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Sunday, January 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Steve Christilaw: Pacific Northwest turns into recruiting hotbed

Another football season in the beautiful Pacific Northwest can be put to bed.

There’s still a buzz in the air from Clemson beating Alabama.

It was a banner season for area teams. Whitworth? Outstanding. Eastern Washington? Eagle pride is set to outpour, even after a loss in the Football Championship Subdivision title game. And the Cougars are on a giant high while wearing the Minshew Mustache.

Time to put the football down for a while, right?

Trick question.

The dust never settles when it comes to prospects and recruits.

Just type the words “NFL mock draft” into a search engine.

Analyzing the draft, past and present, is now a cottage industry that never sleeps and is updated on the hour. It’s so big that “draft day” is now a “draft event” that lasts three days.

Think of it as Mel Kiper meets Burning Man. Only with pads. And 40-yard times. And bench press reps. And personality tests. Nothing catches fire quite like a rising prospect moving up the list.

Recruiting has the same kind of intense following. It even has its own big day. National Signing Day: Wednesday, Feb. 6.

You can find an overwhelming number of sites tracking who’s going where in college football. And you can easily find rankings for which program did the best job of corralling the best talent (read Alabama).

Washington is almost always on these lists with one of the top recruiting classes each year. Washington State routinely is not. Make of that what you may.

But what’s surprising is how many sites keep rankings and track commitments for future classes. Want to know which juniors are drawing the most interest? Which already have offers from top programs? You can find out.

What, the same information about sophomores? Yup.

And, you guessed it, you can even find rankings for the top freshmen. They may not be able to shave, but some of them already have offers from top programs. The ones who can shave probably have multiple offers from a variety of programs.

There are entire websites devoted to grading and evaluating. And that’s not including the College Football Industrial Complex that is busily beating the bushes to recruit the next Heisman Trophy winner and the next quarterback to lead Clemson and Alabama to the next College Football National Championship game.

If only there was such a ratings system devised to evaluate insurance agents.

The Tacoma News Tribune recently ran a story about the Class of 2021, which promises to be the best set of in-state football talent anyone has seen.

It points to the fact that there are five Washington high school sophomores ranked in the top 50 nationally by 247sports.com. So far.

“It’s special,” the national recruiting editor at the site, Brandon Huffman, told the paper. “Usually when you see a class emerge, it’s going to be their junior year, maybe even their senior year.

“This class, when they were freshmen … you were, like, there are four or five guys in here that are future stars.”

The No. 1-ranked prospect in the nation, according to the website, is Eastside Catholic’s J.T. Tuimoloau, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound linebacker and defensive end.

Yes, you read that correctly. He’s a sophomore and he’s 6-5 and 280. Alabama has an offer on his kitchen table, along with Boise State, Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Oregon State, Tennessee, Utah, USC and UW.

Four more athletes come from the Greater Tacoma area, starting with Sam Huard (Kennedy Catholic), son of former UW and NFL quarterback Damon Huard, Emeka Egbuka (Steilacoom), Julien Simon (Lincoln) and Will Latu (Bethel).

Experts have been talking about how the state is on a big upward curve when it comes to college football talent, and they point to a growing population in the Greater Puget Sound area as a prime factor.

We don’t tend to find many players from our side of the state on these early lists.

Football players tend to grow into their prospect status on this side. When they make a list like this, it’s generally at the end of their junior season. With some players, it’s their senior year that makes all the difference and earns them a chance to play college football.

And that fits Eastern Washington. We grow things over here, and we let them get ripe before we start picking.

What’s more, we teach them how to be part of a team. We teach them that every star is being held up by a dozen or more sets of willing hands.

It’s good that the talent pool up here in the upper left-hand corner of the country is on people’s radar. We play good football and we have good kids up here.

The test of a good crop isn’t just in the seed.

It’s about how you grow it.

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