On Jan. 18, Jimmy Lake stood on the purple “W” at half court inside Alaska Airlines Arena — surrounded by 9,268 spectators. During a timeout in the Husky men’s hoops game against rival Oregon, Washington’s new head coach addressed the Montlake masses — with a purple towel in his right hand and a microphone in his left.
A 43-year-old, first-time head coach, he started by saluting “the best fans in the country.” He credited them for UW’s continued ability to “dominate the West Coast.” He called their 2020 recruiting class the best in the Pac-12 Conference.
Then he turned his sights to an aggressive goal.
“What’s really exciting is we are currently working on the 2021 class, and in the state of Washington we have some of the best players in the country, and we need those guys to stay right here — at home — in Seattle,” he said, pointing at the purple “W” at his feet for added emphasis.
Nearly a year later, Washington signed 15 future Huskies on Wednesday morning — including seven standouts from within its home state. The list is led by five-star Kennedy Catholic quarterback Sam Huard, ranked the No. 1 pro-style passer in the nation by 247Sports. It features a trio of four-star talents in O’Dea offensive guard Owen Prentice, Kennedy Catholic wide receiver Jabez Tinae and Bethel linebacker Will Latu.
But there also are some undeniably stinging omissions. The No. 1 player nationally, five-star Eastside Catholic defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau, remains uncommitted but included UW in his top five Wednesday (though most experts expect him to eventually sign with Ohio State). Five-star Steilacoom standout Emeka Egbuka — the top wide receiver in his class — also committed to the Buckeyes over UW and Oklahoma last weekend.
Two more four-star, in-state standouts — Lincoln outside linebacker Julien Simon (USC) and Kennedy Catholic wide receiver Junior Alexander (Arizona State) — signed with Washington’s Pac-12 competitors.
The Huskies’ class, which is atypically small because UW has just 11 total scholarship seniors, is ranked 30th nationally and fifth in the Pac-12 — behind Oregon (sixth), USC (11th), California (24th) and Utah (29th) — by the 247Sports Composite.
So, all things considered, did Lake accomplish his goal?
“We’re extremely excited about our class,” he said Wednesday, when asked that question. “Every single year there’s players from other states or even our own state that decide to sign somewhere else. That’s recruiting. That’s how this thing goes. The only people we can worry about are the players who end up signing here at the University of Washington, and all we’re going to do is continue to develop these guys.
“We’re going to continue to pump out more NFL draft picks than anybody else in the Pac-12 Conference, and we’re going to continue to try to win North Division championships and Pac-12 championships and go to bowl games and win those bowl games. We’re excited about the people that want to be part of this program.”
And Huard, for one, has wanted to be at Washington since before he could walk. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound quarterback — son of Damon Huard and nephew of Brock Huard, a pair of former notable UW QBs — threw for 4,172 yards with 56 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his junior season at Kennedy Catholic in 2019. Lake called him “the best quarterback in the country, a guy that’s ultra-accurate but has unbelievable leadership traits.”
Around Montlake, Huard’s name means something.
But he earned a scholarship on the strength of everything else.
“First, I’ll say this: that name and that pedigree and all that will be the headline, but the reason Sam Huard was offered a scholarship by us and by a whole bunch of teams across the country, and everybody wanted his services and that young man to be in their program, was because he’s a phenomenal football player. He’s a phenomenal leader,” Lake said. “I know the pressure and headlines of his last name and uncle and dad and all those things. But what you guys should really focus on is what this young man was able to do for his high school and the talent he has on the football field, but also the excellent student he is and the excellent member of our community as well.
“So we’re excited he’s a Dawg and we always want to add really, really special people and special football players to our program. Sam is one of those.”
Sam is one, but he’s not the only one. Lake dubbed the 6-3, 290-pound Prentice “one of the best offensive linemen in the country.” And he predicted Latu will soon be “a monster in the middle for us.”
“The one thing you always want to look for in an inside linebacker is an inside linebacker that played running back,” Lake said of Latu, who starred primarily as a running back at Bethel High School in Spanaway. “Will has the perfect measurables for a person we’re looking for at that inside linebacker position — just about 6-foot, over 230 pounds, but he’s athletic and agile just like our running backs. So he’s going to be able to match those running backs’ moves. When those guys pin it up inside or try to bounce it, he’ll be able to go sideline to sideline.
“He’s a physical football player. He’s just going to continue to get stronger. So we’re really excited about him.”
Lake also is excited — certainly more so than some of his fans — about a pair of local three-star prospects, Renton defensive lineman Siaosi Finau (6-4, 280) and Eatonville tight end Caden Jumper (6-3, 250). Neither player received a second Power Five offer.
Both have an opportunity to outperform their ranking at their home state school.
“It really was as simple as a phone call (from a high school coach) and then a lot of research by our staff to watch the film and comb through the film,” Lake said of how the Huskies found Finau. “We saw a player that we believe is going to be a big-time player for us and in the Pac-12. He’s got traits, the size and measurables that you want. Wait till you guys see this young man in person. Then when you turn on the tape you see a guy that has twitch. He plays tough. He plays physical.
“You guys know me by now. It doesn’t matter if you’re negative-three stars or negative-10 stars. When we turn on the tape, we do our own grading, and this guy was on the top of the charts of our grades.”
As for Jumper — whose father, Brandon Jumper, played fullback at Oregon — Lake didn’t hesitate to name-drop another UW tight end.
“What you guys should think about is Will Dissly,” he said. “That’s Caden Jumper. Caden Jumper needs to come here and work hard, but that’s exactly what he’s going to be.”
For Jumper, that will be another undeniably aggressive goal.
Lake likes to set those. But can he actually achieve them?
“We’re always trying to grow and improve,” Lake said. “Like I always tell you guys, that’s one of the anchors of our program. We’ll do that after this signing class and after next year’s signing class. We always think that we can do better, but we’re extremely excited about this class. The future will tell what this class will do here in the next few years.”