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Recapping Washington’s 2017 football recruiting class

It wasn’t Sarkisian-ish, but suspense defined Chris Petersen’s latest class.

UW head coach Chris Petersen discusses his 2017 signing class
UW Athletics Department

National Letter of Intent day is kind of like your car. Its relative qualities are assessed entirely in the eyes of the beholder.

Chris Petersen’s fourth recruiting class is in the books and it is meeting with mixed reviews from a Husky fanbase that was a bit spoiled from UW’s recent run into the College Football Playoffs.

For his part, Petersen doesn’t want to hear any arguments that this is somehow not another class chock full of OKGs. And, he has a point. When he and his staff first arrived, UW fans—who had no basis for expecting anything more than a mid-PAC-level class—raised eyebrows at “mid-tier” recruits such as DB Sidney Jones, DL Greg Gaines, WR Dante Pettis, DB JoJo McIntosh, and TE Drew Sample.

Forgive Coach Pete if he can’t help but ask his critics “hey, how do you like me now?”

Still, a hallmark of any Chris Petersen recruiting class has been its relative lack of drama. Few late additions, few uncertainties, and no flips.

That formula didn’t hold to form against a Washington football recruiting backdrop that fans largely expected to be about as favorable to UW as any coach could possibly hope. UW’s breakout season featured several factors that tend to draw recruits: a beginning-to-end run through the Pac-12, a trip to the College Football Playoffs, top-of-the-charts performances by UW’s offense and defense, and a gaggle of UW underclassmen declaring their intentions to turn professional where all are expected to be relatively high draft picks.

To many, this should have been the “class to end all classes.”

Instead, this class looks a lot like just about every other Husky recruiting class under Chris Petersen: balanced, character-filled, and average in its overall talent rankings.

In case you haven’t heard, here is the final word on UW’s class:

UW 2017 Recruiting Class

Player Pos Rating Commit Date
Player Pos Rating Commit Date
Jaxson Kirkland OL 3* 30-Jan-17
Ali Gaye DE 3* 23-Jan-17
Cole Norgaard OL 3* 15-Jan-17
Joe Tryon DE 3* 13-Jan-17
Joel Whitford P 3* 15-Dec-16
Henry Bainivalu OL 4* 13-Nov-16
Elijah Molden DB 4* 12-Nov-16
Salvon Ahmed ATH 4* 23-Sep-16
Cade Otton ATH 3* 12-Aug-16
Brandon McKinney DB 4* 16-Jul-16
Jake Haener QB 3* 18-Jun-16
Ariel Ngata LB 4* 26-May-16
Ty Jones WR 4* 17-May-16
Hunter Bryant TE 4* 23-Apr-16
Alex Cook WR 3* 23-Apr-16
Terrell Bynum WR 4* 13-Apr-16
Keith Taylor DB 4* 24-Dec-15

It also should be noted that LB Jordan Lolohela, a 6’1” 240-lb LB out of Utah, also sent in an LOI but is expected to take a two-year Mormon mission right away.

The bona fides of this UW class are as follows:

  • #22 in the nation
  • #5 in the Pac-12 behind USC, Stanford, UCLA, and Oregon (UW’s 2013 class was third in the PAC)
  • UW’s nine four-star players is the most ever landed by the UW and second to only USC (12 plus two five-stars). Stanford landed nine players between their five-star and four-star groups.

What We Like

1. Quality Stock

Drama that includes flips and last-minute mind changes we can handle. Drama that includes coaches driving drunk, prospects running afoul of the law, and wads of cash being passed to bagmen in a Starbucks cup is the kind that we can do without.

From the looks of it, the worst that you can say about this class is that they have too little drama across it. In other words, this looks like another class chock full of solid kids. Call them “OKGs” if you like or, if you find that concept somewhat trite, simply look at the qualities of the people coming into this class based on their high school track records. The Jake Haeners, Brandon McKinneys, Joel Whitfords, Keith Taylors, and Ty Joneses of this class are examples of leaders of men, all classic Petersen kinds of guys.

The benefits of bringing in quality stock of this ilk are plentiful. Fewer off-the-field distractions, more success handling the student side of the student/athlete equation, and better results that come from quicker buy-in to the training. These kinds of things create momentum and add to the character of a program.

Some may call them a class full of choir boys and fret that they may not have the edge required to take this team back into the pits and prevail against a team like Alabama. I see, on the other hand, moldable clay that affords the opportunity for coaches like Tim Socha, Jimmy Lake, and Ikaika Malloe to leave their mark.

2. Some Great Catches

A popular complaint among skeptical fans was that the coaching staff had not yet shown an ability to attract decent playmakers in the receiving game. With a full year of new WR coach Bush Hamdan directing the WR recruiting, that question has now been asked and answered.

With the additions of big Ty Jones (6’4”, 195) and Terrell Bynum (6’1, 180), UW may have added two of their three best receivers to the roster overnight. In addition, long Alex Cook (6’2” 170) is the kind of toolsy, upside receiver that a team like UW absolutely needs to take a chance on.

And let’s not ignore four-star TE Hunter Bryant (6’3” 235). Chris Petersen has demonstrated that he has two distinctly different TE roles in his versatile offense: blockers and receivers. Bryant is clearly drawn in the Josh Perkins mold. He has the physical tools to be a factor for UW in the passing game relatively early in his career.

What We Are Worried About

1. Where is the Beef?

The throttling that UW suffered at the hands of the Alabama in the Peach Bowl put under the spotlight the vast gaps that exist between UW’s lines and those that make up the most elite teams in the nation. With that evidence in hand and the prospects of losing key players like DT Elijah Qualls and OL Jake Eldrenkamp to the pros, there were some expectations that UW might become an attractive option to some key west coast big-man talent.

Husky fans were disappointed in this area. Commits such as Marlon Tuipulotu and local talents such as Foster Sarell opted to pursue their football interests elsewhere. Furthermore, it isn’t even clear that UW was even able to fill its own recruiting quotas for players on the offensive and defensive lines.

A look ahead at UW’s depth chart for next year reveals a surprising lack of depth at some key positions including defensive tackle (with just three players in Greg Gaines, Vita Vea, and Ricky McCoy) and offensive line.

2. Coffee is for Closers

You may have noticed that I sorted the list of signees above by their commit dates. The shrewd among you may have further noted that the lowest-rated recruits in the class, for whatever those rankings are worth, are congregated at the top.

No matter how you feel about recruiting rankings, it is really hard to debate the observation that UW was exercising a whole lot of “Plan Bs” in the final days of assembling the class. Such tactics, of course, are common for most programs in the weeks closing in on signing day. However, UW fans may have been expecting a little more success among their top targets that were “in play” in the days following New Year’s. Up until a few weeks ago, UW’s class was ranked second in the conference. They finished fifth.

Keep in mind that this was a small class in which spots were supposed to go for a premium. The relative lack of room in this class should have been a selling point in locking up some of the higher priority recruits on the Petersen Big Board. It did not work out that way. Imagine the conundrum this class would have become if there had been 22 or 23 positions open to fill. Would UW have had to resort to plans “C” and “D”? Would we be looking to flip recruits from Fresno State and Idaho instead of WSU and Nevada?

What’s more distressing is how UW seemed to get beat on the recruiting trail for players that were once within reach or, worse, firmly in their grasp. If you have concerns about UW not being able to close on talents like Foster Sarell, Marlon Tuipulotu, or Connor Wedington, even with the full weight of a Pac-12 championship and a trip to the playoffs behind the Huskies, you are not alone.

More so than any gained or lost recruit, this inability to win even one significant head-to-head battle among undecided players that comprised Washington’s “Plan A” is what will ultimately stir the percolations of doubt among Husky fans wondering “what else do we gotta do?” Hopefully, it is raising the same questions among UW coaches and prompting some significant reviews of both their recruiting strategies and tactics.

Now that I’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, I would continue to advise my friends and colleagues to take a page out of the Aaron Rodgers playbook and to keep calm. Recruiting is a long game and, while important, is just one of the many variables that must be well managed to produce a winning program.

I should note here that I don’t really enjoy following, writing on or talking about recruiting. Not only do I find the practice of prying into the lives of teenage boys somewhat unseemly, but I buy wholeheartedly into this notion that the base stock of a recruit is nothing more than a canvas for the program to go to work on. Obviously, some grades of stock are better than others, but what gets painted on that canvas is entirely a product of the artist.

There is little doubt in my mind that this class will provide UW with a wave of talent capable of sustaining success. I also have no concerns that these players will do anything other than represent the university, its alums, and its fans with the utmost integrity. It is undoubtedly one of the finer classes that the Huskies have ever signed and should be viewed through that lens. Whether or not there are the one or two kinds of breakout talents that can propel this team to next level remains to be seen.

But the seeing is the fun part.