A review of UW's 2014 recruiting class, Chris Petersen's first for the Huskies, reveals a surprisingly fruitful crop, led by star safety Budda Baker.
By mid-December 2013, a week after Chris Petersen accepted the coaching job at Washington, and seven weeks before National Signing Day, the new coach had a bleak outlook for his first recruiting class at UW.
At that point, the Huskies had just five recruits committed to the program, the fewest of any major-college team. A few days later, things would get even worse for UW when Bellevue star Budda Baker, one of the most sought-after recruits on the West Coast, announced his verbal commitment to Oregon.
Reflecting on what Petersen would describe as a “very intense” recruiting blitz leading up to signing day in February 2014, the most impressive development for the new coaches centered on Baker. That was obvious then, and it remains clear now.
That Petersen and his staff were able to sway Baker to stay home and play for the Huskies not only kept him away from the rival Ducks, but it paved the way for what has become UW’s stronghold on in-state recruiting.
In the two years since Baker’s signing, the Huskies have been able to land other splashy recruits — Myles Gaskin is already breaking rushing records; Jake Browning looks like a budding star at quarterback; and Byron Murphy may go on to become a two-way sensation for the Huskies — but it’s difficult to envision anyone eclipsing Baker as a more important recruit for Petersen at UW. At least not any time soon.
Baker’s pledge to UW on Feb. 4, 2014 helped set the stage for the increasingly optimistic projections for the Huskies in 2016 — and beyond. If that optimism becomes reality, further down the road we might be able look back at Baker’s reversal as perhaps one of the first cracks in the shifting of Northwest power from Eugene to Seattle. (That, of course, remains to be seen.)
Two years, Petersen said last week in announcing his newest recruiting class, is the earliest opportunity to truly evaluate a particular class. Beyond Baker, now an established star on a defense that ranked as the Pac-12’s best in 2015, a review of Petersen’s first UW class reveals, well, a lot of good stuff.
Context is key here: Coaching transitions can be messy. Petersen was introduced as UW’s coach on Dec. 9, 2013, and the majority of his assistant coaches from Boise didn’t join him at UW until early January. That’s not much time to assemble a full recruiting class.
As I wrote on signing day that year, the 2014 class — ranked 36th nationally by the recruiting services — was about as good as Petersen could’ve hoped for under the circumstances. “We covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time,” he said then.
Of the 24 players who signed, 20 remain on the roster and eight were regular starters in 2015. Ten others were at least semi-regular contributors last fall. As a general rule, recruiting classes can roughly be broken up into thirds: one-third of the recruits can be expected to become starters; one third will become depth guys; and one-third won’t amount to much.
That’s not always the case, as the Huskies’ 2012 class shows: Of the 25 players who signed in 2012, only five are currently on the roster (they’ll be fifth-year seniors in 2016). Almost half of that class — 12 of the 25 signees — either never enrolled at UW, were dismissed or had to take a medical retirement — an incredible amount of attrition for one class. (Those 12 departures don’t include Shaq Thompson and Dwayne Washington, 2012 recruits who left UW early for the NFL.)
Perhaps just as incredible is the production UW has already gotten from the 2014 class.
The Huskies were especially desperate for help in the defensive secondary with that class, and Baker wound up being one of seven defensive backs they signed. Four of them started at least one game in 2014, and three — Baker, Sidney Jones and Darren Gardenhire — were regular starters on a 2015 defense that allowed a league-low 11 touchdown passes.
Safety JoJo McIntosh, another 2014 signee, could join Baker, Jones and Gardenhire as a regular starter this fall.
With the benefit of hindsight, Petersen’s first efforts to recruit to UW look even more fruitful than he probably even imagined at the time.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
An updated look at the Huskies’ 2014 recruiting class:
Budda Baker, S: Has been one of the team’s most valuable players since the moment he stepped on campus. For the past two seasons has started every game at free safety for which he’s been healthy, earning first-team all-Pac-12 honors in 2015.
Shane Bowman, DL: Another Bellevue product who came on late in 2015 as a key reserve on the defensive line, recovering a fumble in the Apple Cup.
Jaimie Bryant, DT: After grayshirting in 2013, took part in spring practices in 2014 before a back injury forced him to take a medical retirement. Has since worked in UW’s video department.
Devin Burleson, OL: More of a polished basketball player in high school, the 6-7, 300-pound Burleson grayshirted in 2014 and redshirted in 2015.
K.J. Carta-Samuels, QB: After redshirting in 2014, spent last season as Jake Browning’s backup. His one start came under unforgiving circumstances on the road vs. No. 10 Stanford in a 31-14 loss. KJCS did rush for one TD in that game.
Will Dissly, DE: Former Boise State recruit played as a true frosh in 2014 and had one start in 2015, finishing the season with eight tackles. Also emerged late in the season as a blocking tight end.
Jomon Dotson, RB: A concussion in fall camp last August delayed his start to the2015 season. Came on late in the season, with 10 carries for 27 yards vs. Oregon State and two catches for 19 yards in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Greg Gaines, DL: 310-pound redshirt frosh took over for injured Elijah Qualls as the starting nose tackle midway through 2015 and wound up earning all-Pac-12 honorable mention.
Darren Gardenhire, CB: Perhaps team’s most improved player in 2015, had two interceptions and returned a fumble for a TD in the Apple Cup.
Naijiel Hale, CB: Started two games as a true freshman in 2014 before being dismissed last August for an unspecified violation of team rules. Signed last week with Montana State, where he reunites with former UW graduate assistant Gerald Alexander.
Matt James, OL: After redshirting in 2015, started at right tackle in the first two games of 2015.
Jaylen Johnson, DE: An intriguing talent who played in every game as a reserve in 2015 and is penciled in as a starting end for 2016.
Sidney Jones, CB: Earned a starting job as a true frosh and blossomed into perhaps the Pac-12’s top corner in 2015, posting a league-best 14 pass breakups, with four interceptions and three forced fumbles. Also named District VIII Academic All-America.
Brayden Lenius, WR: The 6-5 receiver started six games in 2015, finishing the season with 26 catches and three TDs.
Brandon Lewis, DB: Has battled injuries in his first two years on campus but is expected to again provided valuable depth at nickelback next season. Named to academic all-Pac-12 first team in 2015.
Drew Lewis, LB: Eastlake High product redshirted in 2014 and was dismissed from the program in July 2015 for an unspecified violation of team rules. Signed with Colorado last week.
Kaleb McGary, DL: State’s No. 2-ranked recruit chose UW over Wisconsin and WSU. After spending redshirt season on the D-line, shifted to offense and started six games at right tackle in 2015. His ceiling remains high.
JoJo McIntosh, S: A key reserve and special-teams player in 2015 who will vie for a starting job in 2016.
Dante Pettis, WR: A regular starter in 2016, when he had 30 catches for 414 yards and one TD. Has three punt-return TDs in two years and set a school record with a punt-return average of 16.9 yards per return last fall.
Drew Sample, TE: Started seven games in 2015 as part of a two-tight end formation. Of his five catches, two went for TDs.
Jesse Sosebee, OL: Started two games at guard as a redshirt frosh and played in 12 of 13 games overall last fall.
John Turner, OL: Appeared in mop-up duty in two games as a redshirt frosh last fall.
Tristan Vizcaino, K: The primary kickoff specialist in 2015 scored a TD on a fake field goal vs. Utah State. Will compete with incoming freshmen Van Soderberg for the punting job this fall.
Lavon Washington, S: Dismissed from the program in August 2014 for an unspecified violation of team rules. Played last fall at Contra Costa junior college.