UW Class Quietly Emerging as Best in a Decade

Twenty-plus football commitments and we're not even to Christmas, are you kidding me? An almost complete sweep of the top prospects in the state of Washington and there are almost two months left before signing date - are you sure we're talking about a last place, 4-9 team?

Getting speed, balance, and filling needs all at the same time is difficult to do, but to have it nearly completed this early is almost unheard of, at least here at Washington.

Somebody believes in Tyrone Willingham and what he is trying to build, besides his players. He and his coaches and players are doing the best job in years of convincing prospects that something special is taking place at Washington - besides graduation, constant improvement, and a change in culture.

Parents and prospects are listening and obviously believing that Washington is a great place to play football and to go to school. This is evident by the Huskies' recruiting success to this point despite their lack of consistent wins.

This is precisely why you don't change coaches all the time and it just seems to happen the third and fourth years of any program. In order to properly implement a new system it usually takes that amount of time just to reorganize your recruiting efforts.

I looked back on my own experience as the Recruiting Coordinator for the Huskies from 1985 to 1999. During that period we brought in lots of good players, won numerous championships and never had a losing season. What I want to point out is a few classes that obviously had major impacts. It took us three years to reorganize under Head Coach Don James, so let's start with the 1987-88 signing classes. Four or five years later was the 1991 season and I think most of you know what happened then. Coach James was replaced by Coach Lambright in 1993 and we reorganized again for the 1994 class. Three years later we brought in the 1996 class, and then the 97 class, and a few years later what happened? They won the Rose Bowl.

Now that might be just a coincidence, but it takes four to five years for you to even begin to assess your system because seniors and red-shirt seniors are usually your best players.

When University President Mark Emmert recently made the decision to stay with Coach Willingham, I knew it would reflect in their fourth recruiting class. In fact, I believe their current recruiting success was a factor in his decision.

Of course by my calculations that means we will have to wait another three to four years to bear me out, but the point is continuity builds success. It is one of the most important reasons to not be firing coaches all the time because each time you do it, you have to start the recruiting process as well as the learning process all over again.

Coach Willingham's system, implemented three years ago only has a few spots left to fill, so it is possible they may end up with 26-27 high school prospects sign that first Wednesday in February. Adding the two receivers from last year's class (Devin Aguilar and Anthony Boyles) and that means an influx of close to 28-29 new faces.

I have never seen this kind of early recruiting success at Washington in over 20 years.

Of course, you always have to be prepared to lose some prospects coming down the stretch, as that is just a part of the recruiting game. Other schools will make runs at your commitments and tell them that the Husky coaches are on thin ice and that it always rains up there and that they have been the worst team in the conference over the past four years, as well as anything else they can use against you. It is to be expected. You just have to be prepared to hold on tight and hope you can keep your commits.

Washington State is making runs at a number of committed Huskies and have actually talked some into coming for a visit. Oregon and California have always subscribed to that practice. USC is obviously going to try and turn back Chris Polk, who de-committed from them to Washington just last week.

Maybe that is part of the appeal to prospects, as it seems that no matter how bleak things appear, Coach Willingham and his whole program stays positive. At least they believe they are changing and getting better and that is a reflection of their head coach. Losing programs also have the appeal that early playing time is more plausible for true freshmen. That was obviously a consideration for Polk.

Emmert stepped to the plate and recognized this attitude, this resolve, and this change when he decided to back Willingham. He knows what is being taught on lower campus and he knows the kids go to class and stay out of trouble. They played everyone tough this whole season. Washington was just a few plays away from going to a bowl this past season and if a handful of players in this class can step up and play next year then they may give the team the added depth to become a consistent winner.

What is really apparent to me, though, is they have finally gotten the mechanics of their recruiting process in order and it is starting to pay dividends. They have succeeded in speeding up the process and by doing so have put themselves in a position of just putting on the frosting, as the cake is already in the oven.

When I coached at Washington, Chris Tormey - the Huskies' current Recruiting Coordinator - was always one of our best recruiters. He was a hound dog and a relentless worker when it came to recruiting. He deserves some of the credit for this recent success. But in recruiting, just like playing the game, it is a team effort. Everyone has to realize that it is the lifeblood of the program and that means everyone in the program has to contribute.

Recruiting goes on all year and is a never-ending process. It's just that with the end of the season, fans begin to take more notice and so do the all the so-called experts, analysts, and recruiting gurus. They even go so far as to rank, rate, and otherwise evaluate your efforts for you.

I don't care what the experts think or how this class is ranked. This is already a good class, and with a strong finish this could be a great class. Certainly it could be the best we've seen since the early or mid nineties.

Right now, if everything holds, they are only a couple players away from a wonderfully balanced class. I count three quarterbacks (a must), 5-6 receivers (a need), 5-6 running backs (best athletes, with a few probably going to defense), two offensive linemen (need a couple more), one great tight-end, four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs (1-2 offensive kids could swing over here as well).

That is balance.

They also are bringing in at least 11-12 kids who have been timed in the 4.5's or better. Speed has really been emphasized in Willingham's last two classes and with a couple of more linemen they will have 8-9 'bigs', and that is something that has been missing most of the past eight years.

The numbers alone (I think 26-27) will be the most of any in this conference and the balance, together with the size and speed - not to mention the fulfilling of needs in areas like the defensive backfield and at wide receiver - will make this the best class in many years.

There is no need to take any kicking specialists as UW already has four on scholarship, and to end up with 11-12 in-state kids really reflects their efforts to take back the state of Washington.

Now, all we have to do is wait for four or five years and see how many championships this group wins, how many bowl games they go to, how many graduate, what the attrition rate is, and how many get drafted. Then we will know for sure how good this class really is.

That is what is so ridiculous about ranking recruiting classes. The proof is in the pudding, and if you‘re not willing to stay with a staff long enough to taste the results then the proverbial pudding never gets a chance to set up. If this group is still 20 strong in four years and they haven't had to change coaches, I promise you they will have been to a Rose Bowl and 80 percent of the class will have their degrees and five or six will be drafted.

Like I said, this is the best class at Washington in over a decade and I could care less how they end up being ranked by the experts. The Huskies are finally going after and getting the kids they want, who fit into their system, and believe in what they are doing.

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