The rise of the Seahawks and Huskies? A population boom? More coaches recruiting the area? Either way, the Seattle area is producing football talent a clip only previously associated with hoops.

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For years, the state of Washington has been known to produce great basketball talent.

But football?

Not so much — until recently.

With five of the nation’s top 50 players in 247sports’ top prospects for the 2021 recruiting class from Washington, including the nation’s No. 1 prospect in Eastside Catholic defensive tackle J.T. Tuimoloau, expect plenty of big-time coaches and recruiters headed to our state the next couple of falls.

While 2021 could become a legendary class for this state, the shift toward more big-name prospects from the state has been going on for years.

There likely isn’t one reason, but it seems the success of the Seahawks and Huskies has had a trickle-down effect, and coaches and players from the state are more in tune in how to get attention from college coaches and national recruiting services. The growing population is also a factor.

From 2010-15, the state had just one player in 247sports’ top 50 recruits — quarterback Max Browne from Skyline at No. 30 in 2014 — and just 14 in the top 247 recruits (an average of 2.3 a year).

From 2016-21, there have been four in the top 10 — Tuimoloau, quarterback Jacob Eason from Lake Stevens in 2016, offensive lineman Foster Sarrell from Graham-Kapowsin in 2017 and Garfield linebacker Sav’ell Smalls, currently No. 3 for 2020 — and 25 in the top 247 (an average of 4.2).

This ascension comes as no surprise to Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247sports.

“I don’t think it’s fluky,” he said. “I think you’re seeing a lot of kids playing youth football coinciding with the success of the Seahawks because it has encouraged parents to let their kids play football at a younger age. So youth football has gotten bigger and it’s improved. Because more kids are playing at a young age before high school, they are becoming more household names earlier in high school, and that is part of the reason you are not only seeing the higher-end guys, but you are also seeing these higher-end guys getting offered and recruited much earlier in the process.”

According to some local youth football officials, the numbers did spike when the Seahawks went to consecutive Super Bowls in 2013-14 (although numbers are down lately, according to the same officials).

“I’ve noticed there is a higher level of youth football than when I first got here,” said Jeremy Thielbahr, coach of state Class 3A state champion Eastside Catholic. “We have an amazing youth program at Eastside Catholic. Kids are getting exposed to (football), and the Seahawks are a big deal. And I think the University of Washington being an awesome program, and I think Washington State being solid in football is a big deal and kids are starting to migrate that way.”

Randy Taylor, the director of California Scouting for National Preps and the former recruiting coordinator at UCLA, said the growing population in Washington is a big reason behind the latest increase in prospects.

“I’ve always been a believer of the players from Washington,” Taylor said. “This year, (the class of) 2019, there has been about 100 offers (of scholarships to football players from Washington). Last year, there was only about 50 to 55. Right now, in the 2020 class, there are already 21 offers out for Washington kids.

“One of the things I 100 percent believe in is the population. Washington is one of those states that is growing. … It all has to do with population in my mind.”

Washington certainly wasn’t considered the place to go for top football talent before 2013.

That year, Athlon Sports analyzed which states had the best high-school football players from 2008-12, and Washington ranked No. 21 (one spot ahead of Oregon). Washington had 10 players in Athlon’s top 200 during that time (it was just a top 100 in 2008). Florida led with 153, followed by Texas with 122 and California with 104.

California has long been the go-to state on the West Coast for recruiters, but that doesn’t appear to be the case for the 2021 class. In addition to Tuimoloau at No. 1, Washington has Kennedy Catholic quarterback Sam Huard (already committed to UW) at No. 13, athlete Emeka Egbuka from Steilacoom at No. 38, athlete Julien Simon from Lincoln of Tacoma at No. 45 and safety Will Latu from Bethel High in Spanaway at No. 46.

California, meanwhile, has just two players in the top 50 among the 2021 recruits, with Troy Franklin from Menlo-Atherton High School leading the way at No. 20.

“When people think of (football prospects on) the West Coast, the first thing that comes to mind is California for obvious reasons,” Huffman said. “Usually if you get a kid from Oregon or Washington, it’s an outlier. That is just very rare for this state. It’s talent that will have some of the top coaches and recruiters making their way to the state the next couple of years.”

Part of the change might be that evaluators are just paying closer attention to players from Washington, which might mean the talent has always been here, but outsiders weren’t noticing.

“I think there is a lot more exposure and information on kids right now,” Thielbahr said. “The state of Washington has been kind of overlooked for talent, and that is not happening anymore. You see a lot more information on kids, a lot more kids with profiles. And I think you are seeing more of a concerted effort of the high-school coaches to push their kids and to get their kids exposure.”

It that’s the case, it definitely seems to be working, In addition to Tuimoloau leading the 2021 class, Thielbahr is coaching three players in 247sports’ top 247 for 2020 (receiver Gee Scott Jr. at No. 58, cornerback Ayden Hector at No. 216 and running back Sam Adams II at No. 246).

“I try to avoid watching any kind of junior football and youth football as much as I can because I don’t think it give you a real good gauge of high-school football,” Huffman said. “That said, I was hearing about the majority of those kids (in the 2021 class) when they were in the eighth grade and even younger than that.

“It used to be even if you were a really special player, you wouldn’t play varsity until you were a sophomore. You had to be kind of a freak of nature to play varsity as a freshman. Now it’s becoming much more common to see freshmen playing varsity and not only did those guys play varsity as freshman, they were immediate impact players and college coaches notice that.”

Thielbahr said players and parents are much more aware of the recruiting rankings, and they are taking part in Football University and USA Football camps that allow them to get more recognition.

“Our kids really know how to get ranked,” Thielbahr said.

And the basketball prospects are still here. But some of them, like Tuimoloau, are now playing both sports.

“The Seattle area used to be a hot, hot bed for basketball, and it still is, but we’re getting more basketball kids out for football and you see just the pure athlete coming (out for football),” Thiebahr said. “Our kid J.T. is an unbelievable basketball player. And he still is a two-sports athlete.”

And No. 1 when it comes to football.

Head of the Class

Here are Washington’s top football recruits since 2010, according to 247sports’ rankings and 247sports’ composite rankings, “a proprietary algorithm that compiles rankings and ratings listed in the public domain by the major media recruiting services.” Two players are listed for the years in which the top choices from 247 and the composite rankings differed.

Year,Player (High School),247 rank,Composite
’10,QB Jake Heap (Skyline),90,95
’11,WR Kasen Williams (Skyline),63,43
’11,TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Gig Harbor),75,41
’12,G Joshua Garnett (Lakes),67,38
’13,QB Max Browne (Skyline),30,11
’14,ATH Budda Baker (Bellevue),54,53
’15,OT Henry Roberts (Bellevue),106,259
’15,CB Austin Joyner (Marysville-Pilchuck),193,226
’16,QB Jacob Eason (Lake Stevens),4,5
’17,OT Foster Sarell (Graham-Kapowsin),8,14
’18,CB Kyler Gordon (Archbishop Murphy),107,187
’18,QB Jacob Sirmon (Bothell),171,94
’19,ATH Darien Chase (Union),188,375
’19,QB Dylan Morris (Graham-Kapowsin),220,155
’20,LB Sa’vell Smalls (Garfield),2,3
’21,DT J.T. Tuimoloau (Eastside Catholic),1,1