I know we haven't even played a game yet, or even held a practice for that matter, but the adrenaline was flowing Wednesday evening when Steve Sarkisian and his staff announced their first class of signees to over 700 loyal followers.
The Don James Center of Husky Stadium was buzzing with energy and the electricity was like being in a locker room before a game. It was definitely the most positive and uplifting thing related to Husky Football since the Rose Bowl victory of 2001. It never felt better to be a Husky and to see and feel the excitement in that crowded room left everyone smiling and optimistic.
It's was like the whole program was coming out of the dark and into the light. Once coach Sarkisian took the mic from KJR host, Dave 'Softy' Mahler, it was like a pregame speech. As each assistant took his turn to speak, the momentum just seem to build. By the time crowd favorite Nick Holt took over, everyone was so engaged and it didn't matter if the recruits were any good or not. You just felt it. You knew this was indeed a new beginning and that eventually this program was going to turn. We finally had a leader to believe in.
Coach Sarkisian immediately reminded the crowd that nobody in his group was 0-12 last year. Introducing coach TBA, the new receivers coach, got the first laugh, and then it simply built from there. By the time the program ended many wanted to suit up right there and then. Bring on the LSU Tigers, 'cause this house is ready to rock.
Pass the Kool-Aid to me one more time because I'm ready to drink it all.
Sarkisian introduced his staff and each took a turn showing highlights of the recruits that will play for them. A class of 18 new Huskies were introduced, including 6 JC transfers: It included two from the state of Washington, two from Hawaii, and the rest from California. It was heavy on defensive players, with 11 to 12 slated for that side of the ball. Considering the Huskies were last in the conference in team defense, giving up over 451 yards per game, signing that many appears to address one of their most significant needs.
I would guess that at least a half dozen will be used next year, with the majority probably red-shirting. Although the class was heavy on defensive players, the punter, Will Mahan, probably will emerge as the first to play. Rated as the number-one JC punting prospect in the nation by former UCLA kicker Chris Sailer, Mahan is certain to hit the field early. He may not have a thunder leg, but he is extremely quick and very accurate (16 of his 35 punts fell within the opponent's 20-yard line).
They only signed one offensive lineman, Daniel Mafoe, who at 6-foot-3 and 340 pounds out of El Camino College, will certainly help in replacing the departures of Juan Garcia and Casey Bulyca. Mafoe played left tackle, but will certainly help somewhere along the offensive front. He reminded me of a road grader as he came off the ball and appears to be very powerful. The coaches will need to bring in a full line this time next year and it sounds as though the state of Washington has a much bigger crop coming up.
They also only signed one receiver, James Johnson, but he looks big time. Along with quarterback Keith Price, they appear to be the most athletic kids in the class. Both are really quick and Johnson was just as good on the defensive side of the ball.
One of the two Hawaiian kids, Semisi Tokolahi, at 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds, looked like a clone to Mafoe but even quicker. He actually played some fullback in high school and was really quick for a man his size.
With the graduation of Michael Gottlieb and Walt Winter at tight end, the Huskies immediately addressed that need by signing three more tight ends in Dorson Boyce, Marlion Barnett, and Kimo Makaula. Makaula actually played quarterback in high school but at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, he could end up playing anywhere. Boyce, a JC kid out of Allan Hancock College, appears to be ready to help immediately as a blocker and is already 250 pounds.
On the defensive side there is great balance with two linebackers, two cornerbacks, two defensive tackles, two defensive ends, and three safeties/athletes.
As with most schools, Washington lost a few coming to the finish of the recruiting period, but overall this is an impressive list considering the short period of time they had to complete it. Of the 18, only three were holdovers from the last coaching staff and just as significant was that they actually let three others go. One ended up at Idaho (Aaron Grymes), one at Central Washington (Grant Cisneros), and one at Trinity JC in Texas (Kenneth Pinkard), so they obviously weren't highly regarded anyway. That's a sad statement with regard to the previous staff, but a great indication of this new staff's intent to upgrade the roster.
As a class put together in transition this one has to rate as the best one following a coaching turnover. It shows they were very aggressive and knew they were selling a great school, a great city and a great football tradition. Given that two of the incoming coaches were ex-Cougars, one played at Western Washington and was later a graduate assistant at Washington, and two played at Idaho, this staff has a great familiarity with football in the Northwest.
To see the coaches leading cheers, building enthusiasm, and engaging the crowd during the recruiting celebration was both refreshing and rejuvenating. It was as though they knew the fun had been sucked out of Husky football over the past five years. They are undaunted by the challenge and as a staff determined to change the culture of the program.
Afterward at another function, the caoches were joined by the new weight staff, new recruiting staff and the administrative support personnel. Coach Sarkisian told everyone to remember the evening and that eight years from now this night will have marked the rebirth of Husky Football. To even have a coach talk in terms of being here eight years from now was in itself a positive sign. He intends to be here and get the job done. I don't think we'll see this coach always looking for another job or not letting anyone close to the program. We've seen both of those things in the last eight years, along with consecutive administrations that knew nothing about the sport of football and its importance to the University of Washington.
Athletic Director, Scott Woodward, just sat back with a smile on his face and let everyone else see what he and UW President Mark Emmert saw when they hired Sarkisian and Holt away from the best program in the conference, USC. These guys are happy to be here and are so upbeat and positive that you just know they will win games.
It will be fun for the fans to go to practice again, fun to cheer again, and fun to go to bowls again. Everything has changed, and I, for one, believe that the change will be good. There is a lot of work to be done but we certainly appear to have the right group to get it done.
It doesn't matter what the rankings say about this class. What is important is what happens when they all hit the field come fall. The recruiting gurus can have their say, but when it is all said and done this class and this evening will have changed the face of Husky Football for the future.
I can't wait for April and the start of spring practices. It is going to be interesting to see if this same feeling is contagious when it comes to playing football. They can't possibly be worse than last year, so why not shoot for the moon? Why not have HOPE again? Why shouldn't Washington become a giant in college football again?
When a number of T-shirts showed up with, "I Bark for Sark" printed on them, it became the mantra for the evening. It was another sign of the new beginning. The future finally looks bright again and I am so thrilled to watch it all happen. I know this was only a start, but I truly believe that this program is finally headed in the right direction. Go Dawgs!
Bark for Sark Takes Over Celebration
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