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University of Washington Huskies Football

Assessing UW’s 2023 recruiting class and where the Huskies must still improve

UCLA Bruins linebacker Laiatu Latu (15) tackles Washington Huskies running back Wayne Taulapapa (21) in the end zone for a safety in the first quarter at the Rose Bowl on Sept. 30, 2022, in Pasadena, California.  (Tribune News Service)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – It’s been more than three months since Washington last received an oral commitment from a recruit in the 2023 class.

Of course, that shouldn’t necessarily qualify as cause for concern, considering Kalen DeBoer’s crew previously earned 19 commitments – 15 of which arrived in June and July. The Huskies successfully converted spring official visits into summer commitments, and DeBoer said last week that “we’re pretty locked in on the level of caliber we’re getting and excited about who’s coming into the program.”

During UW’s commitment dry spell, that class dipped to 27th in the nation and third in the Pac-12 via 247Sports, behind No. 11 Oregon and No. 13 USC. And yet, 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman is impressed by the Huskies’ progress.

“Their early evaluations on guys that ended up being risers shows they trust their evaluation process,” Huffman said Tuesday. “I like what they’ve done with this class. They’ve addressed some needs and expanded their geographical footprint of where they’re going to recruit. They’ve got somebody committed at every position but tight end. Across the board they’ve done a good job of identifying needs. They didn’t just sit in the same geographical locations they’ve always recruited. They expanded and found they could have some success in some of those parts of the country.”

The Huskies went into South Dakota to secure quarterback Lincoln Kienholz, to Louisiana to corral four-star corner Curley Reed, and to Minnesota to lock down defensive lineman Elinneus Davis.

Perhaps more important, they’ve addressed a glaring need in the secondary – earning commitments from Reed, four-star safety Vincent Holmes and three-star corners Leroy Bryant and Diesel Gordon.

“I definitely think their secondary (class) is strong,” Huffman said. “Vincent Holmes has steadily risen. Curley Reed was already (ranked) high. But you throw in guys like Leroy (Bryant) and Diesel Gordon, who plays good Texas football, and I think they’ve done a really good job – especially with the dearth of corners out West.

“Vincent Holmes probably settles in at safety. He’s got positional versatility. But they’ve really addressed the needs specifically at the corner position, too. It’s not a great safety class out West at all, and corner is slightly better. But they’ve done a great job. There’s not a lot of great corners out West, so they go to Texas (Gordon) and Louisiana (Reed) to get some.”

Of course, a class’ perceived success or failure often hinges on its quarterback, and Kienholz is an athletically intriguing dual threat QB. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder from Pierre, South Dakota – who chose the Huskies over Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas State, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Washington State, Wyoming, North Dakota State and more – is ranked as a three-star prospect and the No. 29 quarterback in the 2023 cycle by 247Sports.

In seven games this fall, Kienholz has completed 67.7% of his passes and thrown for 2,132 yards with 30 touchdowns, six rushing touchdowns and four interceptions, according to MaxPreps.

But will that production translate in Pac-12 play?

“He’s intriguing,” Huffman said. “He’s doing what you expect a guy in a small town against inferior competition to do. But there’s always a danger in just being a stat scout.

“He’s putting up monstrous numbers, but you expect him to. With that said, he’s got some tools that you like. It might be an adjustment to go from playing in South Dakota to playing in the Pac-12. But I think there’s some tools there that are valuable. I just always caution people – and we’ve seen that with recent quarterbacks that UW has signed – that big stats don’t always equate to elite, next-level quarterbacks But he’s doing what you would hope a guy of his caliber would do in a state like South Dakota.”

But UW’s class needs more than a quarterback, or geographically disparate DBs. DeBoer noted that “we haven’t picked up a tight end yet. We’re waiting for that right person to join our program. It doesn’t have to be a high school player, but we certainly would take one there. Maybe another defensive back possibly would be one we’d take. We’re pretty full at offensive line, quarterback, running back.

“I think just in general you want to take the best players you can. We can pick up another one to three guys if it’s the right ones to join our program.”

Some of those right ones could include Vanderbilt tight end commit Ka’Morreun Pimpton, Cal tight end commit Ben Marshall, four-star linebacker Leviticus Su’a, four-star Rainier Beach (Seattle) corner (and Oregon commit) Caleb Presley, Baylor edge commit Trey Wilson and three-star defensive lineman Tavake Tuikolovatu.

And while DeBoer and Co. are off to a respectable start on the recruiting trail – and the transfer portal is another invaluable tool – it’s obvious where the program must still improve.

“Did you watch the Ohio State game on Saturday? There you go,” Huffman said, referring to a dominant performance by former Eastside Catholic defensive lineman JT Tuimoloau that included two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a touchdown. “There’s your answer. It’s to lock up the in-state guys. They’re about to head into a 2023 cycle where there’s not a lot of (committed UW) guys from in state. They struck out on a lot of guys. They may still end up getting some of those guys if they end up flipping a few.

“But I think when you go into the 2024 class, you’ve got an elite running back (O’Dea’s Jason Brown), an elite lineman (O’Dea’s Isendre Ahfua), a couple elite linebackers (Yelm’s Brayden Platt and Isaiah Patterson). They’re off to a good start with (the commitment of Garfield QB EJ Caminong). And I’m the biggest Sam Huard fan in the world, but you look back to when Sam committed and people thought Sam was going to bring all these guys with him. Emeka (Egbuka) and JT (Tuimoloau) went to Ohio State. Troy Franklin wasn’t an in-state guy, but he went to Oregon. You have to have the actual delivery of the quarterback bringing those guys in, and next year would be a good start.

“I think the talent in state is not going to be as top-end heavy in the 2025 and 2026 classes,” Huffman continued. “2024 is that last run of really good, deep, strong classes at the top. I think what they really need to do is stop letting those elite players go perform well in another state.”