We interrupt an ongoing mourning period on Montlake to bring you an urgent message:
It’s going to be OK.
Really, truly, it will, even if that’s a difficult concept to digest right now. After all, it was only two weeks ago that Sav’ell Smalls — the five-star outside linebacker from Kennedy Catholic and Washington’s top in-state (or out of state) target in the 2020 class — eliminated the hometown Huskies from his list of prospective suitors.
That undoubtedly stung, both for the fan base and the coaching staff, especially considering that Smalls is still considering UW’s two primary rivals — Oregon and Washington State.
Salt, meet wound … especially if he signs with one of Washington’s Pac-12 opponents.
“It all depends on where he goes, frankly,” 247Sports national editor Brandon Huffman said Tuesday. “I think there’s going to be a bigger fallout long term if he goes to say, Oregon, or Washington State, than if he goes to Florida or Florida State or one of those national programs. I think the state of Washington is kind of used to losing a top guy in-state each year to another program.
“But when it hurts the most is when it’s Foster Sarell going to Stanford or Connor Wedington going to Stanford, when it’s Myles Jack going to UCLA, when it’s Josh Garnett going to Stanford. It hurts the most when you lose him to a conference foe, or more importantly to a division foe, or to a chief rival.”
But here’s the hard truth: It’s going to hurt regardless. It’s never easy to ask the popular kid to prom, then watch them arrive on the arm of someone else. Smalls is one of the state’s most highly coveted recruits in recent memory, ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2020 class by 247Sports.
And, like 2017 five-star offensive lineman Foster Sarell (Stanford), 2017 four-star athlete Connor Wedington (Stanford), 2013 five-star quarterback Max Browne (USC), 2012 four-star offensive guard Josh Garnett (Stanford), 2012 four-star offensive tackle Zach Banner (USC), or 2012 four-star cornerback KeiVarae Russell (Notre Dame), he’s ultimately headed elsewhere.
The same goes for 2020 four-star wide receiver Gee Scott, who the Huskies never actually offered and he committed to Ohio State.
That’s not to say that Chris Petersen and Co. have not succeeded in the state of Washington. Dylan Morris, Nathan Kalepo, Kyler Gordon, Jacob Sirmon, Salvon Ahmed, Hunter Bryant, Brandon Wellington, Benning Potoa’e, Austin Joyner and Budda Baker are all prominently featured on their in-state recruiting resume.
But the trick here is not to let one loss lead to many more.
“There’s that perception,” Huffman said. “Two years ago you lost Connor Wedington and Foster Sarell to Stanford. You’ve been losing guys each year. It looked like you were turning that corner the year you get Kyler Gordon. The next year you get Dylan Morris and Nathan Kalepo.
“But now you could potentially lose the top two players in the state. What kind of effect does that have on (2020 in-state four-star prospects) Ayden Hector and Sam Adams?”
That’s the question, and the quality of the Huskies’ next couple classes may potentially hinge on the answer. After all, the state of Washington’s seven four- or five-star prospects in the 2020 class are the most the state has produced since 247Sports started ranking prospects in 2010. The state’s six four- or five-star recruits via the 247Sports composite — which factors in all major national recruiting services — is tied with the 2015 class for the most since that formula first produced rankings in 1999.
While Washington’s 2020 class is the best in recent memory, it may not hold that title for long. Eight in-state 2021 prospects are currently considered four- or five-star recruits by 247Sports, led by five-star Eastside Catholic defensive tackle J.T. Tuimoloau and four-star quarterback and UW commit Sam Huard.
In other words, this may be the most talent ever to flow through the Evergreen State.
That presents UW — which has produced 32 wins in its last three seasons — with a unique opportunity.
“The 2020 depth (in the state of Washington) is just insane,” Huffman said. “I think at one point there were 60 guys with at least an FCS offer in the state, in this class. But it’s not just depth. There’s the elite, top-end talent, and seven or eight guys that could potentially be top-247 players. There’s some other upper level three-star-type guys.
“I think there’s over 20 players with a Power Five offer in the state of Washington. There’s been years where there have only been 20 players in the state of Washington with any offer, period.”
Of those uncommitted players, four of them — four-star running back Sam Adams II (Eastside Catholic), four-star cornerback Ayden Hector (EC), four-star offensive guard Geirean Hatchett (Ferndale) and three-star athlete Sawyer Racanelli (Hockinson) — possess University of Washington offers. Huffman said on Tuesday that UW “is on the very, very, very short list” for Adams and Hector, a pair of top-300 recruits and teammates at Eastside Catholic.
But Hatchett may actually be the most realistic future Husky.
“I know he visited Oklahoma a couple weeks ago, but I have not wavered at all on my opinion,” Huffman said of Hatchett. “I still think he goes to Washington when it’s all said and done. He’s a four-star kid with offers from everybody. His top five (also includes) Stanford, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
“So you have two schools that Washington has gone toe-to-toe with over the last couple years, with Stanford and Notre Dame. You’ve got Ohio State, which has just recently started really ramping out efforts out west. You’ve got Oklahoma, which was the first school to offer him.
“So you look at who Washington is competing with for him, and that’s going to be a battle. But it would be a significant win, because it gets you an elite in-state kid that the rest of the country is trying to persuade to come.”
And for good reason. Hatchett — a 6-5, 275-pound offensive lineman — is considered the No. 8 guard and the No. 197 overall prospect in the 2020 class by 247Sports.
But what about Racanelli? The Brush Prairie two-way standout has already taken an official visit to UCLA, and he plans to add Washington, Cal, Arizona and Michigan to that list as well.
Racanelli lacks Smalls’ name recognition, as well as his star rating. But the 6-3, 200-pound wide receiver and linebacker could qualify as an in-state steal nonetheless.
“He’s actually the highest-rated three-star in the state of Washington, and I think he’s going to have a very good chance to end up being a four-star,” Huffman said. “I love him. I’m on record already saying he’s probably already my favorite football player in this class in the state of Washington. The way I waxed poetic about (four-star UW linebacker signee) Josh Calvert last year, that’s how I feel about Racanelli.”
Maybe, by this point, some of the mourning has subsided. Hopefully you’re taking deep, cleansing breaths — in through the nose, out through the mouth — and widening your gaze in the state of Washington.
Still, there’s no denying that UW has just three verbal commits — three-star quarterback Ethan Garbers, tight end Mark Redman and offensive lineman Gaard Memmelaar — in its 2020 class. That’s good (or bad?) for 55th nationally and sixth in the Pac-12, per 247Sports.
But we’re also midway through May. And with seven months until early signing day, Washington has plenty of work to do and ample time to do it.
Remember, recruiting is not a race. Early commitments don’t matter more.
And, even without Smalls, UW could be primed for a big finish.
“You look at how well Washington closed last year,” Huffman said. “It’s so cyclical. One year you’ll have a really heavy batch of early commitments; the next year you’ll have a batch of guys who want to wade through it.
“I think they got a little spoiled last year with Nate Kalepo and Dylan Morris committing before their junior year. But the best part of their class was the guys they got late, whether it was getting Puka Nacua a few days after signing day; getting Trent McDuffie; getting Daniel Heimuli; getting Laiatu Latu right before the early signing period; Asa Turner was an early commit but he waited (to sign).
“I think they close so well under Petersen, so there’s no reason to be concerned yet.”