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A Recent History of In-State Recruiting

Looking at Washington’s recent inability to get the most out of their local recruits

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Washington at Michigan Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the constant refrains in college football is “build the fence”. Every program wants to recruit at a high enough level that they are a complete shoo-in to land every top prospect in their geographic footprint. That has become nearly impossible for all but the elite of the elite given the way the sport’s recruiting has nationalized in the modern era but it’s still the dream. Fans love nothing more than rooting for hometown heroes on the way to national titles.

One of the prime examples were the last 2 seasons for Georgia football. Sure, the biggest reason why the Bulldogs won back-to-back titles was a defense jam-packed with 5-stars at every position from every part of the country. But the face of the team was Stetson Bennett from Atlanta, Georgia who walked-on at UGA to try to earn a chance to play for his favorite school. It would’ve been extra fitting if he was directly from Athens but it’s close enough.

Washington fans dared to dream when the Huskies signed 5-star QB Sam Huard. He was the ultimate Husky. Both his dad and uncle were starting QBs for Washington and he was raised and inundated in the purple and gold from day one. And yet entering his 3rd year he was clearly 3rd on the depth chart and he wasn’t immune to the pressures of modern football, choosing to transfer to Cal Poly for a clear chance to start.

The other fabulous five-star from Kennedy Catholic, Edge Sav’ell Smalls, announced this week that he is entering the transfer portal like Huard before him. There go the #4 and #6 overall recruits in the modern era of Husky football history gone in a single offseason. And both hopeful hometown heroes.

In fact, if you look around the Husky roster you begin to notice that the foundations of a team built with home-state building blocks have crumbled. It was apparent that Washington’s in-state recruiting stumbled under Jimmy Lake and Kalen DeBoer tried to enact a “Loyal to the Soil” branding campaign to turn things around. So far though the reality of the situation has grown more obvious to local recruits which certainly aren’t helping those efforts. Let’s go back through the last half-decade of recruiting classes to try to see where things went off the rails.

All recruiting rankings are using the 247 Sports Composite. My own career score formula uses snap counts, starts, and grades from Pro Football Focus plus all-conference awards and draft position. Current career score totals are in parentheses.

Class of 2018

Husky Signees: #3- CB Kyler Gordon (32.1), #10- Edge Mosiah Nasili-Kite (7.1), #5- TE Devin Culp (4.5), #9- DL Ulumoo Ale (3.4), #1- QB Jacob Sirmon (0.8),

Top Non-Huskies: #11- OL Matthew Cindric, Cal (11.7), #2- WR Tre’Shaun Harrison, Florida St/Oregon St (7.3), #17- LB/FB Jack Colletto, Oregon St (6.3), #42- OL Jacob South, Utah St (6.3), #15- CB Tre Weed, Eastern WA/Nevada (6.2)

Highly Ranked Non-UW Misses: #4- Wazzu WR Rodrick Fisher (1.5), #6- TCU/Wazzu LB Ben Wilson (1.1)

(players in italics are finished with their college career)

This was one of the last years where Washington could reasonably say they got just about everyone they wanted from the state. The prize at the time was QB Jacob Sirmon but unfortunately he was never able to refine his technique and transferred twice and is now at Northern Colorado. The most satisfying recruiting win was beating out Notre Dame for electrifying athlete Kyler Gordon. It certainly turned out to be the most impactful as Gordon ended up as a 2nd round draft pick whose playing time was limited by only having a 4-game season in 2020 and redshirting his first season. Devin Culp and Ulumoo (then M.J) Ale were both considered good gets and have both been key members of the team building up into starters. Although Ale has switched sides of the ball which moved him back to reserve status.

There weren’t really any obvious misses in hindsight. OL Matthew Cindric has carved out a nice career as a multi-year starting lineman at California but he wouldn’t have been a clear upgrade from UW’s actual tackles over the last half decade. Tre’Shaun Harrison was a useful piece once he transferred back closer to home at Oregon State from the wide receiver spot. Jack “the Jackhammer” Colletto was also a nice multi-purpose weapon for the Beavers.

The biggest regret is likely for Mosiah Nasili-Kite who was dismissed from Washington for a violation of team rules. He ended up at Maryland where he has been a productive multi-year starter and then transferred to Auburn this offseason where he hopes to solidify himself as an eventual draft pick in the SEC.

There could be some super senior breakout seasons that change the shape of this class but about 40% of the P5 starts among WA state recruits were players in Washington’s recruiting class. You’ll find several players who put up good production scores at the FCS level largely in the Big Sky but it seems reasonable to think the numbers would’ve been much worse at UW. In the end the Huskies secured the one true blue chipper in the class and got starters out of a few other players in the top-ten which is about as good as you can reasonably hope for if you’re the Huskies.

Montana v Washington Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Class of 2019

Husky Signees: #1- QB Dylan Morris (6.2), #8- LB Alphonzo Tuputala (4.4), #29- CB Mishael Powell (3.7), #2- OL Nate Kalepo (1.2)

Top Non-Huskies: #26- Utah St/BYU LB AJ Vongphachanh (6.0), #49- Eastern WA/Arizona St WR Xavier Guillory (4.1), #9- Hawaii/Washington St WR Lincoln Victor (3.7), #66- Columbia QB Joe Green (3.2)

Highly Ranked Non-UW Misses: #3- Nebraska/Portland State WR Darien Chase (2.5), #4 Oregon/UConn QB Cale Millen (0.3), #5- Cal/Arizona EDGE Orin Patu (0.8)

As the Chris Petersen era continues to roll along we see Washington again take their pick of the top in-state guys. Dylan Morris stacked on top of Sirmon and ultimately beat him to succeed Jake Browning before losing his job last year to transfer Michael Penix Jr. The top lineman in the state was Nate Kalepo who appears ready to start at right guard this season. At linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala took over as a starter last season whileDrew Fowler (#12 WA recruit) turned down a scholarship offer from Utah to stay home and walk-on for UW. Also coming in as a walk-on was DB Mishael Powell (#29 WA recruit) who started at corner last season and is set to start at the Husky spot this year.

There wasn’t a whole lot that Washington missed out on from this in-state class. Linebacker AJ Vongphachanh has been the best of the rest so far and is transferring to BYU from Utah State. You’ll notice that the top-3 from the non-Husky grouping all have moved from mid-majors to power conference programs either this year or last year through the portal. Lincoln Victor has made an honorable mention all-conference for his special teams work as a returner but we’ll see if Guillory and AJV drop off moving up a level.

As things currently stand it doesn’t appear that anyone from this in-state class is on target to be drafted but if anyone does it’s probably going to be a player currently on Washington. 8 recruits signed with P6 schools that weren’t Washington and none secured a starting job while the majority have transferred down a level already. The Huskies did about as well as could’ve been expected from this class given the available talent getting 4 players who are either starters or very important backups going into their 5th season.

Class of 2020

Husky Signees: #13- LB Carson Bruener (2.2), #1- EDGE Sav’ell Smalls (1.8), #4- OL Geirean Hatchett (0.3), #6- RB Sam Adams (0.1), #10- WR Sawyer Racanelli (0.1), #22- OL Samuel Peacock (0.1)

Top Non-Huskies: #20- Oregon St OL Taliese Fuaga (8.8), #5 Stanford OL Levi Rogers (3.3), #60 UAB Edge Kelle Sanders (3.0), #3- Wazzu/Colorado St CB Ayden Hector (2.7)

Highly Ranked Non-UW Misses: #2- Ohio St TE Gee Scott Jr. (0.6), #7- Cal/TCU TE D.J Rogers (0.1), #8- Wazzu CB Alphonse Oywak (0.1)

This was the last class assembled before Chris Petersen’s retirement and so for the most part UW still got the players they wanted. They eventually won the battle for Sav’ell Smalls’ recruitment which sparked this article and didn’t turn out as well as expected. A 1.8 career score after 3 seasons is respectable but just puts Smalls in the top-15 for WA state recruits to this point. Not nearly good enough to earn the #1 spot.

Outside of Smalls it has been a mixed bag. Sawyer Racanelli entered college recovering from a torn ACL and has since transferred to Montana. Hatchett and Peacock entered an OL logjam at Washington and Hatchett looks like he’ll be the next player off the bench if an injury happens but won’t begin fall camp as a projected starter. Sam Adams has shown some flashes at RB but is probably at best 4th on the depth chart with the additions of Dillon Johnson and Daniyel Ngata in the portal. That leaves Carson Bruener as the highest scoring signee and even he is unlikely to start with Edefuan Ulofoshio and Alphonzo Tuputala returning (plus Ralen Goforth transferring in).

Unlike previous years though there are plenty of misses. The biggest one came from the JUCO ranks so I don’t necessarily blame the Huskies for letting Oregon get OL T.J Bass and his 29.2 career score before he adds to it by getting drafted next week. I’m only including prep recruits in the summary at the top but it’s worth noting.

Even while excluding him there are a few question marks. Oregon State OL Taliese Fuaga emerged to earn a 2nd team all-conference nod this past season despite coming in as the 20th ranked recruit in the state. 4-star Levi Rogers was never recruited by the Huskies before heading to Stanford and while he wasn’t that great, he did start for the Cardinal last season. #3 WA recruit Ayden Hector had off-field concerns that led him to Washington State and then a transfer to Colorado State but he has shown that he always had 4-star talent on the field.

If you exclude the possibility of signing T.J Bass then there’s probably only one real regret with this class which is signing Samuel Peacock over Taliese Fuaga. Both were ranked in the low 20’s overall at the same position so it doesn’t a seem a stretch that UW could’ve reeled in Fuaga if they had offered him and it’s not like they didn’t have a spot. There’s still reason to think that Hatchett will wind up being a better guard than Levi Rogers, just that Rogers has had less competition in his path.

The problem with this class was the relative failures at the top. Smalls has been on the low end of any projection for his future. Gee Scott Jr. started the trend of Ohio State poking around the greater Seattle area but he hasn’t lived up to expectation for the Buckeyes. He was moved from WR to TE and got on the field in a reserve role this season but has just 10 catches for 70 yards in 3 years. The entire top-10 has just 18 P5 starts so far. Not great. But the worst is yet to come...

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Kent State at Washington

Class of 2021

Husky Signees: #3- QB Sam Huard (0.3), #20- DL Siaosi Finau (0.03), #5- OL Owen Prentice (0.0), #6- WR Jabez Tinae (0.0), #8- LB Will Latu (0.0), #18- TE Caden Jumper (0.0)

Top Non-Huskies: #1- Ohio St DL J.T Tuimoloau (12.0), #2- Ohio St WR Emeka Egbuka (9.7), #10- Nevada/Colorado St QB Clay Millen (2.0), #15- Wazzu Edge Andrew Edson (1.4)

Now we get to where the wheels fall off. The first full class under Jimmy Lake coincided with what was viewed as one of the best classes in potentially Washington State recruiting history. 9 recruits earned 4-star status including a trio inside the top-12 overall. Washington tried their hardest to pair Sam Huard with at least one of Egbuka or JTT but lost out on each to Ohio State (remember, at least be glad they didn’t go to Oregon). Still, the Huskies seemingly had a great consolation prize with 4 of the top-8 and after one season brought back #7 via transfer.

Now that class looks like a barren wasteland. Sam Huard got one fateful start in the Apple Cup and then never got a chance to make amends before deciding to transfer to Cal Poly. #5 recruit Owen Prentice decided a few weeks ago to retire from the sport. #7 WR Lonyatta Alexander spent one season with the Huskies before transferring to Montana State. #18 TE Caden Jumper transferred to Murray State without playing a snap. And #8 recruit Will Latu never made it to opening day of his freshman season after a bizarre saga.

The final toll appears to be only Siaosi Finau left on the roster as a lottery ticket defensive lineman. Yikes.

Meanwhile, JTT and Egbuka each were all-conference selections as true sophomores in the Big 10 and both appear headed for a destiny of top-ten picks in the NFL Draft. You could curse Washington’s rotten luck for ending up with the only one of the 3 not to be a stud from the start but there’s probably some confounding factors in there.

It’s still early for this class and someone, likely multiple someones, will emerge to become impact players at the P5 level down the road. But so far the only player other than the 5-star trio to get a power conference start is Wazzu edge Andrew Edson who has been solid in mostly reserve duty for 2 seasons. We’ll see how things shape up but it’s clear that there were 2 true blue chippers in this class, their immense talent was obvious to everyone from the time they were 13 years old, and UW missed on both of them.

Class of 2022

Husky Signees: #15- WR Denzel Boston (0.1), #4- TE Ryan Otton (0.0), #7- S Tristan Dunn (0.0)

Top Non-Huskies: #13- Oregon St TE Jack Velling (1.9), #24- Wazzu WR Leyton Smithson (1.8), #1 Oregon OL Josh Conerly (0.4), #2- Notre Dame WR Tobias Merriweather (0.3), #8- Texas A&M OL Mark Nabou (0.3)

Everyone knew that while the class of 2021 might have had more star power at the top, the 2022 class might be just as deep or even more so. The big draw was a quintet of high level offensive line prospects. Washington had to deal with a disastrous 2021 season and a coaching change but kept OL coach Scott Huff ostensibly to help reel in at least one or two from that group. Instead, Vega Ioane decommitted late and headed to Penn State. Mark Nabou decommitted earlier and signed with Texas A&M. And 5-star Josh Conerly took the best deal and wound up with Oregon.

It’s too early to make broad, sweeping judgments about this class. Most players don’t start as true freshmen. Failing to do so doesn’t doom a player. Both Otton and Dunn for Washington dealt with injuries and Boston is fighting his way through one of the more stacked depth charts in the country. It’s still possible that all 3 of those players wind up being really good.

Velling though looks like a potential miss for the Huskies coming out of Seattle Prep as he started 7 games for Oregon State catching 16 balls for 277 yards and 3 TDs. It’s way too early to suggest UW should’ve prioritized him over Otton but it would’ve been nice to have both. Leyton Smithson started 6 games for Washington State but that might have been more due to lack of competition given his numbers. None of the OL quintet started as true freshmen but all of them saw the field at least a little in reserve duty and in particular it looks like Conerly and Nabou may qualify as major regrets down the road if not already.


Those are 5 classes worth of players coming out of the state of Washington. That’s a combined 15 seasons of college football. So far that group has combined for 11 either 3rd team or honorable mention all-conference nods, and 2 each for 1st and 2nd team all-conference selections. That adds up to an average of one per season during that time. Only 6 of those seasons have come in a Husky uniform and 3 of them were by CB Kyler Gordon. Kyler is also the only player to have been drafted and if we TJ Bass as a JUCO prospect there’s a decent chance that’s still the case even after next week’s draft.

The Ohio State duo from the class of 2021 are destined to join Gordon on that list and it’s too early to make any declarations about the class of 2022. If we just focus on 2018-2021 though it means Washington will have signed just 1 of the 3 truly elite in-state players in that 4-year span despite signing 15 of the 40 players in the state’s top-ten. That’s partially an indictment on the Jimmy Lake era (sigh) and partially a problem with the state as a whole that only 3 such players emerged.

Things only turned around marginally in the class of 2023 as the Huskies signed the #1, #5, and #10 in-state prospects in a group with much lower ceilings than the previous 3 years. 2024 isn’t off to a great start with only one of the top-five from Washington still even considering the hometown Huskies.

If there’s any good news to be found from all of that, it’s that in recent years the regrets have mainly come from the in-state players the Huskies did sign rather than the ones that got away.