemore was drafted the following spring and eventually left his football scholarship behind and is in the Cleveland Indians minor league system today.
"Certainly in my conversations with Matt, I made it known that I was really excited about him playing baseball for the University of Washington," said Gilbertson. "If they're dangling millions at him, I'm sure going to miss him. He's got a place here where we'd be one, excited about him being our quarterback, and two, excited about him being on our baseball team."
Bankhead, who is also the cousin of Nate Robinson, possesses the same kind of athleticism. Bankhead can play a number of positions such as safety, wide receiver, and running back, but Gilbertson and Bankhead himself sees him as a dominating college safety.
"I think he's a guy that will remind you of Lawyer (Milloy) at safety," said Gilbertson. "He's got those type of skills. He can hit and he also caught 22 passes in one game and I'll pick up the paper and see that he got 24-28 points in basketball. He's a guy who can do a lot of things but I see him as a safety. I think he has great leadership ability and he had a lot to do with Ballard's rise into the top echelon of 4A football in this state."
Gilbertson also noted that this class had a variety of athletes with speed too go along with athleticism. Gilbertson mentioned the speed of his linebackers, Walter Winter, Trenton Tuiasosopo, and Dan Howell as players who are tough as well as speedy as something of strength for this class. Johnnie Kirton of Jackson HS in Mill Creek, is the only projected tailback for this class and was the state's leading rusher and came one yard short of former Husky Matthias Wilson's single season rushing record.
"He's 240lb back," said Gilbertson of Kirton. "We haven't had a big back like that for while with that kind of speed and just felt strongly that he stayed and come to the University of Washington."
"I like our backs, but we don't have a big back on our team and Johnnie is a big back. I think we need that in our offense. Whenever he's mature enough and ready to give us that, we're going to need that. I think back to Maurice Shaw and how productive he was as a runner. We really haven't had a guy with that dimension. We have small, really quick, athletic people like Kenny James and Shelton Sampson but we didn't have anybody with the size of Johnnie."
Caesar Rayford of Bethel HS, who Gilbertson called, "a terrific, terrific athlete with great quickness who can play tight end or defensive end," currently plays basketball for Bethel and is someone else that the coaching staff is highly excited about.
Among the 23 players the Huskies signed, there were three junior college players that faxed in their letters of intent to the Graves Building. Safety Dashon Goldson and defensive end Rashaad Goodrum had their letters in back in December, while cornerback Josh Okoebor faxed in his LOI this morning. Goldson is already enrolled in school, while Goodrum and Okoebor are expected to arrive in time for spring quarter and spring drills.
Goldson originally signed with Washington two years ago but did not make it in due to academics. It was a similar situation with Donte Nicholson from last year. Nicholson, a hard hitting safety like Goldson, signed with Washington out of high school and eventually went the JC route. Nicholson however decided to sign with Oklahoma last season. Goldson on the other hand said ‘yes' to the Huskies for the second time and came to Seattle last month.
"We felt (Goldson) was the top junior college safety in the country. We kept in touch with him and he just got better and better and better."
Goldson however visited Husky team doctors, who discovered a shoulder injury that he had been playing with for about a year. "I think it's significant to note that it was damaged and our doctors said this guy must be really tough to play with this shoulder and play as well as he did," said Gilbertson. "He'll be out for spring but he'll be ready for fall."
Gilbertson hopes that Goodrum will turn out to be the explosive pass-rusher that makes the Huskies defensive line that much better. "We've had our eye on him for a couple years," said Gilbertson. He's a junior college transfer from L.A. Valley and he's a very highly recruited athlete who is very fast and very explosive up the field. We're very excited about him."
Okoebor, out of San Bernardino Valley CC, will have three years to play three seasons and was brought in to add depth to the cornerback position that lost Chris Massey and Roc Alexander to graduation.
Gilbertson noted that he felt that this entire class will be academically eligible for fall. He did note however that there were a few recruits who had some things they needed to take care of still.
"For the most part, I think everyone will qualify," he said. "Is there some work to do? Heck yeah. There are some guys that have work to do. We have in place a plan as to what they have to do to qualify and clear the clearing house."
Another thing that Gilbertson brought up was the "tough questions" that the coaching staff has been asking the recruits in order to see if they will fit the Husky system.
"We were asking the questions like if these guys were tough guys and could they graduate from the University of Washington. We got a lot of tough questions asked about the people in this group," said Gilbertson.
However with recent activity off the field in Montlake, it came as no surprise to the coaching staff that recruits and their family had some questions of their own. "They would ask me questions about my contract and just about the events that happened last summer and what was going on and when it was all going to end," he said. "There were questions where I couldn't answer. But I just talked to them about this place, this city, and this university and the tradition here. But the tougher questions were about last summer and what was going on with it."
In some case, opposing schools and coaches could use that against Washington when they were directly competing for the services of the athlete. Gilbertson however refused to believe that the negative news about Washington had any effect on this class.
"I had no sense that people were bad-mouthing or using it and I had no sense that it really made any difference in the quality of this class," he said. "If somebody said they didn't come here because of those things, they probably didn't get offered or we weren't that serious about them. The people that we were serious about, we made sure they understood that we're not all screwed up here and that this is an awesome place and an awesome city with a good program and that it's got a bright future. "
There has been no announcement yet regarding coaching changes.
The 2004 Spring Football Schedule has been released and it is available at GoHuskies.com.
Timing Day, otherwise known as Pro Day is March 11th at Husky Stadium for all players eligible for the 2004 NFL Draft.
There were some position changes announced by Gilbertson, with some already being known for a while now. James Sims has been moved to fullback to back up Zach Tuiasosopo, Andy Heater has moved from tight end to the defensive line with Graham Lasee making the switch from defensive line to tight end. Evan Benjamin has also moved up closer to the line of scrimmage from safety to the SAM linebacker. Manase Hopoi may move inside and outside the line like sort of what Terry Johnson did the second half of the season.
According to Gilbertson, Nate Robinson has not made any indication that he will turn out for football this season. There are rumors that Robinson promised his cousin Keauntea Bankhead that he would come out for football should Bankhead sign with the Huskies. As of today, Gilbertson said that he has not had discussions with Robinson about his football plans and that he would be open to Robinson rejoining the football team.
Huskies ink 2004 recruiting class
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