SEATTLE – Dawgs are better than wolves.
Or so it seemed on early signing day.
If you’re confused, a little context: Chris Petersen announced on Dec. 2 that he will step down following Washington’s upcoming bowl game, at which point second-year defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake will succeed him as UW’s head coach. Despite the unfortunate timing, Washington signed all 23 of its oral commits – collecting a class ranked first in the Pac-12 by 247Sports – barely two weeks later.
Lake was asked during a teleconference from Las Vegas on Wednesday, were the wolves at your door? Amidst the sudden coaching chaos, did outside programs attempt to poach UW’s commits?
“I wouldn’t call them wolves, though,” Lake calmly corrected, with a laugh. “Those would be more like buzzards and vultures. But yes, that’s part of the business. That’s part of the deal. We all know that. That’s always going to be part of recruiting. I wouldn’t expect anything less.
“That’s their job, to try to go out there and get really good players. We have a lot of excellent players that ended up signing with us that I’m sure those other coaches would love to have sign with them. That’s part of recruiting and part of our job.”
Of those “excellent players,” three are four-star offensive linemen (Myles Murao, Roger Rosengarten and Geirean Hatchett). Two are four-star wide receivers (Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze). One is a prolific four-star passer, in senior Corona Del Mar quarterback and recent California state champion Ethan Garbers.
But the prize – at least, from the perspective of outside recruiting sites – is five-star Kennedy Catholic outside linebacker Sav’ell Smalls, who committed to Washington in September after previously eliminating his home state school.
On Wednesday, Lake was asked what it took to bring Smalls back into the picture.
“These young men get twisted sideways and have so much things going at them (during the recruiting process),” he said. “They have people in their ears that maybe shouldn’t be in their ears. Thankfully, Sav’ell had the right people talking to him at the right time, especially down the stretch. Our strategy was, we knew Sav’ell was a high-academic, very smart, big-time football player, who we knew was going to be a great teammate in our locker room. We knew he fit us.
“So we were going to keep recruiting him, which we did, even after all that came out. Because we really felt like he fit this program to a T. Again, credit to our coaching staff, to just keep pounding away. We’re happy he signed with the Dawgs.”
The same can be said for four-star Scottsdale (Arizona) Saguaro defensive back Jacobe Covington, who decommitted from the Dawgs in October before reaffirming his pledge last Saturday.
“We’re very excited about Jacobe,” Lake said of the 6-foot-1, 196-pound Covington, adding that he’ll likely settle as a safety or nickel at UW. “This is part of recruiting. They’re not all going to stay committed the whole time. Sometimes, we’re going to lose guys.
“I think our strong relationship that we had, that we had built up over the last 2 1/2 years between his family and him, is what really held this thing together. I think when all the dust settled he remembered that this is the right fit for him, that he can get a big-time degree. He can be in a great locker room and play some big-time football for us. So we’re glad it all worked out.”
Of course, not everything has worked out so neatly. Two of UW’s four-star targets – tight end Jack Yary and defensive lineman Xavier Carlton – remain unsigned, leaving the door open for the Huskies to potentially add to their 2020 class in February. That class is noticeably lacking a single defensive lineman, after UW signed seven of them in 2018 and 2019 combined.
Still, in the proper context, Lake’s first class as Washington’s (kind of?) head coach must be considered a success. Despite the coaching change and some considerable offensive staff and schematic uncertainty, the Huskies signed eight four-star recruits on the offensive side.
What was Lake’s message to Washington’s existing offensive commits?
“The message really was more about what they had previously already committed to – which was our Built for Life foundation that we have, our uncommon unity, our culture that we have, this program,” said Lake, who will soon have to decide whether to retain offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. “All those other details of what exact plays we’re going to be running and all those other things … I mean, they know philosophically what we want to do on all three phases, which I spoke about when I was first hired. And to a man, they were all about that.
“They know that’s what’s going to help us win football games, is playing a tough, physical brand of football in all three phases. So really, I think all the guys were excited and they were juiced.”
On the topic of what kept the class together, Lake added that “our best recruiters are our current players and our players that are committed, because they know that if they all band together and come here, something special’s going to happen.”
Certainly, something special could happen.
But it hasn’t happened yet.
Which is why Lake’s excited about the signings, don’t get him wrong. He can’t wait to tell you that the 2020 class earned a combined core grade-point average of 3.06, for example – that it includes players from eight states and four state champions. He’ll gush about running back Sam Adams’ versatility, about cornerback Elijah Jackson’s passion, about legacy linebacker Carson Bruener’s tantalizing tape. He’ll keep repeating the magic words, “uncommon unity.” He’ll start by declaring that “we’re extremely excited about this class.”
Impressed? Not yet.
“I’ll be impressed when we’re lifting up the Pac-12 championship trophy,” Lake said. “That’s what I’ll be impressed with. What I’m happy with is that I think we have a really good class. But I think the recruiting classes, how they actually show their worth is what they do when they get here. So I think that’s how we’ve always got to pay attention to it.
“But yes, we’re thrilled with the talent and the potential in all these guys. But now, let’s go. Now it’s time to get to work.”
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