There are two drafts that matter to UW this week.
One will take place on Thursday through Saturday, when four Huskies — defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, outside linebacker Joe Tryon, and defensive backs Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor — could be taken in the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL draft.
A total of 28 Huskies have been selected since Jimmy Lake arrived at Washington in 2014, and 16 were first- or second-round picks — which ranks first in the Pac-12 and tied for fourth in the nation.
Of course, that stat is not lost on Lake — who continues to tout results over recruiting rankings.
“I got an awesome text this morning from one of the GMs of the 32 teams,” UW’s second-year head coach said after practice on Wednesday. “He said, ‘Well coach, you guys did it again. You have a bunch of guys that are about to get their names called early in the draft. Congratulations. You guys do it the right way.’
“I just love when I see stuff like that. When you guys write our story about whatever signing class we sign in December, it’s going to be awesome. We’ll probably be in like 15th place in the Pac-12 or something like that. We’ll be dead last. And then we’ll have probably half the guys get drafted and get developed and play a long time in the NFL. So I take pride in that, and our staff takes pride in that.”
Lake is referring to the fact that UW’s 2021 signing class — which, due to scholarship constraints, comprised a grand total of 15 recruits — was ranked 36th nationally and sixth in the Pac-12 by the 247Sports Composite. It remains to be seen whether said recruits eventually evolve into NFL standouts.
But for now, Lake is content to tout Onwuzurike, Tryon, Molden and Taylor — as well as quarterback Kevin Thomson and defensive lineman Josiah Bronson, who are hoping to stick on an NFL roster as well.
“The first thing: we’re just proud of our guys,” he said. “These are our Dawgs. These are our brothers. We’re excited to watch their names get called.
“We recruited all these guys. There’s been blood, sweat and tears with these guys for three, four, five years. Watching them get on the 3.0 (GPA) board, have a good game, have a bad game, celebrate with them in the locker room, and now finally to watch their dreams come true, it’s going to be awesome for our whole team and our whole staff to text them and call their families and the guys.”
But Lake’s team and staff will be plenty busy as well.
After all, they’ve got a spring game to win.
“The most important draft of the week happened last night, just so you guys know,” Lake said. “Tuesday night, in the football offices, we split up the whole building — recruiting staff, operations, equipment room, coaches. Then we had a draft.
“The Purple team will be led by Cade Otton, and the Gold team will be led by Jaxson Kirkland. It’s going to be a battle. So Friday we’ll do a little practice with the Purple and Gold. They’ll work on their plays individually, and there will be a championship at stake on Saturday afternoon. So Saturday afternoon should be a lot of fun.”
That last part also goes for fans, who will see a spring game that resembles an actual football game for the first time in years. No half-hearted scrimmage sessions. No overcomplicated scoring systems.
As simple as it sounds, the spring football game will be — brace yourself — a football game.
“I’ve always wanted to make it a game,” Lake said. “I want it to feel like a game for our players, and I also want it to feel like a game for our fans. Football is a beautiful game and I want our fans to be able to go out there and watch a normal game of football that’s scored the way it’s normally scored.
“Our mission was to be able to build our roster up with numbers for us to be able to do this. In the future, for whatever reason, if our roster is down numbers obviously we won’t be able to do this. But fortunately we’re in a great situation right now. We have a ton of depth across our team, and the hope is this will be an annual event — Purple vs. Gold. And it’ll be a battle. It’ll be a thing that our whole team and our whole staff looks forward to every spring.”
Though, to be fair, they may look forward to it more in 2022 — when Lake hopes the spring game is contested before a capacity crowd. Fan attendance will be capped at 9,000 on Saturday … and, while all tickets have presently been claimed, UW may make more available via its website on Friday.
“First of all, I wish we had way more than (9,000 fans in attendance),” Lake said. “I think we could space everybody out and have 35-40,000 fans here. I would love to eventually have this place sold out for our spring game. That is the goal. That’s what’s done at other places in the country. Why not here in the city of Seattle, where I know football means a lot?”
For now, Lake’s goal remains helplessly out of reach.
But regardless, this week represents progress. Four defensive players Lake recruited and developed will almost certainly be drafted, and nearly 10,000 fans will descend on Husky Stadium to watch the next wave.
“For the players, just having the fans out there for practice these last three weeks has been huge,” Lake said. “They felt it in those four games last year — just empty stands, empty seats. All these big plays are made, and the support wasn’t there.
“So I think they are just grateful to have 300 fans out there. We had about 1,800 fans two Saturdays ago. For their family, their friends, and for Husky Nation to be out there on Saturday is going to mean the world to them.”