Underclassmen Shown the Love

SEATTLE - Ben Riva is used to being the big man on campus. At 6-foot-7 and 285-pounds, Riva dwarfs most at his O'Dea campus in downtown Seattle. But big man in the state of Washington? Riva, who will graduate high school in the spring of 2010, is watching seniors-to-be Allen Mooney, Grant Enger, Danny Kistler, Alonzo Jackson, Chandler Gayton and other Irish go through the recruiting process.

But for one day this fall, the underclassmen had their own day in the sun.

"It was fun, really exciting," Riva said of his unofficial visit this past Sunday to the University of Washington. "They seemed interested. They said they want me to come there." Riva wasn't the only underclassman to be singled out by the Huskies; in fact six prospects were invited to meet with the UW coaches and players in an attempt to get an early start on the recruiting process.

Besides Riva, O'Dea teammate Zach Fogerson was also invited. Zach's older brother Johri is currently going through Washington's camp as a freshman running back. Another legacy - Jamaal Kearse - was invited. Kearse is the younger brother of UW freshman receiver Jermaine. Quarterback Jake Heaps and receiver Kasen Williams from Skyline were also there, as well as Gig Harbor WR/TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

At the end of the camp, the UW coaches verbally offered Seferian-Jenkins. "I told them I was very honored that they consider me someone that can be on their team," Seferian-Jenkins told Scout.com. "They are at the top of my list, and I'd love to play in front of my home town."

Of the six prospects, Seferian-Jenkins is the fourth to have been verbally offered by Washington. Heaps, Williams and Fogerson have already been offered. Offers to Kearse and Riva will most likely be forthcoming with a strong junior season. "When we first walked in they told us that they all wanted us to come to their school."

With recruiting happening earlier and earlier, it's not surprising the Huskies are trying to show some love to those that won't be signing for at least another year and a half. With offers in hand to a number of underclassmen, the battle for the youth of Washington is clearly underway.

"There are some really good (in-state) prospects and they wanted to show us love," said Heaps, arguably the most highly-regarded recruit of the group. "You got a vibe that they really want to get us all there. They are really trying to keep the in-state talent. We could help them win the Pac-10 again. I feel like they are trying to keep us together." As a sophomore, Heaps already has offers from schools like Washington, BYU, UCLA, California, Arizona State, Oregon State and South Carolina. It's awfully rare that Steve Spurrier comes calling out west for a quarterback, let alone one that won't be graduating for another two years. "To get back where they need to be they need to recapture the NW," he added. "In the Don James Era no one left the state of Washington."

"U-Dub is a great school and a lot of the younger kids in the state feel the same way," added Williams. Both of Williams' parents played sports at UW, including his father Aaron, who was also a receiver. "They obviously want me to go to U-Dub, but they also say it's up to me. They went through the process, so they are going to help me through it. They are going to have their thoughts, and I'm going to have my thoughts too."

Six months ago Williams was feeling the California schools, but now UW and UCLA are at the top of his list. "I'm liking U-Dub a lot more," he added.

The Huskies are trying to capitalize on a 2008 recruiting class that was rated as one of the top-20 in the country, and included top in-state talent like Kavario Middleton and Jermaine Kearse (Lakes), Senio Kelemete and Luther Leonard (Evergreen), Everrette Thompson (Kennedy), Alameda Ta'amu (Rainier Beach), Johri Fogerson (O'Dea), Drew Schaefer (Eastlake), Vince Taylor (Eastside Catholic), Justin Glenn (Kamiak), Demitrius Bronson (Kentwood) and Cody Bruns (Prosser).

For some of the underclassmen, the decision appears to be a fairly straightforward one. The fact that they would be joining a legacy only reinforces things. "It was a nice to hear them say that they want me as a future Husky," Zach Fogerson said. "It feels like the right school for me. I was talking to (Jamaal) Kearse and we're both saying how the school is the best fit for us. It's still early, but I'm really liking this school. I told Coach (Willingham) that (I'm coming), but I'm not 100 percent sure. I just need to take some more time with schools."

"The school and coaches are good," Kearse added. "They take care of the players. I like Washington. He (Jermaine) told me like what their life is like and how serious things are. It's a big step up, especially watching practice."

For the others, the visit was another in a series of trips that will be used to gather facts about the colleges they are interested in. "All six of us grew up U-Dub fans," said Heaps. "Our heart is 'Go Dawgs!', but at the same time we're going through the recruiting process and trying to find the best fit for us. Washington is my home, U-Dub is my home. I grew up a fan, so it's always going to be a part of my life. Even if I go somewhere else, I'll be able to take that piece of home with me."

Heaps, who is Mormon, is seriously considering BYU, among many other schools. He denies shutting any doors to anyone at this point, keeping all options open. "It really has been an enjoyable process for me," he added. But Sunday was all about the Huskies. "We all know U-Dub has gone through rough years, but they are on the rise. Whether they win or not, they have an impressive class that Coach Wil put together last year, and they have a chance to be really good in the future. With Jake (Locker) coming back for his second year, they have a chance to do some great things."

And from the sounds of things, it appears as if Washington is definitely in the forefront of these young minds. "It felt good," Kearse said of the early attention. It helped me know that I'm good and getting better."

"Being in college and in your home state, it's the best thing ever," Fogerson said. "Talking to Kearse and Jake Heaps, after that day it was like U-Dub seems like one of the best schools. Jamaal and I talked about it a lot."

"I can see myself playing with all of them," said Williams, who added that he's talked to Heaps quite a bit about going to the same school together and that they are looking for a lot of the same things; passing offenses, depth charts and academics. "They all have interest going to U-Dub just like I do."

Riva could definitely see a situation where all six play together at Washington. "I worked really hard in the off-season and it's nice to see that it's paid off," he said of the early love.

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