“I’ve never had a bunch of anxiety on this day,” Chris Petersen says. That’s because Washington’s new coach is sure of himself. Sure of his assistants. Sure of his proven, winning program. And very sure of the “OKGs” that have fully dedicated themselves to Petersen, and thus to Husky football.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Kid Cudi wasn’t blaring through the football offices.
There were no gnashing of teeth over recruits “flipping” to another school. No nervous energy or staffers jumping around about whether a guy would flip to the Huskies, either.
Just one loud, unmistakable “WOOF!” that echoed through the recruiting lounge of Washington’s football operations center inside Husky Stadium at 7:09 a.m. Wednesday.
And just Chris Petersen flashing a big, accomplished grin to go with his cup of coffee and gray collared shirt with a purple, block W on the chest at 7:28 a.m. That was just as the sun was rising over Lake Washington and about to shine into the operations building’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
Both the celebration bark and Petersen’s grin happened just past the starting time for national letters of intent to come in from the Pacific time zone on national signing day for 2014.
After 24 NLIs arrived in the UW football offices – including from the two top players in the state, safety and kick returner Budda Baker from national powerhouse Bellevue High School and 6-foot-7 defensive lineman Kaleb McGary of Fife – there were a pair of striking takeaways from the first signing day at Washington for Petersen and his new staff:
- It was so calculated. So smooth.
- And, we now have a first taste of what Petersen meant by his “OKGs, our kinds of guys,” to use Petersen’s term first introduced to Huskies on the day UW hired him Dec. 9:
- They are the top two recruits in the home state.
- They are four-star prospects with high grade-point averages
- And they bring beef to the Huskies’ line of scrimmage.
NO DRAMA – BY DESIGN
In preparation for our annual Signing Day Central coverage on GoHuskies.com I get from the football staff a list of players likely to sign with UW. Off that list we prepare biographical information, do some research ahead of time to immediately disseminate upon players signing. In recent years that list has pushed 50 names, even for an ultimate class of two dozen.
Wednesday, I checked each player off as he signed, directly going down the remarkably streamlined list.
I mean, it was easier than working through my wife’s grocery list at Safeway.
Petersen and his staff were systematic and precise in their targeting of recruits. They had about two dozen names on it. And – voila! -- 24 signed.
No flipping. No surprises. No desperation. No wild emotion swings. It was like clockwork.
On my way out of the football operations center following the coolly efficient and impressive morning, a staffer grinned and said, "Just another day of work for us."
The message was clear. The rest of the drama, hype, the rat race and adrenaline surges of signing day? Leave that to the rumor mongers, the bloggers, the talking heads.
We’ve got our “OKGs.” We know who they are. And they know us.
“All the kids that we were counting on signing did sign,” Petersen said. “You know, it’s fun to wait around the fax machine or the computer if they are emailing NLIs back (eight of UW’s 24 NLIs came electronically by means other than the old-school fax machine). But I’ve never had a bunch of anxiety on this day."
How about on ANY day?
"I just kind of feel like these kids have given us their word," he said. "And if they are that ‘OKG’ that we are all about, they are coming through. And if not, then they really weren’t the type of guy that I thought they were going to be. And, really, it’s worked out for us almost every year.”
It was the self-awareness and self-assuredness of a veteran head coach and a program that has worked for the last eight years at Boise State. Worked and won big – 92-12 at Boise State with perfect seasons in 2006 and 2009 and Bowl Championship Series wins over Oklahoma and then Texas Christian. Those seasons that ended with Petersen becoming the only two-time winner of the Paul “Bear Bryant” Award as the national coach of the year.
Wednesday also was refreshing, an example of a smoothness and self-assuredness that can only help take the Huskies to the next, championship-winning level.
HERE’S THE BEEF
Eleven of the 24 who signed in Petersen’s first UW recruiting class are offensive and defensive linemen. That includes 300-pound defensive lineman Jaimie Bryant from Tumwater, Wash. Bryant was in Sarkisian’s recruiting class last year at UW but never enrolled. He will for practice this spring.
Petersen went with half heavies because he knows the Huskies will lose five senior linemen after the 2014 season, “so the next year, now what?” he said.
“It takes a while to develop those guys. We needed to get some guys in this class to get some things done (on the lines) in the future,” he said.
Carta-Samuels is the only quarterback. Jomon Dotson of American Canyon High School in the Bay Area is the only running back. After years of Steve Sarkisian's regime loading up on skill position players, Petersen and his new staff recognize that cupboard is relatively full. So they are setting out to build a new one in this new era of Husky football, one that starts from the trenches on out. That is going to bring vital depth to the most important areas of any game, the line of scrimmage.
As for that lone QB, Petersen says he would love to have one in every class. He has four now, including Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams, holdover backups behind Keith Price last season. Carta-Samuels’ brother Austyn was the starting quarterback for Vanderbilt last season, and that prestigious school – known by many as the “Harvard of the South” -- offered K.J. a scholarship, too. That, the fact Carta-Samuels re-opened his recruiting after Petersen became UW’s coach, and the fact the newest Husky quarterback has a 3.66 GPA at Bellarmine Prep High School in San Jose, Calif., speaks to the quality of the person Petersen is attracting UW.
So does the addition of McGary. Beyond mauling blockers and swallowing ball carriers whole, the towering, 285-pound defensive lineman who moved to Fife between Seattle and Tacoma from Battle Ground as a high-school sophomore reportedly has a 3.5 GPA. Not bad for the No. 2 recruit in the state.
The consensus No. 1 prospect in Washington, Baker, is a dynamic safety, running back and kick returner. Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff has said he regards Baker and current UCLA linebacker/running back Myles Jack as perhaps the best players at his powerhouse program over the last decade.
Baker had offers from USC, UCLA, Notre Dame, Stanford, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State ... and just about every other university that issues shoulder pads. He was committed to Oregon – until Sarkisian bolted for USC in December and Petersen left Boise State to become Washington’s coach four days after that. Petersen immediately offered him the chance to play primarily on defense, in a Huskies secondary that has lost four starters to graduation since December’s Fight Hunger Bowl.
Petersen said they have discussed offensive packages for Baker and that he will get chances at kick returning, too, as a freshman. But the coach told Baker “We don’t want to make you a jack of all trades and master of none.”
“We need him on defense in the worst way,” Petersen said, “right away.”
Petersen identified Baker is one of a handful of top recruits signed Wednesday that he “absolutely” would not have been able to lure to Boise State. The coach has come to see that the quality of education and facilities at UW – with its $280 million renovation of Husky Stadium and construction of the new football operations center not even six months old – mean “this place sells itself.”
“All the things that he’s all about – every person that’s been around him, his high school coaches, everybody that’s been around Budda says the same thing: ‘What a wonderful person he is,’” Petersen said. “I can see tape. That’s pretty easy. I can see what type of player he is. And so the combination of that – and then coupled with our need in the secondary, I was like, ‘This is the guy. This is the guy we’ve got to start with.’
“And what he means to this community is just awesome.”
Baker explained to the Seattle Times in a December story that he prefers to hang out at home with his mother Michelle, his stepfather and younger sister instead of going to teen parties. Baker told the newspaper he reveres his mother, a cancer survivor who is currently fighting through Crohn’s disease, and sees her as “my mom and my dad.” She’s where Baker gets his perseverance.
Sounds like more than qualified as an OKG to me.
Hale, a speedy, “four-star” cornerback, reportedly has a 3.0 GPA at St. John Bosco High School just south of Los Angeles – the same school that produced Price. That “other” Bosco product did OK at UW: Price just graduated as the owner of 11 UW single-season and career passing record, while becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree.
Hale is the son of Nathaniel Hale, “Nate Dogg,” the late rapper and former U.S. Marine who died in 2011 after multiple strokes. His son Naijiel has said Snoop Dogg got him into football, when Naijiel was 12 years old growing up in Lakewood, Calif., just south of Los Angeles.
Jojo McIntosh, a 6-foot-1 safety from Chaminade Prep High School in California, joined Baker, Hale, Darren Gardenhire (Long Beach), Sidney Jones (West Covina, Calif., High), Brandon Lewis (Rancho Murieta, Calif.), and Lavon Washington (Oakland’s McClymonds High) as Petersen’s signings to bolster UW’s depleted secondary.
McIntosh, “one of my favorite guys in camp last summer (at Boise State),” Petersen said, wants to study in the marine biology program at UW.
I sense Wednesday’s hauls aren’t the last quality people that also happen to be the top recruits in the state that Petersen signs for the Huskies.
“For these really good players to say here says something about this place,” Petersen said. “I hope the good young players in this state see that and say, ‘Hey, those are great players. If this is a good enough place for them, maybe I need to start thinking about going there, as well.’”
As for UW getting no “five-star” guys and “only” the four “four-stars” – Baker, McGary, Hale and Carta-Samuels -- Petersen didn’t hide his disdain for the recruiting guru’s rating system for players.
“Who gives these stars?” he asked at one point Wednesday.
“A couple years ago (at Boise State) we had the 70th-ranked recruiting class. And we had eight guys from that class go the NFL.”
That speaks to the other consideration of these whirlwind two months of recruiting and Wednesday’s class: Petersen’s just getting started. His renowned nationally for his success in developing recruits into guys who make up a top-10 team and become NFL draft choices.
All this isn’t to say Sarkisian’s way was wrong. It was right for him, a first-time head coach with a younger staff hip to the ways, the vibe and the music of the kids they were recruiting. And it was right for the Husky program’s climb out of an 0-12 abyss from 2008 to play in four consecutive bowl games.
This is to say that Petersen’s way is remarkably different. Washington has evolved since Sarkisian’s first season of 2009. These players, as new wide receivers coach Brent Pease said last month, have come up to their new coaches eager to follow the path to a championship.
“To come back in our first team meeting, be on time, and for kids to come up and say, ‘Hey, we’re ready to take this thing to the next level,’ they’re the ones taking the initiative,” Pease said in January. “It’s really about them. It’s not about the coaches. They’re the guys that are going to make this thing happen.
“I think it speaks volumes about what they are as football players, students, and the goals they want to reach. I mean I’m impressed, I really am.”
Petersen and his staff, all but one of whom coached for him in Boise, have walked that path. Wednesday was the first step on it.
I walked into the football operations building before 6 a.m. on signing day bracing for what UW signing days have been recently: unpredictable, with defections, flips and re-flips. Just a wild ride.
What I got instead is what Husky fans should take away from this first recruiting result after a mere two, intense months of whirlwind recruiting work: The soothing reality of how smooth and sure Petersen is in himself, in his program and in the guys he is bringing into it.