Keith Bhonapha knows what he wants.
“I’m going out to get the best running backs for this program,” UW’s eighth year running backs coach said on April 19. “I do feel like we have gotten some bigger backs over the course of the past couple years. In Texas we’ve been able to get some pretty good guys in Jay’Veon (Sunday) and Caleb Berry.
“I just think that bigger guys help move the chains. The bigger guys are a little bit stouter in pass protection. I do think this: bigger backs wear defenses down in the second half. So if you put those (aspects) together and look at how some of these guys we’ve recruited are going to turn out, you get that bigger guy that’s fast, that’s quick, that can catch the ball, that can hopefully do some of that stuff on Saturdays for the Dawgs.”
Emeka Megwa fits the formula.
And, following a successful official visit to Seattle, he announced a verbal commitment to UW on Thursday.
“I’ve been to schools all over the country, but Washington was just different,” Megwa said in an interview with CBS HQ. “From a player standpoint, to the coaches, it was just one big brotherhood. It’s all just competition in the room.”
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound running back from Keller, Texas, is ranked as a four-star recruit and the No. 24 athlete in the 2022 class by 247Sports. He’s the first four-star prospect from the Lone Star State to commit to UW since defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike — who was subsequently selected by the Detroit Lions in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft — in 2016.
Megwa chose the Huskies over an impressive list of suitors that includes Alabama, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, USC and more.
He rushed for 730 yards with 5.5 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns in nine games last season, while adding 113 receiving yards and two more scores, according to MaxPreps. Prior to his official visit, he saw Seattle during an unofficial visit for the Purple vs. Gold game on May 1 as well.
“He’s a 15-25 (carry) per game type of guy who can run between the tackles,” 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman said. “He’s got the power to run between guards, to run over defensive tackles, to run over linebackers, and the speed to get to the next level, to get into the end zone. You can see him catch passes out of the backfield.
“He reminds me a little bit of Joe Mixon — who was out of California eight years ago, ended up going to Oklahoma, now with the Cincinnati Bengals. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is an added weapon in today’s offenses. You can’t just be a guy who’s going to run the ball. You’ve got to catch the ball as well, and I think the way he runs — with the power and grace that he runs with — he’s a very talented back, and one of those bigger backs. As we’ve seen a shift to smaller, shiftier backs, he’s that traditional old-school power back that you still see in college football.”
Megwa meshes with UW’s tailback trend in more ways than one. Bhonapha has now earned a commit from Texas in three consecutive classes, with Megwa joining three-star prospects Jay’Veon Sunday (2020) and Caleb Berry (2021) in UW’s running backs room. He’s the second commit to come out of last weekend’s official visits, after four-star Salt Lake defensive tackle Ben Roberts announced his UW pledge on Sunday.
Besides Megwa and Roberts, UW also hosted four-star tight end Ryan Otton, four-star defensive back Benjamin Morrison, four-star linebacker Tevarua Tafiti, three-star outside linebacker Lance Holtzclaw and three-star quarterback commit Jackson Stratton for official visits on a steamy weekend in Seattle.
Prior to Megwa’s commitment, UW’s 2022 class — which now contains seven commits — ranked just seventh in the Pac-12 and 49th nationally by the 247Sports Composite. But Bhonapha landed his latest back by following a familiar formula.
“In the last couple classes, he’s gone into Texas to get Jay’Veon Sunday out of Waco. Last year he got Caleb Berry out of Lufkin,” Huffman said. “So he has found kind of a magic potion of going into the Lone Star State – rather than going on the west coast, where Washington’s footprint really is stronger. He’s going into Texas and finding those traditional big, powerful backs that can really translate to the next level.
“In John Donovan’s offense, they want a big, powerful back. So I think he’s a natural fit in Washington’s offense.”