Kalen DeBoer wasn’t long into his introductory news conference Nov. 30 as the new Huskies football coach when he seemed to stop talking to the media, and began to address an invisible but critical audience.

The high-school football coaches in the state.

“I can’t wait to have chalk talks and clinics and get to know you and be out there and see you in your element. We will be all about building the relationships with you and wanting you to know that we’re here for you any way we can help.”

Yes, every new coach talks about the importance of “building a wall around the state” — whatever the state happens to be. It’s the execution, and the buy-in, that determines the long-term success of that endeavor.

Here’s some good news for Husky fans as they process a recruiting class that, after national signing day Wednesday, ranks 11th in the Pac-12, ahead of only scandal-ridden Arizona State: DeBoer is putting his priorities where his mouth is.

The better news: High-school coaches are noticing and appreciating the effort that DeBoer and his staff are putting into building relationships.

“I would say there is a good little buzz around the high-school-coaching community, that there’s an intentionality from his leadership on down,” Seattle Prep coach Aaron Maul said. “That they’re going to be out, they’re going to be available to high-school coaches, and in support of high-school coaches.”


According to Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247Sports, DeBoer is playing the long game. He walked into the 2022 recruiting cycle late, fighting against established relationships and burdened by a disastrous Husky season in 2021. Out of the state’s top 10 players, the Huskies signed only two, with five-star offensive tackle Josh Conerly from Rainier Beach yet to make his decision.

To succeed at Washington, DeBoer will still have to successfully mine the talent-rich California prep scene, where he has more established relationships from his time at Fresno State. But DeBoer’s efforts to build rapport with Washington state’s high-school coaches could help “tremendously,” Huffman said. Eventually.

“I think that there was kind of a focus on that in January of this year, where instead of trying to put together a big class for 2022, add a bunch of guys, it was more about getting in front of the high-school coaches for the 2023 and ’24 classes,” Huffman said.

“It was clearly something that Chris Petersen prioritized; Steve Sarkisian talked about it but still kind of had a California focus. Jimmy Lake never really had a chance to, because of the pandemic. But I think DeBoer has done a really good job of trying to at least get visible with these guys and build those relationships now, coming from a region where he didn’t have a lot of direct ties with the Northwest.”

DeBoer has company in that regard, which could set up some fierce cross-state recruiting battles to match the on-field rivalry in the Apple Cup. I’m referring to Washington State’s coach, Jake Dickert, who became the interim coach of the Cougars in October when Nick Rolovich was fired, and then was given the job permanently Nov. 27, just a few days before DeBoer was hired by the Huskies.

Just like DeBoer, Dickert has made it a priority to be a visible presence with high-school coaches on both sides of the mountain. That was something Mike Leach and his WSU staff rarely did, Maul said. Rolovich tried to change that, showing up for an Eastside Catholic-O’Dea game on his first day on the job. And Dickert is maintaining, and expanding, that effort.


“He did it even before he got the permanent job,” Huffman said. “When he was the interim guy, first week in November, when they had a bye, Dickert sent five coaches to the west side of the state just to go see players, just to go see schools, just to go see some games and be visible.”

In a similar vein, DeBoer showed up at Seattle Prep on the second day he was allowed by rule to do so. In the past week, Huskies assistants blitzed their way around the state, visiting more than 30 high schools and making sure their presence was made known via social media.

“We’ve had Coach DeBoer here, and two of his assistants here, in probably a three-week span,” Maul said. “The thing that I’ve been really impressed with, with both staffs (UW and WSU), is both staffs have been really good with in-state people. And that hasn’t been the case.”

Lake admittedly faced unprecedented challenges by having his first two seasons coincide with COVID-19-related restrictions. But the consensus is that DeBoer, at least at the outset, is hitting the state high schools more meaningfully than the previous regime.

Seattle Prep had two three-star players from the Class of 2022 land with Power Five schools — tight end Jack Velling at Oregon State and linebacker Austin Harnetiaux as a preferred walk-on at Wisconsin. The feeling is that Velling, in particular, might have wound up at Washington if they had made a more concerted effort to woo him. Instead, it was Oregon State that developed the relationships that coaxed him to Corvallis.

DeBoer is working to make sure that sort of thing doesn’t happen again. And one key is to forge relationships even when a school doesn’t necessarily have a blue-chip prospect. You don’t want to show up only when there’s a five-star kid to recruit.


“That doesn’t feel good,” Maul said. “High-school football programs don’t always have Pac-12 kids. I can see one area where Kalen is already doing a really good job is he’s creating relationships that go beyond the transaction. And what I mean by that is whether or not you have a Pac-12 kid or not in your program, you’re still going to be of value to Washington.

“That means a lot to Washington high-school coaches. Because you feel like you have the support of Kalen and the coaching staff. They value what we’re doing with the high-school kids. And in the event that you have a kid in your program that can play at that level, that relationship has already now been formed. And that opportunity or that bridge or pathway has been built. Now the doors open at Washington.”

We’ll find out next year how many top prospects walk through those doors.