After Chris Petersen stepped down and Jimmy Lake was announced as Washington’s new head coach in December of 2019, all 23 existing commits honored their pledge to sign with the Huskies.
That recruiting class was ranked 16th nationally by 247Sports, and featured a five-star recruit in local outside linebacker Sav’ell Smalls and nine four-star prospects.
When asked on early signing day if outside programs — “wolves” — attempted to poach the UW’s recruits, Lake couldn’t help but laugh.
“I wouldn’t call them wolves, though,” he said. “Those would be more like buzzards and vultures. But yes, that’s part of the business. That’s part of the deal. We all know that. That’s always going to be part of recruiting. I wouldn’t expect anything less.
“That’s their job, to try to go out there and get really good players. We have a lot of excellent players that ended up signing with us that I’m sure those other coaches would love to have sign with them. That’s part of recruiting and part of our job.”
His job isn’t getting easier.
Tuesday morning, Salt Lake City four-star defensive tackle Ben Roberts became the latest 2022 recruit to announce his de-commitment from UW. Three other prospects — three-star offensive lineman Mark Nabou, defensive tackle Sir Mells and outside linebacker/tight end Anthony Jones — have previously withdrawn their pledges.
Mells and Jones have since committed to Oregon and Texas, respectively, while another UW 2022 pledge — three-star corner T.J. Hall — was previously committed to Arizona.
“I always wanted to play football at the next level and this was nothing I was looking forward to,” Roberts tweeted. “After talking with my family I have decided to Decommit from the University of Washington. I’d like to thank Coach Lake and his staff for showing me endless love. This decision was not easy to make at all but I know god will put me in the right spot for success. I will be reopening my recruiting process. Respect My Decision. GODS PLAN”.
Roberts — who is ranked as a four-star recruit, the No. 3 player in Utah and the No. 36 defensive lineman in the 2022 class by 247Sports — initially committed June 27 while on an official visit to UW. Three other defensive front seven standouts from Salt Lake City East High School already are on the Huskies’ roster: sophomore Sam “Taki” Taimani and freshmen Jordan Lolohea and Voi Tunuufi.
Though the Huskies typically prohibit commits from visiting other campuses, Roberts attended Oregon’s “Saturday Night Live” recruiting camp on the weekend of July 31 — later posting photos wearing the Ducks’ various jerseys.
Which is when everything got interesting. After it appeared UW fans objected online to Roberts’ pro-Oregon pictures, he posted on Instagram a screenshot of the following comment that supposedly came from a Husky fan:
“I agree, let him walk. I cannot believe that UW hasn’t pulled his offer after his CRAP picture in an Oregon uniform.”
Below that screenshot, Roberts wrote: “ME AGAINST THE WORLD”.
That same night, the four-star East High School defensive tackle also tweeted: “Last time I checked I wear my own pants. I will take every opportunity I get even if it makes all of you upset, at the end of the day GOD GOT ME”.
Less than 10 days later, Roberts is no longer a Husky commit. Which is especially unfortunate for UW when you consider 247Sports recruiting analyst Blair Angulo called Roberts “a freakish defensive tackle who moves remarkably well for his size.”
When asked following practice Wednesday what he’d attribute the recent string of de-commitments to, Lake said: “I attribute it to recruiting. This will be a story for every single college football program in the history of recruiting, until we can draft them. I attribute it to young high school kids, and this is what happens. Nothing’s done until signing day in December or February 2022, and after those two signing dates, that’s when the signing classes will be signed and we’ll know who lands where.”
Prior to Lake’s appointment as UW’s head coach, just four prospects de-committed during Petersen’s seven recruiting cycles: quarterback Jalen Green (2014, USC), defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu (2017, USC), running back Connor Wedington (2017, Stanford) and 2018 inside linebacker Nick Bolton (2018, Missouri). Five-star linebacker Ale Kaho also landed at Alabama after signing with Washington in 2018, and 2020 corner Jacobe Covington temporarily withdrew his pledge before re-committing to the Huskies.
Of course, Petersen never contended with name, image and likeness laws — which finally descended on college football this summer. Last month, star Oregon pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux announced a potentially lucrative NIL deal for a nonfungible token (NFT) with Nike founder (and prominent Ducks donor) Phil Knight as well as Nike vice president for design and special projects Tinker Hatfield — an example of the outside compensation that might significantly influence commitment decisions.
Regardless, UW’s remarkable run of maintained commitments has not carried over into 2022.
“This is the challenges of college football, the challenges of recruiting,” Lake said. “This isn’t the last time you’re going to see someone de-commit or commit somewhere. This is the ebb and flow of recruiting that will go on for the rest of the history of college football. This won’t be the last person who de-commits from Washington or any other program, and it won’t be the last person who commits to Washington or commits to another program.
“Again, when it’s all said and done in December or February, that’s when you can really write the story of who signed where. And then in my opinion, what you really want to look at is how these guys do when they get here. That’s really the proof of if you’re getting the right guys — whether those guys become starters, whether they’re becoming all-conference players, whether they’re becoming NFL draft picks. That’s the proof of if you’re getting the right guys and you develop them.”
Perhaps, but for now, the Huskies have just 10 verbal commits — and two defensive prospects, three-star outside linebacker Lance Holtzclaw and cornerback T.J. Hall — in the 2022 class, which is ranked 48th nationally and seventh in the Pac-12 by 247Sports.
The wolves — or maybe Ducks? — appear to be winning.
Lake announced Tuesday that second-year freshman cornerback James Smith is not currently with the program.
“James Smith has had some personal issues that we’re trying to help him with, and also some family issues,” Lake said. “We’re here to support him. We’re praying for him. But he will not be with us here moving forward. We wish him the best and we’ll always be here to support him.”
A 6-foot-1, 195-pound former three-star recruit, Smith did not appear in UW’s four games as a true freshman in 2020. Two other players, inside linebackers Miki Ah You and Will Latu, also left the team prior to fall camp for personal reasons.
Lake declined to comment on the absences of sophomore safety Asa Turner and second-year freshman wide receiver Sawyer Racanelli, who have both not been present for five consecutive practices.