UW recruiting: Huskies go from bottom of Pac-12 to among league’s best in seven short weeks
Coach Chris Petersen’s first class finished with a flurry after he was hired in December, culminating with the signing of Bellevue’s Budda Baker, considered the state’s top recruit.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A seven-week recruiting blitz netted Washington as fruitful a class as new coach Chris Petersen could’ve hoped for when he was introduced as UW’s new coach on Dec. 9.
Less than a week after his introduction, the Huskies had just five committed recruits, the fewest of any BCS program, and a class ranked as low as 101st in the nation.
Wednesday, Petersen introduced his first UW class featuring 24 signed recruits — including the state’s top two players, Bellevue’s Budda Baker and Fife’s Kaleb McGary — in a class that vaulted to 36th nationally by recruiting services.
It was a fast, awkward and intense recruiting bonanza for Petersen and his staff. “Very intense,” Petersen said.
There wasn’t much drama for UW on Wednesday. In what he said was his usual process during National Signing Day, Petersen said he was relaxed and measured throughout the day.
Except for a few fax-machine kinks — what teenager knows how to use a fax machine, anyway? — everything seemed to go according to plan. All 22 recruits who had committed to UW before Wednesday signed, and Petersen seemed to have a least a strong indication that the last two recruits, wide receiver Brayden Lenius and offensive lineman Devin Burleson, were on board going into the day.
“We covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time,” Petersen said. “I just think we were able to do that because of this place. If you’re at a lot of other places, this list is not going to look like this. The university sells itself. The facilities, where this program is headed — all those things, I think people are feeling that.”
Petersen held his news conference at UW Wednesday as the Seahawks’ Super Bowl parade was wrapping up downtown, and he said the city’s excitement about the Seahawks resonated with recruits.
“I think the Seahawks’ (success) is awesome,” Petersen said. “I mean, you’ve got 700,000 people down there at a parade, are you kidding me? That is awesome. You can tell they like football, and winning football.”
Baker’s commitment on Tuesday evening was the biggest development for the Huskies. Not only did the Huskies land the four-star safety, considered the Northwest’s top recruit, but Baker had been previously committed to rival Oregon.
“We were excited. Really excited,” Petersen said of Baker’s commitment.
Baker was one seven defensive backs to sign with the Huskies. Four-star cornerback Naijiel Hale, the son of the late rapper Nate Dogg, was another high-profile recruit to sign, and both figure to have a chance to see the field immediately next season in UW’s thin defensive secondary.
The Huskies signed six in-state recruits, six defensive linemen, four offensive linemen and six recruits who had previously been committed to Petersen at Boise State. Recruiting against Boise State was “very awkward,” said Petersen, who had talked to Boise State athletic director Mark Coyle and new coach Bryan Harsin about the process.
“I really don’t want this thing to be weird, but you know how this thing goes,” Petersen said he told them.
“Kids get committed to coaches — that’s what they do,” he added. “They call you and say, ‘Coach, I want to come with you.’ And so this first year was going to be awkward; there’s no way around it.”
Leaving Boise, Petersen said, did open some doors that he wouldn’t have been able to get through before.
“Absolutely, there’s no question. That’s one of the reasons I’m here,” he said.
In less than two months, Petersen and his staff salvaged what looked like a bleak recruiting class, offering further intrigue for an already promising future.
“Boy,” he said, “if we can keep this kind of recruiting intensity up all year long to this place, I’m so excited about the future as we go forward with this.”