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30 Day Countdown: Day 13- Size Matters (In Football)

The Huskies are larger than ever.

NCAA Football: North Dakota at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Have you noticed how big this team is? Those who follow recruiting closely can tell you that there’s been a trend in the last two or three years in regards to the general size of Washington’s recruits. Each year they seem to get bigger. There’s been enough success on the recruiting trail in this regard that it’s starting to show on the field. A few days ago former UW QB and ESPN college football analyst Brock Huard tweeted this out:

On the same day, Chris Fetters of wrote the following in his Seating Chart article:

For example, the average height and weight of Petersen’s first UW team (2014) was 6- foot-4, 305 for the scholarship players along the offensive line and 6-foot-3, 283 for the defensive line. Compare that to the 2019 team, whose average height and weight for the scholarship players along the offensive line is now 6-foot-5.5, 316 and 6-foot-3, 302 for the defensive line. The defensive line is averaging almost 20 pounds more per player!

It’s clearly a trend and people have noticed. And this trend is not just along the lines, but extends team wide. Another position group that has gotten noticeably bigger, or more specifically taller, are the wide receivers. For example, of the five wide receivers still on the roster from the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes, none are taller than 6’. In the 2017 through 2019 recruiting classes, of the seven scholarship wide receivers, only one is under 6’1” (Trey Lowe). It’s even noticeable in defensive back recruiting too. While Jimmy Lake has always preferred taller/longer corners, just four of the eight DBs (50%) from the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes were over 6’ tall, while nine of the 11 DBs (82%) from the 2017 through 2019 recruiting classes are over 6’.

It’s a common refrain from coaching staffs that they need to develop their players to make them bigger, faster and stronger. Reaching back into Husky history, it is well know how coach Don James felt about the matter. After the 1986 Sun Bowl loss to Alabama, coach James knew that to go toe-to-toe with the blue bloods of college football, his team would need to get bigger.

We made too many mistakes in recruiting... There were too many guys we thought were 6-foot-3, 210 and could run 4.6 who turned out to be 6-foot-1, 195 who ran 4.9. No matter what we did with them, we couldn’t win.’’(source: Blaine Newnham, Seattle Times, Oct. 30, 1990)

Just two months later in the days leading up to the 1991 Rose Bowl, coach James was asked to compare his team to previous bowl teams he had coached.

The thing that has changed is that players are just getting bigger and stronger. We have had big lines before, but our offensive line (averaging 288.6 pounds) would test out at lower body fat, stronger physically and just as fast as any we’ve had. This is the strongest team we’ve had. Fourteen players have benched over 400 pounds.”(source: Mal Florence, L.A. Times, Dec. 25, 1990)

No doubt after the 2016 Peach Bowl when the Huskies once again lined up against a larger and more physically imposing Alabama squad, Chris Peterson and his staff came to the same realization. It’s not like they weren’t aware that size mattered in football before that game, but it did provide a bench mark of where they were and where they needed to be to compete with the big boys.

Now obviously, size is not the only factor that matters in terms of on-field success in football. Overall talent, speed, athleticism, intelligence, instincts, drive/desire and fit (in terms of scheme) are some of the other important traits that weigh into what makes a successful football player. The Husky coaching staff famously needs their guys to be OKGs who will fully embrace coach Pete’s program. But OKG aside, the number one factor coach Pete cites in who they target in recruiting is whether or not someone can play in the NFL. It’s an integral part of their recruiting philosophy. And generally speaking, bigger bodies are needed in the NFL to both give and take the punishing damage that is required of them at the highest level.

However, in this discussion on size, I think it is important to clarify that height and wing-span are usually prioritized over weight. There’s a limit to how much a player can weigh before they start to lose their effectiveness. Of the various traits mentioned above that successful football players possess, speed is perhaps the most critical. Coach James thought so, and so does coach Pete:

“It’s always about speed and agility in our opinion,” Petersen explained. “So they can put on as much weight as they possibly can, but if it slows them down at whatever position – tight end, running back – then it’s too much weight. So that’s (strength and conditioning coach Tim) Socha’s department with the position coach. But as long as those guys aren’t losing any movement skills, that’s fine. We want them to be able to carry the weight that they can naturally carry.

“Everybody’s trying to get bigger and all those things, but I think that’s one of the most overrated things in my opinion,” Petersen continued. “‘I’ve got to get bigger.’ That’s one of the things we see with some of the young guys that’ll come in the summer time and all year long they’re working to get bigger, ‘Because I’m going to play college football.’ They walk in and we’re like, ‘Uh oh. This is going to be a problem.’”(source: Mike Vorel, Seattle Times, April 3, 2019)

Keep in mind when coach Pete says “bigger” in the quote above, he is specifically talking about weight.

Regardless, it is undeniable that the current Washington roster is generally larger than it has been in many years. That statement passes not only the official measurements, but apparently the eye test too. And it appears that that trend will continue. Of the 18 recruits in the 2020 recruiting class verbally committed to the UW (as of the date of this post), only one is shorter than 6’1”. That list includes nearly every position on the field. Thanks to successful recruiting to fit their scheme and the work of coach Socha in the weight room, the Huskies are entering the 2019 season large and in charge.