On Tuesday we examined the scholarship situation and projected how many recruits the Huskies could take in the 2016 class, and yesterday we examined the current commits for the offense and players the staff is still pursuing. Today we turn our attention to the defense.
Targets: Rashard Lawrence, Boss Tagaloa
Comments: Washington clearly is interested in bringing in a high-quality DT/NT in this class. They had early offers out to Lawrence, Tagaloa, Garrett Rand (Wisconsin), Chris Daniels (Oklahoma), and others. But in looking at the current roster situation, it's not critical to land a DT in this class: Elijah Qualls has two more seasons, Vita Vea and Greg Gaines have three more seasons, and Ricky McCoy has four more seasons. They can afford to skip a commitment this year if they can't land a good enough prospect, but it will be imperative to sign one in 2017 if they don't.
Lawrence made a couple of unofficial visits up to Seattle, one last year and another this past July when he was in Oregon for The Opening. He has family in Vancouver, WA. He intended to make an official visit to Washington next month, but the latest word on him is that he's ready to shut things down and won't take his visit here. As a top-level prospect out of Louisiana, it was always going to be an uphill climb to get him, and at this point you'd have to think he's staying in SEC territory with either LSU or Alabama. Tagaloa is still in play and is currently scheduled to visit the weekend of January 15th along with his De La Salle teammate Devin Asiasi. He visited UCLA during the season and they are considered the favorites to land him. USC recently offered in what looks like an attempt to curry favor with Asiasi, but it may actually backfire as such a late offer may be viewed as insulting to a recruit of his ability. Washington likely has some ground to make up, so it will be critical that new DL coach Ikaika Malloe really connects with Tagaloa and he has an amazing time on his visit.
If they don't land either of those prospects, I would suspect Washington will focus on getting a DT in 2017, though it's possible the coaches could opt to give OL commit Nick Harris a look along the DL if they end up getting Nate Herbig.
Committed: Myles Rice (6'4", 245 lbs) Bush H.S. (Richmond, TX)
Targets: Jonathan Kongbo, Levi Onwuzurike
Comments: This is another spot where the staff has been hot after some top prospects and would gladly take another one, but with the number of players already on the roster that can fill this role, it wouldn't be a disaster to finish the class with Rice. A greyshirt from the 2015 class, he's slated to enroll next month and be ready for spring practices. Rice was a sleeper recruit out of the Houston area that Coach Choate offered, but when he tore his ACL that October the staff decided to ask him to delay enrollment to give him more time to recover. He's now more than a year removed from surgery and should be in good shape to join the team for off-season conditioning. He's got the size and athletic profile to slot in as a BUCK, and I would guess that's where he'll get his first looks, though he appears to have the frame to play a more traditional DE role as well, and he appeared to be strictly a hand-in-the-dirt end at his high school. Here are his senior season highlights:
Kongbo is a physical specimen at 6'5", 265 lbs. He's a late-bloomer, a kid from Surrey, British Columbia who didn't have much attention coming out of high school and ended up at Wyoming. He redshirted there but after a coaching change he decided he wanted a change and arrived at Arizona Western CC. Bigger programs took notice, and he's seen his recruitment explode over the past few months with offers from high-level programs across the country, including Alabama. He took an official visit to Tennessee at the end of November and loved it, committing soon after. However, he's had his eyes on Washington the whole time, and current Husky Brayden Lenius was a teammate in high school and one of his best friends. He and his family made the drive down for an unofficial visit earlier this month and he's talked about taking an official visit next month, though nothing has been scheduled as yet. He recently got an offer from Oregon, and it's thought that the Ducks are a legitimate threat along with Washington to flip his commitment, though Alabama can't be counted out either. Proximity, his friendship with Lenius, and the quality of the school are keeping Washington in this race, but the Huskies will have to beat out some heavy hitters.
Onwuzurike is from the same area of Texas as WR commit Aaron Fuller, though he plays at a different high school. He took an official visit in October and has also visited Michigan and Baylor. He's not quite as big as Kongbo at 6'3", 243 lbs, but is a terrific prospect in his own right and could probably fit in at BUCK here. He recently named a top-4 of ASU, Baylor, Michigan, and Washington, so the Huskies are still in it but competing against more local schools in ASU and Baylor and the national prestige of Michigan and Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.
Committed: Camilo Eifler (6'1", 215 lbs) Bishop O'Dowd H.S. (Oakland, CA); Brandon Wellington (6'1", 215 lbs) Eastside Catholic H.S. (Bellevue, WA); Amandre Williams (6'3", 220 lbs) Tahoma Senior H.S. (Kent, WA)
Targets: Mique Juarez
Comments: Washington has done a good job re-stocking the LB corps with this class. The first to commit was local stud Wellington - in fact he was the first commit of the 2016 class, way back in August of 2014. While he also has the size and speed to be the big RB the Huskies have been looking for and the athleticism to play safety, he's likely going to get his first looks at LB. Here are his junior season highlights:
One of the key recruits of this class is Eifler. A textbook "OKG" with the values that are tailor-made for the "Built For Life" recruiting approach, he's not only a high-level recruit the Huskies pulled out of California, he's the kind of outgoing personality you love to have in your recruiting class that will act as a ringleader to bring other top talent with him into the fold. He's a well-developed physical specimen already and shows the ability to handle all phases of linebacker play, from blitzing to playing in space to pass coverage. He's fast, physical and tough and could probably play any and all of the linebacker spots. He'll be at the Army All-American Bowl. Here's his junior season highlights:
Another local product in this group is Williams. He first committed back in August, but then made some folks nervous when he opted to take official visits to Boise State and Utah in October before reaffirming his commitment with the coaches soon after. Williams is quite the athlete - while he's being looked at as a BUCK for the Huskies, his primary role at Tahoma has been as their starting QB where he's put up some big numbers. He's got a good frame at 6'3", good bloodlines - his father was an all-star DT in the CFL - and he's been reshaping his body, dropping down to 210 lbs from the 235 he played at as a junior in order to shed some bad weight. He has the size and athleticism that reminds you of a Cory Littleton or a Travis Feeney, and looks like a prospect that could really outplay his 3-star rating. Here's his senior season DE highlights:
While the Huskies will be happy with the three they have in the fold, they are hard after Juarez too. While he may be a bit raw in his technique, his athleticism and physical potential are undeniable. A long-time USC commit, there were whispers all along that he wasn't solid, and when Sark was fired he opted to open up his recruitment. Many feel UCLA is the team to beat as his family would like him to stay local (and you can't rule out USC either), Ole Miss has made a big impression on him as has Washington. He had a fantastic visit earlier this month and it put the Huskies right in the thick of things. This could be a case where someone like Eifler is able to get in his ear and convince him they can be the bedrocks of the next great Husky defense. At one time he had planned to make his announcement at the Army All-American game, but he's now figuring he'll decide on Signing Day. Keep your fingers crossed on this one...
Committed: Kentrell Love (6'2", 175 lbs) Centennial H.S. (Corona, CA); Isaiah Gilchrist (5'11", 180 lbs) Bellevue H.S. (Bellevue, WA)
Targets: David Long, Byron Murphy, Myles Bryant
Comments: Love is one of those classic rising prospects that happen every year. While well-regarded during his junior year, he was a 3-star prospect that had a good assortment of offers in the summer (Nebraska, ASU, Arizona, and others) but wasn't considered a top-level prospect and wasn't getting much attention from the local schools (USC, UCLA). He committed to the Huskies at the end of July, and once his season began his stock kept rising - he's now regarded by Scout.com as a 4-star, one of their top-300 commits nationally and the #3 CB prospect in the West. Greg Biggins is particularly effusive about him, saying he has as much potential as any corner out west - a tough, physical player with great length at 6'2", great short-area quickness, and top-end speed. It's no wonder, then, that USC is now after him in a big way, and UCLA is pushing for him too. While he maintains he's solid to the Huskies, his family is pushing hard for him to check out the local schools. He's scheduled to visit Seattle the weekend of January 22nd (along with Camilo Eifler and Sean McGrew, two of the most vocal UW commits), so hopefully that will cement his commitment. However, it does leave the last weekend in January open, so Husky fans will be sweating out his recruitment. It's also worth noting that he's a teammate of Javon McKinley. Here are his junior season highlights:
Gilchrist is the top corner prospect in the PNW this year, and was long considered a heavy lean to Washington. He gave a long look over the summer to USC, Oregon, ASU, and Arizona (all offered) but in September he decided to shut things down and commit to the Huskies. He's a very good all-around athlete that could probably succeed as a RB, but defense is where he'll get his shot and SBN recruiting guru Jamie Uyeyama is a big fan of his. It's also good to see the Huskies continuing to do well with top Bellevue prospects under Chris Petersen - seeing players like Steve Schilling, David DeCastro, Myles Jack and others head out of state was a tough pill for Husky fans to swallow. Here are his junior season highlights:
While the Huskies would be fine with these two, they are still in hot pursuit of a couple more high level corners. While part of their interest may lie in providing insurance against the possibility of Love flipping late in the process, I think they'd take either - or both - of Long and Murphy regardless. Long is the rare prospect who had the grades to be admitted to Stanford but has opted to de-commit and look elsewhere. He's long had a terrific relationship with DB Coach Jimmy Lake, something he just didn't feel with the Stanford coaching staff. He's also determined to play CB and not WR, and the Cardinal originally wanted him to consider playing on offense. He's now looking hard at the Huskies and Michigan, and both USC and UCLA are trying their best to get him to stay local. While some feel he's leaning to the Wolverines, his relationship with Lake and Seattle being closer than Ann Arbor may end up tilting this in Washington's favor. He's planning to announce at the Army All-American Bowl, so you can bet Camilo Eifler will be in his ear that week.
Murphy's recruitment has been interesting to follow. One of multiple high-level skill position recruits out of Arizona, he's had just about every top program in the country offer him. When his buddies N'Keal Harry and Chase Lucas opted to stay local and commit to ASU, many felt it was just a matter of time until he joined them. However as time passed, Texas A&M appeared to be the team to beat. Now with some wild rumors swirling around the Aggie program there's a growing thought ASU is getting back into it, and of course USC is now pushing hard for him - enough so that he's pushed back his announcement date from the Army All-American Bowl until after he takes an official visit to the Trojans the weekend of January 15th. Washington has always been on his list due to his relationship with Coach Lake and a good official visit back in September, but it's hard to get a read on where he may be leaning at this point.
Bryant was a corner the Huskies were on early and really liked, but once Gilchrist committed the thought was that he was probably on the outside looking in. He's a smaller corner at only 5'8", but he plays bigger than that. He was also looking hard at UCLA earlier in the process, but the read here is that he's a fall-back option for a lot of schools and may end up at WSU or San Jose State. Lake has kept in contact with him but no visit has been scheduled yet. It's possible the staff might trip him late as a backup option if Love flips, but it doesn't appear he's a priority at this point.
Committed: Taylor Rapp (6'0", 195 lbs) Sehome H.S. (Bellingham, WA)
Targets: Keyon Riley
Comments: Rapp was an early target for the Huskies and he became their 2nd commitment to the 2016 class back in March. A prototype-sized safety, he's a good athlete that has played QB and WR for Sehome in addition to FS. He closes quickly, hits like a ton of bricks when he gets there, and shows good ball skills. Chances are his location didn't do him any favors in terms of his recruiting ratings, but the staff was very happy to get him on board early and he's been 100% the whole way. He'll be an early enrollee next month and has already signed his financial aid agreement. Here's his senior season highlights:
Riley is a guy the Huskies offered last spring shortly before Rapp committed. At the time he called it his "dream offer," but things have been rather quiet since then. Earlier this month though he said he's got two visits scheduled for January to UCLA and Colorado State and a third he's trying to set up with Washington for the weekend of January 15th. If that happens, you'd have to think that means the Huskies are still pursuing him. It's probably a numbers-game with Riley - he's not planning on making his decision until after his last visit (to UCLA the last weekend of January), so that gives the Huskies some time to evaluate their situation and determine whether they still have room for him.
Committed: Van Soderberg (6'0", 200 lbs) Capital H.S. (Olympia, WA)
Comments: While the Huskies will be losing Korey Durkee to graduation, they return both Cameron Van Winkle and Tristan Vizcaino on scholarship. Van Winkle has held down the FG and XP duties the past two years, while Vizcaino is the kickoff specialist and has shown himself capable of handling punting duties. So it was a mild surprise when the Huskies offered Soderberg this past August; he committed shortly after. He attended camp with the Huskies in June, and reported that the staff liked his ability to kick in a variety of styles and under pressure and that he could enroll in January. Here are his senior year highlights:
So there you go, Dawg fans - those are the players currently committed and the prospects they are known to still be pursuing. However, I would bet that there are a handful of under-the-radar recruits that the Huskies are following that aren't yet public knowledge, similar to how Braden Lenius and Bryce Sterk emerged very late in the process as Husky targets in the 2014 and 2015 classes respectively. With at least two more spots open, and possibly four or five depending on coming attrition, there's still some room for the staff to add to the 2016 class. January will be a wild ride as we see who commits where at the all-star games and then track the official visits over the last three weekends of the month. We'll keep you posted with what's going on as it happens.
Part 1 - Examining the numbers