First, Budda Baker zipped open his checkered coat to reveal a black University of Washington T-shirt. Then he slipped on a black “W” ballcap.
With that, Chris Petersen and the Huskies landed their most high-profile recruit of the season.
The night before National Signing Day, Baker, the prized recruit from Bellevue High School, announced his commitment to the Huskies during a live KING 5 newscast. He smiled nervously as his sister, brother-in-law and nephew stood behind him in studio.
“I’m a big family person. Family comes first,” said Baker, a four-star recruit rated as the No. 4 safety nationally by Scout.com. “I’ll be close to my family, they’ll get to come see me play, so it’s just a true blessing.”
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Signing day is Wednesday, and Petersen will hold a news conference to formally announce his first UW class at 3 p.m. UW enters signing day with 22 known commitments — with perhaps one or two more still to come — in a class ranked 35th in the nation by Scout.
In meeting with Petersen and UW coaches the past few weeks, Baker said “discipline” was a word that was used often, and one that appealed to him.
“I’m one of those (players) that’s raised from Bellevue football, so we have a lot of discipline on the team,” Baker said in an interview with The Seattle Times after his announcement. “(Petersen) just had discipline in his main factor, so I really liked that. …
“I know Petersen’s the one that’s going to be having people run (to) get water, run and all that stuff. I’ve already done that in high school. I feel like with a lot of kids around here, it’s just going to be a wake-up call, but for me, I’ve been raised enough to know the little things count. So I feel like I’ll get a head start.”
Baker said he told Petersen of his decision Monday night, and the new UW coach was “pumped.”
It would be difficult to overstate the significance of landing Baker, particularly with regard to where UW’s class stood shortly after Petersen took the Huskies’ job in mid-December.
At that point, following several defections, the Huskies had just five committed recruits in a class ranked dead last in the Pac-12 Conference and as low as 101st in the national rankings. Adding to UW’s woes was Baker’s initial commitment to rival Oregon on Dec. 20.
But, by Jan. 17, Baker had changed his mind, de-committing from Oregon and then quickly narrowing his new choices to UW and UCLA. Since that date, the Huskies have received 15 verbal commitments from recruits in 18 days. Call it a four-star finish.
The Huskies scored another big local recruiting coup on Monday when Fife’s four-star, 6-foot-8, 285-pound lineman, Kaleb McGary, considered the state’s second-best recruit behind Baker, made a verbal commitment to the Huskies. Baker and McGary are among the five in-state recruits who are expected to sign with UW on Wednesday. The others are Baker’s Bellevue teammate Shane Bowman, a defensive end; Newport High tight end Drew Sample; and Eastlake High linebacker Drew Lewis. Another Bellevue product, three-star lineman Morgan Richey, will join UW as a preferred walk-on.
The 5-foot-10, 177-pound Baker mostly played in the first half of games last season because of Bellevue’s dominance. He still managed 59 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and four touchdowns on defense and special teams in leading the Wolverines to their sixth straight state title. He also ran for 600 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 35 carries (17.1 yards per carry) in 2013.
Oregon had wanted Baker to play on offense, but he said he prefers defense, and he will immediately join the mix for the starting job at free safety for the Huskies. UW coaches have also told Baker he could be featured as a returner on special teams and in some special offensive packages.
Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff said Baker is in the discussion with Myles Jack as the best player he’s coached at Bellevue over the past decade.
“I know it sounds cliche and hokey, but he’s such an amazing kid,” Goncharoff said. “I’m happy for him because this is really cool to see and it’ll be really cool to see how they use him. I’ve had a lot of good ones here, and he’s as good as I’ve ever coached.”
Baker said his decision was “real close” between UW and UCLA, where Jack, a close friend, became a two-way standout for the Bruins as a freshman last season. Baker told Jack and UCLA coach Jim Mora of his decision before he announced it.
“Thing with staying home (is) I know I already have a good brand here,” he said, “so I’m just trying to develop into that brand and make it greater.”
|UW has received verbal commitments from these 4-star recruits:|
|Pos||Player, school||Ht., wt.|
|S||Budda Baker, Bellevue||5-10, 177|
|OL||Kaleb McGary, Fife||6-8, 280|
|QB||K.J. Carta-Samuels, Bellarmine Prep, San Jose||6-4, 207|
|CB||Naijiel Hale, St. John Bosco, Bellflower, Calif.||5-11, 170|
|Washington has commitments from 22 players.|
|S Budda Baker||Bellevue|
|OT Kaleb McGary||Fife|
|CB Naijiel Hale||St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.)|
|DE Jaylen Johnson||Centennial (Corona, Calif.)|
|ATH Sidney Jones||West Covina, Calif.|
|DE Will Dissly||Wise River, Mont.|
|WR Dante Pettis||Junipero Serra Catholic, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.|
|QB K.J. Carta-Samuels||Bellarmine Prep (San Jose)|
RB Jomon Dotson
|American Canyon, Calif|
|OL Jesse Sosobee||Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.)|
|OL Matt James||Coeur d’Alene, Idaho|
|OL John Turner||Loyla (Los Angeles)|
|DE Shane Bowman||Bellevue|
|K Tristan Vizcaino||Damien (La Verne, Calif.)|
|S Drew Lewis||Eastlake High (Sammamish)|
|DT Greg Gaines||La Habra, Calif.|
|CB Brandon Lewis||Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove, Calif.)|
|TE Drew Sample||Newport (Bellevue)|
|S Jojo McIntosh||Chaminade Prep (West Hills, Calif.)|
|S Darren Gardenhire||Cabrillo (Long Beach, Calif.)|
|S Lavon Washington||McClymonds (Oakland, Calif.)|
|DT Jaimie Bryant||Tumwater|