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UWDP Roundtable: Making Sense of Our Recruiting Strategy

How’s our strategy evolving in the new era of CFB recruiting?

Washington State v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Coach B: This week I wanted to discuss our big picture recruiting strategy in the shifting recruiting landscape. The biggest complaints about recruiting during Lake’s tenure was that we weren’t able to keep the best local talent home. We always recruited the top local guys, but there was a perception that the old staff didn’t give local under the radar guys the same shot as California or Texas guys. That strategy largely worked, but it left a bad taste in the mouth of a lot of HS coaches’ mouth and may have hurt our chances with the blue chip recruits. When we tried to focus on the talented local recruiting classes in recent years, we took the eye off the ball in our usual pipeline states like California, Utah and Hawaii, which further compounded our recruiting woes.

DeBoer is clearly trying to solve those problems. The staff has made an earnest effort to foster local connections with offers out to rising local recruits like EJ Caminong, Rashawn Clark, and Malachi Durant. Those offers already seem to have made an impact. We recently got a crystal ball prediction for us on Durant, and there has been both broad excitement from local recruits over Caminong’s offer and promising social media activity from Caminong that suggests that if we secure a commitment from him, he could be a local recruiting surrogate for us like Kalepo was for the 2019 class.

Additionally, DeBoer has put together a staff with coaching/recruiting experience over a pretty diverse geographic footprint (KDB, Shephard, Morgan & Inge in the Midwest, Breckterfield in the Midwest/South/Hawaii, and the rest in the West), and Courtney Morgan seems to have a more aggressive plan that leans into those connections with offers being spread out across the country.

Overall, I really like this strategy. However, NIL threw another curveball in our revamped recruiting strategy. NIL is probably a bigger factor than geography now, so until we’re major players in the controversial NIL recruiting inducement game, I think we’re going to struggle recruiting the types of top 150 recruits that seem to be getting most of the big money deals. Don’t get me wrong, I still think we can build a very competitive roster that’s loaded with blue chip talent (there’s 380 blue chip recruits in the 2023 class), but our strategy will need additional retooling.

Personally, I’d like to see us to continue blanketing the country to identify mid-tier blue chips who might be interested in UW from a holistic package (as opposed to just NIL money), and then fill out our roster needs with strategic development recruits from our local/traditional footprint. The hope would be to build pipelines from strong HS programs that might tip the scales in more competitive recruitments of top flight prospects.

What’s your guys’ take?

Max: During the Chris Petersen/Jimmy Lake era in Seattle the Huskies only signed 2 prospects that weren’t from either the West region or the state of Texas: S Ezekiel Turner as a JUCO out of DC and P Joel Whitford out of Australia. I’m not counting Jackson Sirmon who moved to Tennessee from here when his dad started coaching there or Ryan Bowman who did a prep season in Florida but is from Bellevue. Needless to say that landing anyone this year who is from the Midwest would mark a dramatic shift in recruiting strategy. (DeBoer signed the Parker twins from Michigan in February but it wasn’t clear how repeatable that was.)

It makes sense that the staff is looking at players in the Midwest given as you mentioned that a large swath of the coaching staff has spent time in the recent past in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, or South Dakota. The staff just brought in Kansas QB Avery Johnson and Nebraska WR Beni Ngoyi in for official visits while also seeming to be heavily in the mix for North Dakota QB Lincoln Kleinholtz and DL Elinneus Davis. Any one of them coming to Washington would be a major departure for the Huskies and it’s possible we end up with multiple.

What will be interesting to see is if this is somewhat of a Mike Hopkins situation (in recruiting strategy, not results hopefully). He came in from the East Coast and landed New York players Hameir Wright, Naz Carter, and Isaiah Stewart in the first few seasons. Since then the well has dried up and he hasn’t tried to continue recruiting that region. It wouldn’t shock me if the staff felt the need to go wide in order to try to secure as great of a first full class as they can which means leveraging existing contacts in the Midwest. If we get to the Class of 2025 and we’re still seeing 10-20% of our recruiting coming from the Midwest that might be more of a sign that things have gone wrong unless those guys are all premium recruits.

In terms of prospect star ratings I’m not overly worried about this upcoming class despite the NIL landscape. Based on the prospects they appear to be making strides with this is probably on pace to be the ~30th ranked class. Obviously if DeBoer is an instant success and wins 9+ games it makes that even more achievable. If UW goes 4-8 yet again with an offense that is still largely stuck in the mud then we’ll be fortunate to end up there. Right now though I think the best bang for our buck is going to be focusing on those recruits in the 250-750 range nationally that still have high likelihoods to be good players at the college level but aren’t nearly as likely to wind up being in bidding wars between NIL collectives.

Andrew: First of all, Max, as the blog’s native North Dakotan, I think it’s important to mention that Kleinholz is from South Dakota (the lesser Dakota, in my estimation) and Davis is from Moorhead, Minnesota. While Moorhead is a sister city to Fargo- one I could literally see from my backyard as a child- it is not in North Dakota. My mom and all fellow Moorhead Spuds would be very upset if I didn’t correct you on that point.

Both are also being recruited by North Dakota State, the team I grew up watching in the D2 playoffs on the eternally dumpy Dakotah Field. The Bison have since won 9 FCS Championships in 11 years and are now battling Washington and Wisconsin for recruits, so times have changed.

Also, when Davis took his first visit to UW, his parents were not able to travel with him. He still wanted to make the trip, so in a very heart-warming gesture, his HS coach brought him to Seattle. That coach is Kevin Feeney, who was the QB of North Dakota State when I was in middle school and one of my favorite football players to watch as a kid. Long story short, I feel like Davis is poised to become my favorite Husky of all time and I will be inordinately crushed if this three-star DT chooses another team.

Max: (I know Davis is from Minnesota but forgot to list the state and got mixed up on Kleinholz because he had NDSU as one of his final 4. I make no apologies)

Andrew: I know that’s a terribly indirect way to answer the question, but my point is that I think the upper-Midwest and Great Plains could be an interesting recruiting ground for UW. There are some cultural similarities- most of the cities in both areas were built by Scandanavian and/or German immigrants, and a lot of the country’s population centers treat anything west of the Mississippi as one small state. DeBoer and several of his assistants came up in the region. They probably know the high school programs and coaches as well as they know those on the west coast. If there is such a thing as an identifiable Midwestern culture, they should be able to identify with it. Also, the schools in that footprint- Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota- are solid, but UW has likely had a better brand and reputation over the last decade. Finally, does it mean anything that NDSU has built an FBS-quality program and sent many players to the NFL with P5 reject recruits? Probably.

Gabey: I’m just here to say that I want to see Andrew and Max fight for the honor of the Dakotas. Andrew has the reach advantage but if Max gets hold of the legs you’d have a tough time recovering.

Otherwise for me personally right now I’m kind of just in wait-and-see mode not just for DeBoer and Co but for like... pretty much all of CFB recruiting. A year or two ago I could’ve given you an insightful, well-thought out answer, but I feel like now there’s so many moving parts that I’m comfortable saying I haven’t been this unsure about gestures at everything in a very long time.

The one thing that of course still holds true is the importance of re-establishing those in-state relationships etc., but other than that I don’t think I can give a truly good opinion.

Coach B: Max, I’m with you that that there’s a sweet spot that we could do well in after 250. I was thinking 250-500ish. Lots of these guys in that range have the talent to be legit starters down the line and are either raw talents coming out of HS or were underrated as juniors and have upside to get into the blue chip range with better publicity.

Local 3-star recruit Kade Eldridge happens to be #500 on the ‘23 247sports composite rankings and has a composite rating of 0.8789. He recently picked up a USC offer and could jump into the top 350 when it’s all said and done. For comparison, 2022’s top 20-25 classes were around 0.87 for their average recruit rating, and our 2019 class averaged 0.90.

What really killed Lakes classes on paper (and probably will hurt us on the field over the next few years) was the lack of high rated depth recruits after the headliners like Huard and Otton. Loading up on quality recruits as the backbone of our classes could be a path forward while we wait on our long term, higher end recruitments to start paying dividends.

Big picture I like the thought of scouring the Midwest for high upside development-focused recruits in the interim while we figure out where we want to go with NIL. It feels like we’re willing to spend on our internal recruiting staff over NIL, so we might have the capacity to execute on a national recruiting strategy.

We have to build on our advantages and building pipelines by giving shots to guys we like who might not be well regarded yet.

Locally, building pipelines to known and strong HS programs are going to be critical to keeping the best guys home.

Aaron:The Husky program has always been successful when it was built on landing in state prospects as well landing some top talent from California (mixed in with other states).

Based on some changes to the overall number of high schoolers playing football the Husky staff has started to look in other areas of the country to land talent (I.e. Texas). I believe the staff will need to continue to scour the Midwest and in Texas to try and land a few prospects a class. Going hand in hand with that the Husky program will need to beef up their national exposure and marketing efforts to get kids familiar with the program.

The majority of the class should still come primarily from WA, and CA and within those states we really need to do a better job of connecting with the players and their families at an earlier age (as a program). We also need to develop “pipelines” at some of the top programs in the west coast (Mater Dei HS, CA- St John Bosco HS, CA, Saguaro HS, AZ, if we can do that we should be consistently in the running for some of the top prospects.

Without getting too much into NIL, I would say some areas we need to improve in recruiting are marketing branding the program to top recruits, building relationships locally and nationally. The Husky program will likely be successful if we can land local stars (the Taylor Rapps and Budda Bakers and also mix in some top California prospects like Browning and Ross).

One last thing- this kind of goes without saying but I’d also like the see the athletic dept. start to spend more $$$ on marketing and recruiting (rumors of a new photo booth have been mentioned for several months but so far it hasn’t materialized).

Things like that may seem small but at the end of the day it can’t do anything other than help us with our top targets.