Willingham talks recruiting

Even after a difficult first season as the head coach of the University of Washington, Tyrone Willingham was upbeat as he introduced the 2006 recruiting class to the local media at the Founders Club. Willingham announced the signings of 21 athletes who will wear the purple and gold next season and spoke on their potential to bring the Husky program back to prominence.

"We're really excited about the prospects we are bringing in today," Willingham said to the throng of local media in attendance. "We have a class filled two-thirds with talented high school players and one-third with junior college guys.

"We got a very positive response from the recruits that we talked with and went after during the season. There are always disappointments and always guys that break your heart when you're recruiting, but we're happy with the players we got. We think they bring toughness to the program and are good football players.

A noted change from previous classes Willingham has recruited at his two previous stops as a head coach (Notre Dame and Stanford) was the presence of junior college prospects on the list of committed players.

Two players already on campus are long-snapper Danny Morovick and CB Jordan Murchison, both of whom signed letters of intent in December and have been on campus for a month.

"Need, need and need," Willingham said with his trademark smirk regarding Morovick being offered as a long-snapper. "Anyone can put their head down and snap a ball between their legs, but he is an excellent snapper and we needed someone in that spot."

Murchison is a player that didn't see a lot of time on his JC team this past season, but that didn't deter Willingham from taking a chance on the athletic corner from City College of San Francisco.

"The competition there was good, but we liked his athleticism and athletic skills and his approach to the game," Willingham said. "He also fills a need in our secondary that we needed to add depth in."

Five other JC's will be on campus this fall.

DE Anthony Atkins and S Ashlee Palmer from Compton JC, OL Sir Aaron Mason from Santa Monica CC, WR Marcel Reece from El Camino CC and DB Jason Wells from Mt. San Antonio JC.

"I am very excited about having (Reece) in the fold," a near giddy Willingham said referring to the athletic wideout from southern California. "He's big and physical. I think he goes somewhere around 220 pounds and he can run. What is there not to be excited about?"

Mason is a player who will need to put on some weight but many analysts see him as a player that has NFL potential.

Atkins and Palmer are players that will see time right away with both expected to attend spring drills. Some from the media may have written-off UW's chances with the athletic Palmer after he signed with Nebraska in December as an early-enrollee, but because he was short one class it made his signed letter of intent null-and-void.

"It may have been a surprise to some of you, but not to us," Willingham said regarding the minor coup the Husky staff pulled off. "He is an athletic player who will add more toughness to our safety position and we're just really glad to have him. I credit our coaches for being diligent when recruiting these players."

Atkins will get a look first at defensive end but Willingham left open the possibility that Atkins as well as several other players could end up moving to different positions if the need or their skills determine a shift is necessary.

"(Atkins) will start off at defensive end even though most of his playing experience has been at linebacker," Willingham said. "This is a very versatile group who could do well at several different positions. "

Lynwood HS athlete Leilyon Myers is one of those versatile players. It appears that he will end up at running back to start, but Willingham acknowledged he could succeed anywhere on the field.

Three local players who figure into the mix in the trenches are Pasco's Ryan Tolar, Ferris' Cameron Elisara and Skyline's Cody Habben.

"(Elisara) has a great motor, great enthusiasm for the game and a great background for the game," Willingham said about the defensive tackle from Spokane. "He means a lot to our football team.

"What I loved about Cody (Habben) was his aggressiveness. When he gets into a guy he tries to burry him and that is one of those pre-requisites that we wanted all of our offensive lineman to have and most of them show that trait.

"(Tolar) is tough and wanted to be a Husky from day one and it was exciting recruiting him."

The undisputed gem of the class for the Huskies is Ferndale QB Jake Locker. While his status as a professional baseball prospect may interfere with him playing on the Washington football team, Willingham has a plan for his newly-singed signal-caller.

"I will encourage him to play baseball – here," Willingham said with a smile. "I'm sure we won't find out his prospects for a while, at least not until June and then the professional baseball teams will make their run at him. But we are excited to have him as a Husky and we think he has a great opportunity to play football and baseball here at the University of Washington.

"He's not only a great athlete but he is a great person."

Antelope Valley's D'Andre Goodwin is a player then Huskies came in on late in the process, but that didn't mean that Willingham wasn't very excited for him to don the purple and gold this fall.

"He's an excellent player and a great athlete," Willingham said.

Goodwin will get a first look at wideout, but don't be surprised if he ends up playing in the defensive backfield.

Corona del Sol athlete Matt Mosley is a player that many thought had committed to Arizona State weeks ago, but the Husky coaching staff didn't give up and their diligence paid off.

"Matt came up here for our camp and we were very impressed with his athleticism and attitude toward the game," Willingham noted. "He is a player who could end up an many different positions, but we like his ability to catch the ball so he will be at receiver this fall."

Sacramento DT De'Shon Matthews is a player the Huskies made a hard push on soon after their season ended and he committed to Washington soon after his official visit in early January.

"He's a very quiet kid," Willingham said. "De'Shon is very humble, which is another quality we like in our players. Humble and hungry is what we try and tell them to be, but he is one of those that we think will aid our defensive line play because we think he is just going to get bigger and stronger and more versatile in his play.

Three players that the Huskies came in late on were Nebraska's Paul Homer, Escondido, Ca. OL Matt Sedillo and Nevada defensive player of the year Derek Kosub.

"(Homer) is a bright and intelligent kid and a tough kid," Willingham said regarding the incoming fullback from the heartland. "His high school is a school today that will send almost nine young men to collegiate scholarships. He comes from a rich football tradition and he brings that toughness and intelligence that we're looking for in a football player.

"We came on late on (Sedillo), but we had seen film of him early and he's just kind of a tough guy. He just likes to play tough and get after it and it's just amazing the chances that I had to talk with him and when you talk about things that are important to a team he just lights up."

Kosub, as noted when he decided to commit to the Dawgs, is a player that went largely unnoticed by the bigger programs on the west coast, but who had a history with the Husky football program.

"We found out about him a little late," Willingham said about the big defensive tackle from Reno. "We looked at his offers as you always do to find out all about this kid, but I'm on the committee on the AFCA on the football coaches association and we were talking and getting to know about him and he turned out to be an exciting young man."

The final three players to round out the class of 2006 announced on Wednesday were Gig Harbor S Jake Merrill, Dos Pueblos (Goleta, Ca.) LB Matt Houston and Sacramento LB Donald Butler.

"(Butler) is a special young man and when you talk about adding to the character of this university Donald does that," Willingham said. "Donald is first-class all the way. You talk about Donald, you talk about Jake Locker and you're talking about guys who can demonstrate leadership right now, instantly, and there won't be any problems with them trying to figure out whether they can lead this football team. They're ready for that from day one."

Willingham continually mentioned that toughness, heart and ability were all something these players had in common and something the program was looking for in everyone they offered.

In all the Husky coaches signed five players from the state of Washington, 13 from California and one each from Nevada, Nebraska and Arizona.

Now that the 2006 class is singed-sealed and delivered the coaches can now focus on recruiting for the 2007 class and preparing their team for spring drills and fall camp.

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