Recruiting 2006 – Christmas Update

Washington's recruiting effort has had one very common theme, in case you haven't noticed so far – they are going after TOUGH football players. Sure, the talent needs upgrading, but most of all, the culture needs tweaking in a big way. The best way to do this is to bring in new faces, thus recruiting is the key. And Tyrone Willingham is recruiting tough kids that want to win and work hard.

Here is a run down of the current commits. After watching film, talking with high school and college coaches, here are some opines of who is in the kennel already and when and where they might play:

Leilon Myers 6-0 195 – Myers really was recruited as an athlete with no particular position in mind. It was his attitude that he'd play anywhere, as well as good speed and size, that caught the Husky coach's attention. Look for him to play either wide receiver or safety. I know that the Husky coaches have told him to be ready to play from day one the minute he steps foot on campus, but hopefully he'll get the opportunity to develop in the weight room and physically mature. Especially if he winds up in the defensive backfield. There have been too many instances where young kids play way too early for Washington and wind up injured because they weren't physically ready. Both Roc Alexander and Derrick Johnson played too early, tore themselves up before they were physically ready, and were not able to properly lift weights. Thus they were set back from an early age. They have both made the jump to the NFL so their potential was always there – they were just thrust into action so early that they never were able to become what they could've at Washington if they were able to spend time building their bodies to handle the banging. Hopefully Myers will be afforded this luxury. If so, look for him as a safety that will first see the field in the two-deeps in 2006.

DL Anthony Atkins 6-3 252 – Washington needs a pass rusher, and he could be the guy. He will likely get his shot at defensive end, most likely the "HUSKY" end which has been a revolving door, instead of the "REB" pass rusher position that Greyson Gunheim has nailed down. Atkins is physically ready for the Pac-10, and is being brought in with immediate playing time in mind. Look for him in the two-deeps in 2006 if all goes as planned. The nice thing about Atkins is that he is also very capable of being a tough inside linebacker, where he's played at Compton CC. He has already faxed in his LOI. I see Atkins as either a starter or key substitute for Randy Hart on the tight end side of the formation.

DL DeShon Matthews 6-5 253 – A highly ranked high school prospect with great size, Matthews could play early at defensive end if needed, or could be a longer range project, put on some weight, and move inside as an interior player after a couple of years in the strength and conditioning program. I envision Matthews being the 3-technique defensive tackle next to Cameron Elisara at the nose tackle spot for the 2008 season and beyond. Having those two tough guys manning the middle of the trenches for the future Dawgs sounds very appealing. Hopefully Matthews will be given the time to build his body while Jordan White-Frisbee and Erik Lobos break out and give the Huskies solid minutes over the next two to three seasons.

DS Danny Morovick 6- 3 230 – A specialist, Morovick will have one job at Montlake. Deliver fast, accurate spirals to holders and punters. With four years of eligibility remaining, Washington will have no worries for a while at this crucial position. Morovick is one of the best in the nation at his trade and will have a job the minute he steps on campus. What a nice change of pace from previous seasons as coaches would stand and audition deep snappers while holding their breath as ball after ball would flutter, bounce, and sail all over Husky stadium.

WR Marcel Reece 6-3 235 – A tall wide out that weighs 235 pounds and apparent 4.4 speed, what's not to like here? Other colleges thought he might be a mid-year guy because of his academic situation, so Washington got him fairly easily. He still may make it in time for spring football, so stay tuned. If he does, it's hard to imagine him not being in the mix, or if he has good hands, possibly starting. With three years to complete two years of eligibility, he's a great pick up for the Huskies, who lost their top wide receiver (Craig Chambers) to transfer. Don't expect him to redshirt unless he has trouble grasping the offense. He is an impact player that is joining an offense with very few of those.

LB Jake Merrill 6-2 200 – Merrill has ready made safety size, and is listed that way in the database, but I envision him moving to linebacker if he grows at all. He won't be asked to contribute too early so he'll have time to develop in the weight room. It is never a bad thing to get local kids that work hard into the program, and Merrill fits the description. He's a tough kid, something Willingham wants desperately on the roster. I see Merrill redshirting in 2006, spending time on special teams in 2007, and then filling out to be a 220-pound SAM linebacker by the end of his third year (redshirt-sophomore) in the program.

CB Jordan Murchison 6-0 184 – Murchison started a few games for CCSF but he is not really considered a top flight defensive back just yet. However his size and speed is intriguing. Husky coaches liked him from the moment they saw him, so his potential obviously holds great things in store. He may be too raw, as Josh Okoebor was upon his arrival, to play right away. However his measurables make him an excellent future defensive back if he's coachable. Hopefully he'll be redshirted to allow him to be coached a bit more before he sees Pac-10 receivers and quarterbacks. With the lack of pass rush in recent seasons, asking Murchison to step right in and be a shut-down corner from day one is too much.

LB Donald Butler 6-1 230 – Donald wowed the Husky coaches in their own camp. He was the MVP of the purple and gold camp, so the offer to be a Husky came right away. Butler seems perfect for the MIK, or inside linebacker position. He is a skilled running back, so his speed and nose for the ball are what you want in a linebacker. He will definitely redshirt in 2006 unless something unforeseen happens, but by 2007 you should start seeing him climb up the depth charts. Having a former running back man the inside as your stuff the middle linebacker just sounds perfect to me. He could be ready for a look at the starting MIK job by 2008, when he'll be a sophomore if all goes to plan.

QB Jake Locker 6-2 210 – Montlake Jake is the top QB the Huskies could've brought in. Not because he has a strong arm, great instincts, and is a very strong runner – all of those things are true. But mostly because he is a winner and is a natural leader. Locker is the plum of the class, and I am not exaggerating when I say that he could be the starter by the fourth game next season. Tyrone Willingham wasn't afraid to put in Brady Quinn as a true freshman after four games, so there is precedence. Locker has that thing that the current Husky quarterbacks don't – that leadership moxie that resides in his soul. It is something that was not taught, Jake just has it. You look into his eyes and you see a winner, a guy that you KNOW is going to lead you down the field, move the chains, and do it with sheer will. Locker has arm strength, speed, smarts, and a passion for the game. It probably isn't fair to Jake to write this, but I can easily see him starting by week five if the Huskies are struggling rudderless next year on offense.

TB James Montgomery 5-10 195 – James was the top running back on not only Washington's board, but UCLA's as well this year, I was told by a good source. He has created strong friendship bonds with many current Husky commits already. His family wants him to go to Cal but I don't see James not coming to Seattle. Montgomery is a Willingham guy for sure, and very well could be getting carries in 2006 if he arrives in shape and ready to go. Tailback is a position where you can get early carries without hammering your confidence, if your carries are well planned. Washington has enough depth to not have to rely on Montgomery in 2006, so it's a perfect situation for him. He is definitely a top 20 back in the country type recruit, and a terrific get if his LOI faxes in as planned. I expect it to.

DT Cameron Elisara 6-3 275 – Cameron's ability is unquestioned, but the thing Husky fans will love about him is that he is TOUGH. Willingham has been focused on bringing in guys that he knows will be tough football players, and Elisara fits the mold. Elisara will play the nose tackle or possibly the 3-technique, and after a redshirt year should make his way up the depth charts quickly as he puts on weight. Watch out for him as he gets 290 well-muscled pounds onto his frame and develops more strength under new Husky strength and conditioning coach Trent Greener, who specializes in making bad-asses out of guys. Elisara could be a special player if given time to mature and develop (IE: build muscle to avoid injury and wear and tear). Look for him and Matthews inside in years 2008 and 2009, when they both should be 290+ pound terrors.

OT Ryan Tolar 6-6 330 – Ryan is another kid that is all about toughness. His attitude and nasty streak is something that cannot be taught. He is a three-year starter in high school, and many feel that he could be the best lineman to ever come out of the Big-9 league. After two years of strength and conditioning (he should trim some weight and build some lean muscle by the 2008 season), look for him to push for a starting role as a strong tackle. Tolar just needs work on speed and conditioning, but the intangibles that you cannot coach (intensity and toughness) are already there.

That is 12 verbals at press time. Look for Washington to pick up verbal commitments from probably 10-12 more kids in the following weeks.

Author's Note: In part II of this article, I'll take a look at who's left on the board and who the Huskies will likely get to fill out the class of 2006.

TOUGH LOSS: Coye Francies. Francies was a big pick up for the Huskies, as he was being looked at as an instant contributor in the fledgling Husky defensive backfield. He was also the Huskies main return threat option, so it was a double blow to lose him to Oregon State. Francies has 11 picks last year, which would've been attractive on the boundary corner. Nigel Burton did a wonderful job of recruiting him to Oregon State. Not much you can do but tip your cap to the former Husky on this pilferage.

If there is a bright spot to losing Francies (I'm reaching), the Huskies now have the opportunity to show top notch high school kids that there is immediate playing time available.