When Chris Petersen announced his resignation on Dec. 2, Washington’s 2020 class could’ve promptly imploded. With barely two weeks until early signing day, a celebrated head coach was giving way to a first-time successor. The program’s offensive system and staff was — and is — in flux. Twenty-one verbal commits were abruptly asked to embrace a new era.
Fifteen days later, the concept of a collapse seems almost silly. All 21 targets reaffirmed their UW commitments, and four-star corner Jacobe Covington actually re-committed to the program after previously rescinding his pledge. Despite the coaching change, a disappointing season and some general December chaos, UW’s 2020 class is ranked ninth nationally and first in the Pac-12 by 247Sports.
Twenty-two high school seniors are expected to sign with Washington on Wednesday. Why?
They didn’t commit to a coach.
They committed to a culture.
“I don’t think that any coach in this conference that recruits up against Washington would challenge the culture that Chris Petersen has built,” Pac-12 Network analyst Yogi Roth told The Times on Tuesday. “I think great cultures can sustain when guys own it. What Jimmy (Lake) has done and will do, and we’ll see this in the coming months, is he’ll have his own twist on it.
“When you meet him, and we did in production meetings all the time, you look around and when he leaves you say, ‘Yep, he’s a head coach. Let’s hope they can keep him.’ I’m not surprised at all that they didn’t lose anybody, and I’m not surprised that (UW’s recruiting) actually picked up steam. And it’s going to (continue).”
In elevating Lake, UW athletic director Jen Cohen allowed the existing culture to continue as well.
Hiring the right coach was obviously most important. But, from a recruiting perspective, don’t discount the decisiveness of Cohen’s decision.
“It’s obviously huge that they were able to avoid the usual (recruiting) attrition you see when there’s a head coaching change,” said 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman. “I think obviously with Jen Cohen having a successor immediately, it left no down time, left no wiggle room, left no uncertainty there of who the head coach was going to be and how they would fit in.
“So even with the uncertainty at the offensive coordinator position, it hasn’t affected them at all. Instead, they’ve gained commits instead of lost commits. So I think it’s pretty remarkable.”
And, make no mistake, a remarkable recruiting class will sign with Washington on Wednesday. It includes three four-star offensive linemen (Myles Murao, Roger Rosengarten and Geirean Hatchett), two four-star wide receivers (Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze), an accomplished four-star quarterback (Ethan Garbers) and the state’s premier player in five-star Kennedy Catholic outside linebacker Sav’ell Smalls.
“You get into the specific players and they’ve got some of the best guys in the conference at each position,” Roth said. “On the offensive line, Myles Murao to me is the top (Pac-12) offensive lineman in the class. I look at Jacobe Covington at corner and he’s one of the best (Pac-12) corners in this class. Sav’ell Smalls is clearly one of the best linebackers in the best linebacking class this conference has ever had, in terms of high-end (talent), with (Oregon commit) Noah Sewell and potentially Justin Flowe.
“Then you add Ethan Garbers, who I think is the best quarterback in this class. (Eastside Catholic four-star running back) Sam Adams, I have him as my top athlete, and (three-star Brush Prairie wide receiver) Sawyer Racanelli is the next top athlete for me.”
Huffman added that Racanelli may be easy to overlook, considering that the future UW wide receiver missed his senior season with a torn ACL and starred in a lower classification in the state of Washington. “But when he’s healthy,” Huffman asserted, “he’s as good a pass-catcher as anybody.”
Likewise, Carson Bruener — the son of former UW tight end Mark Bruener — is an in-state talent with an absence of message board buzz. Still, the three-star linebacker from Redmond could eventually outperform his modest recruiting ranking. Huffman said that “I think he’s going to end up being a real solid glue guy for them and could have that Ben Burr-Kirven type of impact later in his career.”
As for immediate impact options, many have already been mentioned. Unsurprisingly, Roth said that the 6-3, 230-pound Smalls “should be playing against Michigan day 1. I expect that.”
And, if redshirt junior quarterback Jacob Eason declares for the 2020 NFL Draft, Garbers could easily enter the mix.
“My biggest question at the Elite 11 (national quarterback camp last summer) was, ‘Does (Garbers) have the capability to step on your throat as a competitor?’” Roth said. “I just think, at quarterback, to get in the room you’re going to have to be able to pass. He has no flaw in his mechanics. The second thing is you have to be able to hit spots as a thrower. He can do that. The third thing is, you have to be a brilliant competitor just to survive, let alone thrive in the shark tank that is the quarterback meeting room.
“I got to meet with him over the summer in the shark tank — the top 24 quarterbacks in the country (at Elite 11). He had the quietest personality, one might argue, coming in. By the end he was one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the country, in my eyes. His competitiveness rose to such a level that you could cut through it (with a knife). He was just like, ‘I’m going to get to the line of scrimmage, and I’m going to dice you.’ He beat you with his eyes. He beat you with his throws.”
In the last year, Garbers has beaten just about everybody. The 6-2, 190-pound passer recently wrapped up an undefeated 16-0 season at Corona Del Mar (Calif.) High School, leading the Sea Kings to a hotly contested state title. He completed 69.6% of his passes, throwing for 5,035 yards with 71 touchdowns and six interceptions. Roth said that “he’ll have a chance if Jacob (Eason) leaves to play as a true freshman there. He’s going to be the best passer in the meeting room.”
It’s impressive, considering the coaching change, that Garbers and Co. will soon be in Washington’s meeting room at all.
When other classes might have crumbled, the culture kept them committed.
“In a world of unintended consequences with the early signing day — where there’s a ton of drama, where a commitment is not a commitment and an offer is not an offer because some offers are contingent offers, Washington doesn’t pull any punches,” Roth said. “They’re very clear (in who they are).
“I talked to Sav’ell Smalls this week. I just talked to Ethan (Garbers). These guys love everything the program has been built upon and now where it’s going with Jimmy. So they didn’t flinch.”