There’s a hashtag pinned to the top of Jalen McMillan’s profile page on Twitter.
Actually, scratch that. It’s not a hashtag. It’s not a marketing gimmick. It’s a movement.
And it was conceived at the four-star Washington football commit’s dinner table during a conversation with his dad.
“My dad comes and says, ‘You should make your own hashtag,’” McMillan told The Times on Monday. “I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Something to go by when you recruit on Twitter.’
“It just popped in my head. #CALIREIGN. #PURPLEREIGN. I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s see if it works.’”
News flash: it works. McMillan — the No. 4 wide receiver and No. 31 overall prospect in the 2020 class, according to 247Sports — tweeted the hashtag for the first time on July 2, exactly a week after the Fresno, Calif., native verbally committed to UW. He tagged six Husky targets from the state of California — wide receivers Logan Loya, LV Bunkley Shelton and Troy Franklin, center Myles Murao, outside linebacker Jordan Banks and defensive back Makell Esteen — on the message as well.
Besides the hashtag, he added an eyeball emoji and two words — an open invitation.
The answer was ultimately Murao — 247Sports’ No. 2 center and No. 77 overall recruit in 2020 — who pledged to UW on the Fourth of July.
But according to a mysterious McMillan, #CALIREIGN hasn’t finished reeling in fish.
“It’s going to be really cool to watch this next week,” he said, teasing another imminent commitment.
In the nine days since he first tweeted it, #CALIREIGN has started rolling — gaining traction with both recruits and fans on social media.
“Yeah, I’m fricken surprised about it,” McMillan said with a laugh, of the hashtag’s sudden surge in social media popularity.
Still, a hashtag can’t be credited with the Huskies’ longtime recruiting success in California.
“I’ve always felt that’s more overstated than anything,” 247Sports national editor Brandon Huffman said. “In a day and age of social media it becomes a movement that I think the fans really believe in and want to hope for. But I certainly think he’s an impact receiver and impact recruit that could have an effect for some of those out-of-state kids.”
UW already has a significant history of pulling impact recruits from The Golden State. After all, Washington has signed 62 California recruits in the Chris Petersen era, 48.8 percent of its total signees. That number has even increased in the last two classes, as 52.9 percent of signees or verbal commits in 2019 and 2020 are California kids.
The not-so-subtle lesson: UW needed California long before the movement was gifted a flashy name.
“I think it’s huge,” Huffman said of Washington’s recent recruiting efforts in California. “You just go look back to the team that went to the playoffs. Your starting quarterback (Jake Browning) — a California native. Your big-play receiver (John Ross) — a California native. Your big-play return guy (Dante Pettis) — a California native. It was southern California and northern California.
“Yeah, you still had a huge contingent of guys that were local kids — the Taylor Rapps, the Budda Bakers. Add Kaleb McGary and Trey Adams as well. But then you have Nick Harris. You have Keishawn Bierria. You have a huge amount of southern and northern California guys.”
That’s also the case in the current class, with six of UW’s 11 commits hailing from California.
So, yes: more than any other state, California is the Huskies’ recruiting lifeblood.
But they aren’t the only ones. And that’s where this gets sticky.
Because, more and more, touted prospects from California are beginning to leave the region. Consider that, from 2010 to 2018, 60.6 percent of the top 20 California recruits from each class (as ranked by the 47Sports composite) eventually signed with a home state school. And if they did leave, they didn’t go far; 77.8 percent of those recruits opted to remain in the Pac-12.
But as the conference’s reputation has suffered, recruits have migrated east. In 2019, just four (20 percent) of the top 20 prospects in California signed with in-state schools. Thirteen (65 percent) signed in the Pac-12 and seven (35 percent) landed elsewhere.
The numbers thus far in 2020 are even more extreme. Eleven of the top 20 prospects in the state are currently verbally committed, and only two of them (18.2 percent) have pledged to California programs. Five (45.5 percent) have committed inside the Pac-12 and six (54.5 percent) are headed out of the conference.
Of course, this trend is most alarming for California programs like USC, UCLA, Stanford and Cal. But the entire Pac-12 has been put on notice.
“I think what’s also becoming more eye-opening, and it’s causing a lot of panic for especially the Los Angeles schools and really the Pac-12, is how open these west coast kids are to leaving not just the state but the region,” Huffman said. “From the big four states – California, Florida, Texas, Georgia – you can easily make the case that California bleeds the most. They have the most players willing to leave.”
That makes UW’s California recruiting efforts — #CALIREIGN included — even more critical. According to 247Sports, the Huskies have offered 29 California kids in 2020, 18 more than any other state. Prospects like wide receivers Johnny Wilson, Gary Bryant Jr., LV Bunkley-Shelton and Logan Loya, outside linebacker Jordan Banks and defensive backs Makell Esteen and Trey Paster remain in play.
While the rest of the conference flounders, the Huskies have an opportunity to flourish.
And McMillan, for one, is willing to do his part.
“I’m definitely going to bring a lot of guys, especially from Cali,” said McMillan, who added that he is completely committed to UW and has ceased communications with all outside coaching staffs.
“I feel like if we get the right dudes we will be competing for a national championship in the next coming years. So yeah, I’m definitely going to be recruiting.”
Washington signees or commits from California in the Chris Petersen era
2014: 16 (69.6 percent)
2015: 14 (56 percent)
2016: 7 (38.9 percent)
2017: 8 (44.4 percent)
2018: 5 (25 percent)
2019: 12 (52.2 percent)
2020: 6 (54.5 percent)