Josh Conerly Jr. is staying out west.
Just not Washington.
After extending his recruitment more than two months past national signing day, Conerly — a five-star offensive tackle from Rainier Beach High School — announced Friday he’ll play his college football at Oregon.
And for coach Dan Lanning and the Ducks, Conerly is certainly worth the wait. The 6-foot-5, 283-pound athlete is ranked as a five-star recruit, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the nation, the No. 1 player in the state of Washington and the No. 8 overall prospect in the 2022 class by 247Sports. He chose Oregon over fellow finalists USC, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma and Washington.
For UW, this marks a familiar defeat. The Huskies have failed to sign the state’s top player in each of the past two classes, whiffing on Conerly and defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau (who signed with Ohio State in 2021).
Moreover, eight blue-chip recruits with Washington offers have left the state in the past two cycles — Conerly (Oregon), wide receiver Tobias Merriweather (Notre Dame), offensive lineman Dave Iuli (Oregon), offensive lineman Malik Agbo (Texas), Tuimoloau (Ohio State), wide receiver Emeka Egbuka (Ohio State), linebacker Julien Simon (USC) and wide receiver Lonyatta Alexander Jr. (who signed with Arizona State but transferred to UW this offseason).
Conerly’s commitment is especially scarring, considering the slew of offensive linemen who have signed elsewhere. UW offered five in-state offensive linemen in the 2022 cycle — Conerly (Oregon), Iuli (Oregon), Agbo (Texas), O’Dea’s Mark Nabou (Texas A&M) and Graham-Kapowsin’s Vega Ioane (Penn State) — and each opted for competing programs.
In Conerly’s case, that’s despite UW retaining offensive line coach Scott Huff and hiring former Michigan director of player personnel Courtney Morgan — one of Conerly’s primary recruiters with the Wolverines.
Meanwhile, UW signed a class ranked 11th in the Pac-12 and 95th in the nation — featuring a single o-line signee in three-star Arizona prospect Parker Brailsford. The Huskies currently have two three-star California commits in the 2023 cycle, running back Tybo Rogers and wide receiver Keith Reynolds.
So, yes: UW is struggling to build a metaphorical fence around the borders of the state.
But while there’s work to be done, new UW coach Kalen DeBoer has at least identified the issue.
“We’ve got to keep the Washington kids here at Washington,” DeBoer said during his introductory news conference on Nov. 30. “We’ve got to keep them here and not let people across the country, or wherever it may be on the West Coast, come in and take our players and our student-athletes.”
The state of Washington has produced eight five-star recruits in the past 10 cycles, and just two of them — 2020 Kennedy Catholic quarterback Sam Huard and edge rusher Sav’ell Smalls — signed with the home-state Huskies. It’s more than a Chris Petersen problem or a Jimmy Lake problem or a Kalen DeBoer problem (or, for that matter, a UW problem).
Beyond wins and losses, it may also be a name, image and likeness problem.
“With the world of NIL now, there’s more things stacked on top of it,” continued DeBoer, whose Huskies rely on the “Montlake Futures” collective in the arms race for NIL deals. “How are you selling those things? And how are we developing those things within our program? There’s so many different levels to it now than there used to be, and you’ve got to get the right people in place and then all be aligned and everyone pouring everything they got into it.”
The Huskies will have another opportunity to reverse the trend in 2023, when Tacoma Lincoln defensive lineman Jayden Wayne makes his college decision. The 6-5, 245-pounder and five-star recruit made an unofficial visit to Washington last month, and capped a subsequent tweet with the hashtag: “#LoyalToTheSoil.”
The Huskies need more than a hashtag to keep kids home.
They need NIL resources, facilities, branding, academic plans and resilient relationships with relentless recruiters.
And then, they need to win.