It’s only appropriate that Kalen DeBoer’s introductory news conference took place in the Washington Huskies’ “recruiting lounge.”
In one far corner of the room, two pop-a-shot hoops were pushed against the wall. A shuffleboard table, salt and all, sat in the back like an afterthought. A pair of ping-pong tables were folded up and removed to make room for the parade of purple-clad staff members and donors and UW alums.
And yet, the games are just beginning.
Because, before DeBoer can effectively recruit the West Coast, he first must recruit the Huskies’ remaining roster.
“The recruiting plan itself, it starts with me,” the former Fresno State head coach said in his introductory news conference Tuesday. “We’ve got to be relentless in everything we do. My staff will be full of great recruiters that have been proven.
“We’ve got to keep the Washington kids here at Washington. 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 West Coast obviously is very significant in our approach and our plan. And I know that along the way there’s been success maybe in a satellite area here and there (like Texas or Hawaii) and that would be something that I continue to evaluate and better understand, and figure out where those areas may be.
“It starts immediately, today, as soon as we possibly can, calling those (2022) guys who are committed to this program, getting to know them. I already met with the team because first and foremost it lies with the program and the players that we have here right now. They are going to be the ones that are the foundation and the ones that here in the next couple weeks and months get us going and get us off to a great start.”
It appeared DeBoer got off to his desired start on Tuesday — when wide receivers Terrell Bynum, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk each posted their intentions to return to UW on social media.
And, speaking of returning to UW …
A former Husky signal caller may reunite with DeBoer in Seattle as well.
Jake Haener — who completed 67.5% of his passes and threw for 3,810 yards with 35 total touchdowns and nine interceptions in 12 games at Fresno State this season — has entered the transfer portal, he confirmed. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior has one season of eligibility remaining, though he would need a waiver approved by the NCAA to play immediately elsewhere.
But on Tuesday, DeBoer didn’t seem concerned with any potential eligibility issues.
“I think, first of all, Jake is an amazing person, amazing player,” he said, when asked about the possibility Haener could follow him from Fresno State. “Man, what a special time we’ve had together. In the world of the transfer portal and all that I think it’s pretty clear he’d be able to be eligible. But I want what’s best for Jake, I really do. Being a mentor, that will never end, as far as what my hopes are for him. That’s really up to him as far as deciding what’s next for him. He’s got other directions he can take his career as well, so he’s got to figure that out.”
Haener — whose mother and grandfather attended UW — signed with the Huskies in 2017, before transferring after losing a quarterback competition to Jacob Eason two-and-a-half years later. This time, he would arrive with a significant leg up on the competition — after excelling in DeBoer’s offense for two consecutive seasons.
Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group reported Wednesday that Haener is expected to transfer back to Washington, though the quarterback later said in a text message to The Times that “I haven’t committed anywhere yet.”
The transfer portal could be an increasingly critical tool for DeBoer and Co. this offseason, especially if a significant number of current Huskies hop into the portal as well.
But make no mistake: The life blood of DeBoer’s UW program will always have to be high-school recruiting.
And, going against the likes of Mario Cristobal’s Oregon Ducks and Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans, it will require a limitless supply of sweat equity to earn the commitments of prized West Coast recruits.
“You have to go every single day with everything you got,” DeBoer said Tuesday. “It starts with me, because I understand these are the guys — the head coaches (like Cristobal and Riley and DeBoer) — who they’re coming to play for. So it’s an everyday thing, and we all have to be aligned as far as doing a good job with our evaluations. But it’s working extremely hard to build those relationships with those players, with everyone — whether it’s their family, their high-school coach. (It’s) those people that we call ‘champions’ that we’ve got to get to the hearts of and really show them that this is the place you want to be because of these reasons.”
DeBoer began that process Tuesday, calling UW’s commits to begin cultivating a relationship. He plans to host official visits next weekend as well. With just nine total commits, the Huskies’ 2022 class ranks seventh in the Pac-12 and 58th in the country.
But with a new head coach, that class may not yet be complete.
“Like any change, I think there’s always going to be a little bit of turnover (via the transfer portal and decommitments),” DeBoer said. “We’ll have to see how that continues to flow and go. The urgency from our end as we build the staff — and even though it will be partially (built) here in the days and maybe weeks ahead — it will be something where we’re getting the key, solid guys that are committed (in the 2022 class), and maybe going after some guys who aren’t committed that I feel we have ties to or could relate to, and feel that now that I’m here that Washington football is the best option for them.
“So we’ll be aggressive in that pursuit. There’s not going to be anyone that we feel is a fit for our program that we won’t go after. I can tell you that.”
Against the Oregons and USCs and Ohio States, the city of Seattle could eventually separate UW. DeBoer called “Montlake Futures” — the company launched by UW donors to create name, image and likeness opportunities for Husky athletes — “really critical moving forward.”
Though not as critical as his staff’s comprehensive commitment to the recruiting game.
“Everyone’s got to be on it,” DeBoer said. “I said it started with me, but you’ve got to develop a staff that’s in sync and aligned and is just making things super efficient for your evaluation process, helping you build the connections. With the world of NIL now, there’s more things stacked on top of it. 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 not 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. You cannot have a weak link on the staff.
“I think there’ll be a lot of things that we’ll be able to sell — the tradition, the resources and facilities and the things that we have here, the city. But we’ll also really be able to sell our staff.”