LOS ANGELES — Kalen DeBoer is no stranger to an expanded playoff.
Which may explain the smile.
Standing amid the chaos of ongoing interviews on the fourth floor of the Novo Theater in Los Angeles on Friday, DeBoer — UW’s first-year coach — was asked his opinion of a possible 12- or 16-team College Football Playoff, which have been widely discussed in recent weeks. Of course, the 47-year-old DeBoer once won an NAIA national championship after advancing through a 16-team playoff at the University of Sioux Falls in 1996, then repeated the feat three times as the program’s head coach.
So, sure, he smiled. How could he not?
“Playoffs are fun,” a visibly giddy DeBoer responded at Pac-12 media day. “It’s do it or go home. I lived in that world for 10 years. It’s fun being in a playoff. There’s another level of intensity that happens. So a couple rounds of playoffs, or however many it would be, would be a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Of course, it’s only fun if you actually qualify — something Pac-12 programs haven’t done since 2016. And though an expanded playoff would present more opportunities for Washington and Co., it would also be increasingly tilted to the media rights monsters in the Big Ten and SEC.
On Friday, when asked if he believes Pac-12 programs are currently positioned to compete for the College Football Playoff, DeBoer said: “I do. Getting your foot in the door in the playoff is the key, right? Because then everyone has a chance. I’m sure the steps will change as far as what it takes to get a berth, as the realignment continues to evolve, with what the College Football Playoff looks like.
“But if we do our job and win football games and beat the teams we’re supposed to beat, we’ll end up in those spots to where we’re playing for a championship. So the resources could be a little bit better if you have a little bit more money. But I think we certainly have enough to work with, with everything we have already.”
Realignment and recruiting
USC and UCLA’s agreement to join the Big Ten has caused concerns that those programs could separate from the pack when it comes to West Coast recruiting.
But when DeBoer was asked if conference realignment has been a topic of conversation with prospective recruits, he said: “I’m dead serious. It has not. I’ve had maybe one conversation. It’s something where they’re just asking, ‘Has it been crazy for you?’ It’s really those type of conversations that are being had. So it’s not really impacting us right now.
“We’re in a unique position, a special position, because of our program and the history, tradition, where we live and the academic piece. In the end, I’m confident we’ll end up in a good spot.”
The Huskies seem to be in an enviable spot as it pertains to the 2023 cycle, with 19 commitments and a class currently ranked 19th nationally by 247Sports. And yet, the top four players in the state of Washington — cornerback Caleb Presley (Oregon), cornerback Jasiah Wagoner (Oklahoma), running back Jayden Limar (Notre Dame) and quarterback Gabarri Johnson (Missouri) — have each committed elsewhere.
DeBoer acknowledged the program’s in-state recruiting must continue to improve.
“We looked at the best years in UW football history (to determine our recruiting footprint), and a lot of it revolved around a lot of players being from Washington and California. It makes sense, right?” DeBoer said.
“In Washington, we’re still trying to grow those relationships. Our relationships are actually stronger (from) prior to coming to Washington with the California schools, and a lot of the staff has Texas and Midwest contacts and longstanding relationships. We’ll continue to really work hard in building those deep relationships and show our interest in keeping Washington kids at home.”
Grubb earns players’ praise
During his session with assorted media members Friday, sixth-year UW left tackle Jaxson Kirkland said, “I think we have the best-kept secret in college football with Ryan Grubb as offensive coordinator. He’s a wizard on offense, that’s for sure. As far as that aspect goes, I think it’s going to be a lot different. I don’t want to give anything away. I just can’t wait for everyone to see it this fall.”
Well, given Kirkland said it into a cadre of cameras and recorders, Grubb may not be much of a secret for long. Regardless, senior safety Alex Cook added that Grubb is “a freaking genius.”
Grubb, who first coached with DeBoer at Sioux Falls from 2007 to 2009 and served as Fresno State’s associate head coach and offensive coordinator across the last three seasons, still has to prove it in Pac-12 play. But it appears he’s already proven a lot to his players.
“He’s smart, and you mix that with a phenomenal work ethic, and you get a guy who’s organized and who the players believe in, because they see him caring about them as a person and a football player,” DeBoer said. “It’s cool, seeing the trust they’re building in him and the staff, for sure.”
Strength and conditioning improvements
DeBoer arrived on Friday with tangible numbers highlighting the strength and conditioning strides his team has made this offseason. Per DeBoer, UW’s players have dropped an average of 2.5% body fat, while gaining an average of 7 pounds of muscle. Their bench press max has increased by an average of 30 pounds, while they’ve added an average of five bench press reps of 225 pounds as well. They’ve added an average of 50 pounds to their squat totals, while all 45 players who used GPS tracking devices across the past two offseasons have recorded personal best max speeds.
Sixth-year senior offensive lineman Henry Bainivalu — who was listed last season at 6-foot-7 and 330 pounds — has reportedly dropped weight while adding nearly 90 pounds to his bench press.
The conclusion? The Huskies have gotten simultaneously lighter, stronger and faster.
“I’m excited to see how that equates to camp and the guys moving around, and especially football games when it really matters — second half and beyond,” DeBoer said.
He added: “I knew we needed to get stronger. I think we all knew that.”
One player who didn’t shed weight is Kirkland, who actually added 30 pounds to sit at 6-7, 340 entering fall camp. The two-time All-Pac-12 first team left tackle said the added weight has allowed for more power without sacrificing any speed or flexibility.
But DeBoer noted that the proof will ultimately be in his play.
“With most of the guys on the team, they’ve leaned up,” DeBoer said. “But he’s been doing this long enough to know what he needs to do, and he along with (head strength and conditioning coach) Ron McKeefery have definitely discussed it. We’ll go through fall camp just continuing to feel if this is exactly where he needs to be or if it’s a couple pounds in either direction that he can still afford to go.”
- On the injury front, DeBoer said fifth-year junior Edefuan Ulofoshio won’t be back from an undisclosed injury sustained this winter until “later in the season.” I never want to sell him short,” DeBoer added, “because he’s relentless in his rehab. Whatever the doctors said, I wouldn’t doubt if it was three weeks earlier than that. I know he’s doing really well.” Junior linebacker Demario King and freshman defensive lineman Armon Parker are also expected to miss fall camp with injuries.