Unleashed: Inside Sark's Top-15 Recruiting Class At UW
Feb. 6, 2013
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Happened to be in the UW football offices just after 12:30 on the annual frenzy also called national football signing day. It was a couple hours after an initial, exciting flurry of 18 signed letters of intent had arrived.
What struck me was how all business it was on the second floor of UW's Graves Annex - all day, really. It was quiet. Coaches were still on phones. Marques Tuiasosopo had just gotten off one.
"Tired," Washington's last Rose Bowl quarterback and recently hired coach for the position said Wednesday with a sigh from behind his desk in the annex.
"But got to keep grindin'."
Tui got four hours of sleep before signing day began. That was around 4 a.m. Seattle time, for the Huskies.
With a new stadium opening this summer, a new, young, tireless staff and a program on the rise, the Huskies are going farther - and if possible, longer -- in their recruiting. No longer merely locked into what remains their strength, the West Coast (as Wednesday proved), Steve Sarkisian and his assistant coaches were tracking recruits from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
"It's funny, we are so accustomed to just recruiting West Coast guys. We had a couple of East Coast guys we were waiting on (where signing day started at 4 a.m. Pacific time). We were all in sweats and hoodies and hanging out," Sarkisian said of his basically middle-of-the-night start. "But it's a very serious approach with these guys.
"It's a good group. A good group."
Its haul was as business-like as he vibe: Three of what are considered to be the top six wide receivers on the West Coast; a deep and dynamic group of pass-rushing defensive linemen; tall, physical defensive backs; linebackers that are long, that UW expects can tackle in space against the spread offenses in vogue at Oregon and across college football.
Oh, yeah, a 220-pound running back, Lavon Coleman, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards two seasons ago at the same high school as Napoleon Kaufman in Lompoc, Calif. A 308-pound center, Dane Crane, who Sarkisian thinks can become "a potential all-conference, All-American-type center" for the Huskies. And a record-setting kicker from Mount Si High School outside Seattle, boomer-legged Cameron Van Winkle, who addresses an immediate need.
Not bad for the 22 who signed as the recruiting class for 2013, Sarkisian's fifth season at Washington. Scout.com ranked it the nation's 14th-best class, second in the Pac-12 to only UCLA. ESPN and rivals.com called UW's the 18th best in America.
"This class is right up there among the best of the conference," Sarkisian said, "which is right where we should be.
"This class is about quality. It's not necessarily about quantity. (It's about) getting quality individuals that are going to make us a better football team and continues us on a quest for not only a Pac-12 championship but a Rose Bowl championship and ultimately a national championship."
What helped form such a strong class?
Sarkisian said recruits, almost to a man, had the same reaction as he and his staff gave recruits tours of the ongoing, $250 million renovation that will include a wondrous, 80,000-square-foot football operations center in the remade icon's new west bowl:
"It is a game changer. This is a distinct advantage for us, a game-changing advantage," Sarkisian said of the still-forming palace that will reopen on Aug. 31 along Lake Washington when UW hosts Boise State. "Those were jaw-dropping moments for them when they got in that stadium."
The UW staff
Most are crediting Tosh Lupoi, the defensive line coach and recruiter extraordinaire Sarkisian hired from California 13 months ago, as another key to a program coming off consecutive 7-6 seasons and three straight bowl appearances landing a top-15 class on Wednesday.
Sarkisian says that credit is warranted for Lupoi, but now "that's our entire staff now."
John Ross is an example. The 5-11, 175-pound flash ran a 10.78 in the 100-meter dash at the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section track finals while at Long Beach Jordan High School.
That's the same high school of Huskies special-teams and running backs coach Johnny Nansen. Nansen's link to Long Beach Jordan helped UW sign perhaps its most-heralded group of wide receivers ever inside one recruiting class. Some are calling Ross, 6-4 Darrell Daniels of Pittsbug, Calif., and 6-3, 215-pound Damore'ea Stringfellow the best set of wide receivers signed by any program in the country Wednesday.
No wonder Keith Price was smiling when I chatted with him on Tuesday.
Sarkisian said such recruiting is the new business as usual at UW.
"We have a really high level of expectations on the caliber of player we want to recruit," the coach said.
FLEEING KATRINA, ADAPTING TO A NEW LIFE - THEN SURVIVING HAWKS
To me, Wednesday's most intriguing signee is Marcus Farria.
Not because he is 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds. Not because he has fifth-gear, pass-rush speed off the edge. Not because he was ranked as the 10th best defense end recruit in the nation by MaxPreps.com, out of Centennial High School in Peoria, Ariz. Nor because Sarkisian says "I can't wait to watch him rush the passer."
It's because Farria survived packing up everything he owned and fleeing from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana to suburban Phoenix before his junior year of high school.
Most teenagers would balk, if not bonk and disintegrate, at having to move across town in the middle of high school, any distance away from his friends, coaches and teammates.
Farria moved 1,500 miles through one of this country's most devastating storms in a century to a new world, new program, new life.
He not only adapted. He flourished. And now he is getting his education paid for to attend one of America's top public universities and to play for a football program on the rise.
"He got caught when Katrina hit and moved to Arizona with his mother," Sarkisian said, smiling over all his new defensive end stands for - beyond the fact that his speed, size and strength on the field make Washington's coach say, "I think he brings a couple things that we don't have in our program right now."
Another reason I already like Farria: He's a young man you can trust.
Huskies' coaches got a tip about a year ago to keep their eye on this pass-rushing dynamo new to the desert. Then they invited him to its football camp at UW last June. That's when Farria told the Huskies he wanted to be one of them.
In a day when a verbal commitment can be little more than a warning siren alerting other rivals to push even harder to steal a teenager away, Farria's word was (purple and) gold.
Oh, yes, other schools swarmed Farria after his commitment to Washington - as if he hasn't had to deal with enough already as a teen.
Yet guess who sent the first fax into UW's football offices in the Graves Annex building Wednesday, even before the sun was up in Seattle.
"He's a guy who committed to us in the summer. And really, as one school after another came after him he stayed true to his word," Sarkisian said.
"In the end he was the first guy who faxed in his letter of intent this morning at 7:01, which is a pretty good story for him."
Another moment that made signing day real came after Coleman's letter of intent arrived.
Moments later, the running back's mother Traci joined my live chat here on GoHuskies.com and went all caps to portray her joy.
"WOOF WOOF!!" Lavon's mom typed, borrowing the @CoachSark Twitter phrase for celebrating a recruiting win. "I AM PROUD TO CALL MYSELF A DAWG!!!!!!!!!!"
Yep, 10 exclamation points.
Sark being the former slingin' quarterback he is, he again added to UW's already full position. Troy Williams, a 6-2, 205-pound passer from Los Angeles' Narbonne High School, enrolled in January and will be on the field with Price, Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist, Derrick Brown and the rest of the QBs when spring practice begins in April.
"I can't say enough about Troy Williams," Sarkisian said. "I recruited him for three years. He is an extremely gifted young man. Really strong arm. Runs extremely well - he's not a runner, he's a passer, for sure, but can run.
"We're still researching it but we think he's the only young man to be named the L.A. city player of the year two times in a row, which is a tremendous honor for him. He's an extremely competitive young man; back to back championships there at Narbonne. He's already enrolled in school, so we are pumped to have him."
EXPLORING COFFEE TABLES - AND WINNING
You could easily tell the 38*-year-old Sarkisian eats this stuff up. He was running on fumes, rest-wise, but he was talking more quickly and with more animation and excitement than he does, say, while recounting the previous weekend's game - even a win -- on a Monday in October.
I asked the former Brigham Young quarterback what he likes most about all that has become of recruiting. All the calls and texts and e-mails and Twitter direct messages and Facebook posts - all that culminated in the annual, mini national sports holiday on Wednesday.
"Getting to know these kids, and their moms and dads and their families," he said, smiling. "As a head coach they have really limited my access to them."
He laments NCAA recruiting rules don't allow him, as a head coach, to recruit in the spring and that he is allowed just one home visit per recruit.
"And I really enjoy those home visits," he said. "I like to take the time to look at the pictures of the kids when they are young. I like to take the time to get to know moms, grandmas, brothers, sisters. Because in the end those are things that I can hold on to when these guys are on our campus. I can bring that up to them in a way that I am real to these guys. Because ultimately I need to develop trust with these guys.
"Those are the personal relationships that I love."
Oh, yeah, Sarkisian also loves one other thing: Winning.
He did a lot of that on Wednesday.
"I love the competitive battles late in the game, when other guys come and try to take our guys right at the very end. We usually do very, very well with keeping them," he said. "We lost a couple today but we fight our tails off to get a couple of guys late that are 50-50. We got a couple of them. We didn't get a couple of them.
"But the competitive juices are what drives me."