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Washington’s heralded recruiting class reminiscent of ’88 group featuring Steve Emtman

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 6, 2018, 7:04 p.m.

Washington’s Steve Emtman leaves the field after the Huskies’ 34-14 win over Michigan in the 1992 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Emtman and Washington’s quarterback Billy Joe Hobert were named co-MVPs of the game. Emtman, a star lineman from Cheney High School, was part of a 1988 recruiting class at UW that included Lincoln Kennedy, Mark Brunell and Mario Bailey, among others. (Bob Galbraith / AP)
Washington’s Steve Emtman leaves the field after the Huskies’ 34-14 win over Michigan in the 1992 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Emtman and Washington’s quarterback Billy Joe Hobert were named co-MVPs of the game. Emtman, a star lineman from Cheney High School, was part of a 1988 recruiting class at UW that included Lincoln Kennedy, Mark Brunell and Mario Bailey, among others. (Bob Galbraith / AP)

SEATTLE – The names and dates blend together now, 30 years later. Dick Baird knew he had helped recruit some great athletes who signed with the Washington Huskies in 1988. Just how great, he wasn’t sure at the time.

“We had no idea how good that class was,” said Baird, a UW assistant coach and recruiting coordinator from 1984-99. “We were still on the rise as a program. Our goal was to get the guys in the door and then develop them.”

And that, Baird said, is a key connecting point in the bridge between what Don James was building at UW in the late 1980s and what Chris Petersen is building now.

“That’s the thing about Coach Pete and Coach James that is so similar: They’re all about the development of kids,” Baird said.

The Huskies’ 1988 recruiting class has to be considered the best in program history. Steve Emtman and Lincoln Kennedy, two future College Football Hall of Famers, were in that class. So were Mark Brunell, Dave Hoffmann, Mario Bailey, Walter Bailey, Orlando McKay, James Clifford, Jaime Fields, Jay Barry, plus other notable contributors on the UW teams that would win three consecutive Pac-10 championships from 1990-92 and claim a share of the 1991 national title.

It was a special group and a special time.

Thirty years later, Petersen has what many see as another special recruiting class. He has already signed the bulk of the highest-ranked class of his coaching career — and one of the most touted in program history. The recruiting site 247Sports.com ranks the class No. 9 nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12.

During the first early signing period in December, UW signed 19 recruits to letters of intent. The Huskies are hoping to add a few more names to the class during the regular national signing day on Wednesday.

On Monday night, four-star defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa out of Bay Area powerhouse De La Salle made an oral commitment to UW, a source confirmed. Letuligasenoa had been committed to USC since April. He’s ranked by 247Sports as the No. 124 overall prospect in the nation in the 2018 class and the No. 13 defensive tackle.

Julius Irvin, a four-star defensive back from Anaheim, California, announced last week his intention to sign with the Huskies on Wednesday. Another four-star prospect, defensive end Jeremiah Martin, has listed UW among his finalists.

Rarely in recruiting do things go exactly according to plan. Surprises are aplenty, and Baird knew that well in his time as the program’s recruiting coordinator.

There were some surprises in that 1988 class. Take Emtman, for one.

Baird had scouted and recruited Emtman, a star lineman from Cheney High School, and the Huskies were thrilled when Emtman chose UW over Washington State.

But the Huskies were just as excited about another, more highly touted D-lineman, Mike Lustyk out of Bellevue’s Interlake High. In fact, Baird recalled that Emtman was upset about not getting his preferred jersey number – No. 74 – because Lustyk had been promised it.

Emtman made No. 90 one of the most notable jersey numbers in program history, and went on to become the most decorated player in program history and was taken No. 1 in the 1992 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts.

On signing day in 1988, neither Emtman nor Kennedy were considered the headliners. The Huskies did sign five of the top 38 players from the West in that class, as ranked by the Long Beach Press-Telegram rankings. Wide receiver Damon Mack, Lustyk and Brunell were the most highly regarded in the class, with running back Darius Turner and tight end David Ilsley also making the Press-Telegram list.

Baird couldn’t recall every name from that class, but he agrees it was a class that was central in leading the program to its zenith.

Three decades later, he is hoping the 2018 class can help produce similar results.

“I think we are looking at a banner recruiting class,” he said. “In my memory, I don’t remember any other class being as good as this one.”