Players such as Steve Emtman and Lincoln Kennedy helped Washington win three Pac-10 titles and a share of the national championship in 1991. This year’s class is ranked ninth nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12.
The names and dates blend together now, 30 years later. Dick Baird knew he had helped recruit some great athletes who signed with the Washington Huskies in 1988. Just how great, he wasn’t sure at the time.
“We had no idea how good that class was,” said Baird, a UW assistant coach and recruiting coordinator from 1984-99. “We were still on the rise as a program. Our goal was to get the guys in the door and then develop them.”
And that, Baird says, is a key connecting point in the bridge between what Don James was building at UW in the late 1980s and what Chris Petersen is building now.
A look the Huskies’ best recruiting classes of the past 30 years:
1988: Best of the best: Steve Emtman, Lincoln Kennedy, Mark Brunell, Mario Bailey, Dave Hoffmann and Jay Barry, to name a few, helped pave the way for the most dominant period in program history.
1991: At the time, several recruiting analysts ranked this as a top-five class nationally. That the Huskies signed RB Napoleon Kaufman, a first-team USA Today high school All-American, was considered a major recruiting coup. Also in this class: QB Damon Huard, TE Mark Bruener, TE Ernie Conwell, FB Richard Thomas, DT Steve Hoffmann.
1997: QB Marques Tuiasosopo was one of several notable in-state signings, along with Woodinville teammate Pat Conniff, plus WR Ja’Warren Hooker (Ellensburg) and OL Kyle Benn (O’Dea HS). DT Larry Triplett headlined the class on defense. Three years later, the group helped lead UW to a Rose Bowl victory.
2001: Wide receivers Reggie Williams and Charles Frederick headlined a class that SuperPrep Magazine ranked at the time as top-five nationally. Also: OT Joe Toledo, QB Taylor Barton, QB Casey Paus, OLB Kai Ellis.
2013: Steve Sarkisian’s last UW class featured WR John Ross III, LB Azeem Victor, LB Keishawn Bierria, OL Coleman Shelton, TE Darrell Daniels, DE Joe Mathis, CB Kevin King and DL Elijah Qualls — all starters on Chris Petersen’s 2016 Pac-12 championship team.
2015: QB Jake Browning became UW’s career leader in touchdown passes in 2017, and RB Myles Gaskin ought to blow past Kaufman’s school rushing record next season. Also: LT Trey Adams, LB Tevis Bartlett, LB Ben Burr-Kirven, CB Austin Joyner, WR Chico McClatcher, CB Jordan Miller, S Ezekiel Turner.
“That’s the thing about Coach Pete and Coach James that is so similar: They’re all about the development of kids,” Baird said.
The Huskies’ 1988 recruiting class has to be considered the best in program history. Steve Emtman and Lincoln Kennedy, two future College Football Hall of Famers, were in that class. So were Mark Brunell, Dave Hoffmann, Mario Bailey, Walter Bailey, Orlando McKay, James Clifford, Jaime Fields, Jay Barry, plus other notable contributors on the UW teams that would win three consecutive Pac-10 championships from 1990-92 and claim a share of the 1991 national title.
It was a special group and a special time.
Thirty years later, Petersen has what many see as a special recruiting class, too. He has already signed the bulk of the highest-ranked class of his coaching career — and one of the most touted in program history. The recruiting site 247Sports.com ranks the class No. 9 nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12.
During the first early signing period in December, UW signed 19 recruits to letters of intent. The Huskies are hoping to add a few more names to the class during the regular national signing day on Wednesday.
On Monday night, four-star defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa out of Bay Area powerhouse De La Salle made a verbal commitment to UW, a source confirmed. Letuligasenoa had been committed to USC since April. He’s ranked by 247Sports as the No. 124 overall prospect in the nation in the 2018 class and the No. 13 defensive tackle.
Julius Irvin, a four-star defensive back from Anaheim, Calif., announced last week his intention to sign with the Huskies on Wednesday. And over the weekend, the Huskies hosted two other Another four-star prospect, defensive end Jeremiah Martin, has listed UW among his finalists.
Rarely in recruiting do things go exactly according to plan. Surprises are aplenty, and Baird knew that well in his time as the program’s recruiting coordinator.
There were some surprises in that 1988 class. Take Emtman, for one.
Baird had scouted and recruited Emtman, a star lineman from Cheney High School, and the Huskies were thrilled when Emtman chose UW over Washington State.
But the Huskies were just as excited about another, more highly touted D-lineman, Mike Lustyk out of Bellevue’s Interlake High. In fact, Baird recalled that Emtman was upset about not getting his preferred jersey number — No. 74 — because Lustyk had been promised it.
Emtman made No. 90 one of the most notable jersey numbers in program history, and went on to become the most decorated player in program history and was taken No. 1 in the 1992 NFL draft.
On signing day in 1988, neither Emtman nor Kennedy were considered the headliners. The Huskies did sign five of the top 38 players from the West in that class, as ranked by The Long Beach Press-Telegram rankings. Wide receiver Damon Mack, Lustyk and Brunell were the most highly regarded in the class, with running back Darius Turner and tight end David Ilsley also making the Press-Telegram list.
Baird couldn’t recall every name from that class, but he agrees it was a class that was central in leading the program to its zenith.
Three decades later, he is hoping the 2018 class can help produce similar results.
“I think we are looking at a banner recruiting class,” he said. “In my memory, I don’t remember any other class being as good as this one.”