Rainier Beach’s gym will be decorated with balloons and signs in the school’s colors for football’s early signing period Wednesday, but Josh Conerly Jr. plans to remain a spectator.
The five-star offensive lineman, the top recruit in the state for the Class of 2022 according to 247Sports.com, is going to stick to his decision to wait for the second signing period in February to announce where he’ll continue his playing career. And that’s because of the uncertainty that often comes this time of year for NCAA coaches.
Conerly, who is 6 feet 5, 280 pounds, said the coaching carousel won’t sway his final pick, but it’s an unavoidable part of making a commitment. Three of the five schools he was considering in Washington, USC and Oklahoma, have undergone staff changes.
“You see it now. There’s so much change that ends up happening right now, you just can never be sure,” Conerly said. “I can’t really give a top five (schools). It’s kind of wide open now, honestly. Most of the schools that have hired coaches have made great hires. But it does change interest a little bit, not too much because I still know the coaches as people. It’s more of a people thing than programs and stuff like that.”
Instead, the ceremony at Beach on Wednesday will focus on Vikings senior Jaelin Green. The three-star receiver is expected to sign with Eastern Washington.
Conerly and Green have been teammates since Day 1 in the sport. They led the Beacon Hill Cowboys to a youth championship as 8-year-olds. Conerly isn’t hard to spot in the highlight clips, but he’s in an unexpected position as a quick running back.
“I’m very happy for my guy. It’s been a long journey,” Conerly said of Green. “I’ll be there watching him and getting myself ready because I’m going to have to do that eventually. Probably take some notes.”
Beach coach Corey Sampson was the one who moved Conerly to lineman after his freshman season. The Vikings advanced to the Class 3A state tournament quarterfinals in 2018 and graduated about 40 players, including five-star lineman Nate Kalepo, who plays for Washington.
Aside from the Vikings needing a lineman, Conerly grew out of the running back and even tight end like the Hulk and his infamous T-shirt. Kalepo was one of Conerly’s mentors as he transitioned to the position.
“Running the ball was fun, but I feel like I have so much more passion for the game because I play such an underappreciated spot,” Conerly said. “It’s becoming more appreciated nowadays with social media and stuff.
“Offensive linemen are recognized more than ever. There were times that I didn’t like it because I didn’t understand. But there was never a point of quitting. … Switching positions changed my life forever. I’m so appreciative of it.”
Conerly also had to take on a leadership role for Beach. He said the task was difficult at first because he was learning the new position and didn’t want to lead without understanding what the coaches wanted. Leading became more challenging once the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, in complying with Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders, shut down high-school sports until last spring. Most football teams were limited to five games.
Conerly was already highly recruited and able to attend premier camps, like the Stack Sports Regional Showcase in Oregon. His main routine was motivating teammates to show up at Beach’s field for training after online classes.
The Vikings missed two weeks of competition this season due to positive tests for COVID-19. Beach still advanced to the state tournament quarterfinals, losing to eventual champion Bellevue.
“He’s always wanted to be a leader,” Sampson said. “He embraced it and leads by example and his word, as well. And it was real challenging. There were no pep assemblies, no prom, no homecoming dance, no locker room last year and you can’t relax because of COVID.
“It’s difficult to see those guys get robbed of things, like even the bus rides and sitting apart from each other. It was challenging, but I’m real proud of those guys.”
Conerly, who was selected to the All-American game and Polynesian Bowl, is hoping his college experience is more traditional — once the coaching decisions are settled.
Conerly is most familiar with the situation at UW. He cultivated a positive relationship with offensive line coach Scott Huff and former head coach Jimmy Lake. The latter was fired after just 13 games over two seasons.
UW recently hired Kalen DeBoer, whose last stop was at Fresno State. Conerly said he still frequently talks to Huff, who he expects to remain on staff.
Michigan, with its success and coaching stability, hasn’t been able to secure a commit from Conerly. His first and only official visit was to Ann Arbor for the Washington game in September. Wolverines offensive line coach Sherrone Moore was also Conerly’s first official home visit last week.
“It was pretty fun,” Conerly said. “Me and Coach Moore already have a relationship, so it was kind of just like we were just chillin’.
“I’m glad I’ve even had an opportunity to do something like this and feel we’re blessed.”