If you talk to old-timer Husky fans about how things used to be, chances are one of the things they'll mention about the program is how strong the walk-on program used to be. While it never reached the mythic levels surrounding Nebraska, the Huskies enjoyed a steady stream of quality players willing to pay their own way at Washington and play football without the compensation of their much more heralded scholarship teammates. Their ranks have included future pros such as Chuck Nelson, Jeff Jaeger, John Fiala, and Dane Looker, as well as current DL coach Ikaika Malloe. That emphasis on building a strong walk-on program declined at some point in the '90s - reportedly as a cost-cutting measure - but under Chris Petersen we've seen some rather impressive players opting to join the Huskies as what are termed "preferred walk-ons."
The definition of a "preferred walk-on" can vary some from program to program, but here's a quick primer courtesy of AthleticScholarships.net. While I haven't been able to find official corroboration on this, I'm of the understanding that preferred walk-ons at Washington can be admitted using the same NCAA minimum academic standards that scholarship athletes must meet, which is a significantly lower bar than for the general student population. With Washington being on the quarter system, they have to wait longer to expand their rosters, so it's all the more important to have a strong group of preferred walk-ons to help flesh out the squad for practice and provide a better look on the scout teams.
In Petersen's first season at the UW he picked up WR John Gardner, RB Gavin McDaniel, LB Matt Preston, WR Max Richmond, and LB Jake Wambaugh. Last year he picked up the pace, landing LB Gerran Brown, DB Dustin Bush, DL John Clark, TE Connor Griffin, RB Logan Hurst, WR Jamon Jones, DL Jared Pulu, WR Josh Rasmussen, PK Sebastian Valerio, and DB De'Andre' Watson. Pulu, Jones, and Griffin were notable pickups among that group; Pulu had signed with Air Force before ending up at Washington, Jones is a very athletic player with terrific size who had played QB at Bethel H.S. out of necessity and didn't get the recruiting attention he probably deserved, and Griffin is a former basketball player at Gonzaga who follows a similar path to Looker a couple of decades earlier in switching sports and saw action in 8 games this past season.
The trend of quality walk-ons under Petersen seems to be gaining momentum - already the Huskies have verbal commitments from at least four preferred walk-ons so far for the 2016 class:
- QB Blake Gregory (Skyline H.S.) - A 2-star prospect out of Sammamish, WA, Gregory is opting to walk on with the Huskies over offers from a number of FCS schools including Montana State. He passed for over 3,200 yards at a nearly 62% completion rate with 33 touchdowns to 4 interceptions.
- DB Mason Stone (Mountlake Terrace H.S./Santa Monica JC) - Stone originally signed with Idaho out of H.S. but a transcript issue scuttled that, so he ended up at Santa Monica JC where he redshirted his first year before seeing the field last year. He had an offer from FBS Northern Colorado, but as a die-hard Dawg he decided to accept a PWO offer from the Huskies. He'll have three years to play three at Washington.
- DE Ryan Bowman (Bellevue H.S./IMG Academy) - Bowman - younger brother of current Husky DL Shane Bowman - opted to play this past season at the IMG Academy in Florida in order to increase his exposure and practice against top-tier competition. Those efforts yielded offers from FCS Montana and Montana State as well as PWO offers from Alabama, Michigan and Miami (FL), but he decided to come home and play with his brother as a PWO with Washington.
- CB Myles Bryant (Loyola H.S.) - Bryant is the latest recruit to announce his decision to accept a PWO offer from Washington, and perhaps the most significant. A consensus 3-star recruit, Bryant at one point had offers from both Washington and UCLA. However, it appears he waited too long to grab one of those offers and became a victim of a numbers crunch when those schools secured commitments from other players. An undersized corner at 5'8", he can make up for it with his physicality and timing.
February 1, 2016
#GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/4EddGgSFAO— Mason Stone (@MasonStone23) February 2, 2016
Ex-Bellevue OLB Ryan Bowman, brother of UW DE Shane Bowman, accepts walk-on invitation w/ UW. Alabama also invited. https://t.co/UhNG52n80s— Adam Jude (@A_Jude) February 3, 2016
Loyola defensive back Myles Bryant will attend Washington as a preferred walk on.— eric sondheimer (@latsondheimer) February 4, 2016
It should be noted that until these players enroll at the UW, they can still end up elsewhere - if any of them decide to accept a scholarship offer elsewhere, nothing is preventing them from doing so. As the dust settles from today's events, there will be FBS schools in lower-tier conferences sifting through the available athletes looking to finish up their classes, and most FCS programs will have openings as well.
If these players do end up at Washington they would comprise a very impressive group of walk-ons. Bryant in particular would project as a player capable of earning a scholarship at a future date if one becomes available, in no small part because he's the only one of these four that will be faced with paying out-of-state tuition costs. That players of this quality level are willing to forego full-ride scholarships (albeit to FCS programs) speaks highly of how they view this program and Coach Petersen. He has a history of walk-ons earning scholarships and finding success at Boise State, including Korey Hall and Matt Paradis, so if he tells them they could potentially earn a scholarship if they put in the work and perform at a high level, he has credibility with these players.
They also give the Huskies the tremendous benefit of essentially "free" talent to help supplement a smaller recruiting class, and if a scholarship were to become available in the future, assigning one to a player from this group would be another way for Petersen to help balance out the graduating classes on the roster.
And perhaps one (or more) of these players will end up being the next Fiala, Looker, Hall, or Paradis.