UW coach Chris Petersen on recruiting philosophy: “It’s really a unique and secretive deal, so I hesitate to say it — it’s just called honesty. We just try to be as honest with these guys as we can."
Washington coach Chris Petersen announced the signing of 17 new recruits on Wednesday — and reintroduced outside linebacker Myles Rice, a 2015 grayshirt whose scholarship counts in this 2016 class. Here’s everything Petersen said at his National Signing Day news conference:
(Opening comments) “Awesome, exciting, uneventful day. And I’m really proud of these kids we signed. In this day and age, to make it uneventful takes a little bit more work and a little bit more strongness of will, so to speak. Because there’s a lot of good players here that were recruited by a lot of people, and just to keep the drama out of it and stay true to what they decided to do — we’re really proud of those guys.
“Really proud of the coaches. I can’t tell you how many miles we traveled and how hard these guys worked and how much research they had done. I think it really turned out how we were hoping it would. I think there’s really good balance of where the kids came from; we’ve got seven kids that came from California, five from Washington, three from Texas if you’re counting Myles Rice — who I’m counting in all this and all the things we’re talking about today — two from Arizona and one from Oregon. And I think the footprint that we go with, it should look like that. I think there’s balance on offense and defense. I think there’s nine defensive guys, seven offensive guys and a kicker. At every position we addressed a need, took a guy.
“These days are certainly different than they used to be way, way, way, way, way back in the day about five years ago when maybe you guys didn’t know everything about — more than we know — about these recruits. I should just start asking you about who we missed, who are guys you know we don’t. But really pleased with these guys. The next thing is, I like this next period where a lot of these guys can just relax and they don’t have so many reporters calling them, so many other coaches calling them. They can concentrate on being a high school senior, concentrate on finishing their grades strong, going to the prom, running some track – whatever they are going to do. I think that’s important. And then we’ll get ‘em here in the summertime and excited to start the development process.
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(What’s your post-recruiting process?) “They’re so used to hearing from us all the time and they’re so used to hearing from other coaches, and really — the reporters are the ones that kill these guys. It really is. A lot of that goes away, which I think is really healthy and good so they can get back to some normalcy. We’ll stay in contact with them for sure and now we can text these guys. They don’t really like to talk; 18-year olds, they just want to text. So we can text them back. Some of these guys will come up, maybe do spring ball, check us out a little bit. And then we’ll get ’em up here the end of June and they’ll be here before they know it.”
(How different was it putting together this class knowing you’d only have 17-18 spots?) “It’s a little bit different because you’re starting to make some decisions early on … and that’s why we always say this recruiting thing is a two-way street: when a kid commits to us that dramatically changes our recruiting as well. You don’t have all these extra scholarships. It’s like, OK. We are locked in now. If somebody comes down the pike, so be it. We’ve already committed to this guy. So you have to make good decisions and a lot of times you’ve got to make them early. It’s probably more fun when you have a bunch of scholarships and you can start getting as many guys as you can. But we don’t have that luxury. And you’re going to have that every year. With our senior count, for next year it’s going to be a small class again. As we move forward, we’re always trying to work the balance in terms of all the five classes. I don’t know what the ideal number is; it’s probably somewhere between 17 and 19 to 20 if your classes are all balanced equally. Seventeen times five is 85… but you’re always going to lose some to attrition of the four or five-year process. But that’s hard to do. That’s very hard to do is try and keep that type of balance throughout. What we signed is kind of in the ballpark of the type of balance we’re OK with.”
(One kid that really put a smile on your face?) “That’s a really hard question to answer because we get so connected to all these guys. And there’s certain guys that you feel really connected to because they decided early, and that was that. It’s not really as simple and easy as that because, as you know, there’s some relentless people that don’t let up that can be very hard on these kids and their families. I think there were some other kids that had choices that might have been easier for them to make but not necessarily better. And at the end of the day they made the right choice in terms of what was in their heart, but it wasn’t the easy choice. Some of those guys really proud of leaving home and coming up here and make this their new home. There was a couple guys like that where it was like, wow — that’s impressive. Because I know that’s not easy to do.”
(Did playing so many frosh last year help you attract talent for this class?) “I think they know that. We really didn’t talk a lot about that. They know the depth chart, we show ’em that. They know we’re going to play the best guys, and if you’re one of the best guys coming in you’re going to play. It’s really that simple. We live in the here and now. So if you’re the guy that can make us better right now, you know we’ll give you that chance.”
(On being able to convince local recruits to play for UW) “I think one, it has to do with this university. I really say this. It’s kind of one of the reasons that I’m here. I think this is a special place. I think the University of Washington, I think you start with the academic part of things, I really do. I know these kids are so passionate about football, and sometimes that’s even more their priority sometimes, if we’re being realistic, than the academic thing. But they also get the importance of the academics, and by the time we get here and get them in our program and they understand what we’re all about, they know that the academic thing is equally as important as anything we do football-wise, and this place is as good as anything in the country in terms of academics, so I think it starts there. I think this area, the Seattle area is passionate about football. I think everybody wants to go where football is important, not just on this campus, but in this town. I think they see that and feel that. They grow up, they see the Seahawks. They see about the Huskies on TV. And if we can continue to take steps in the right way, everybody loves a winner. And if they grow up seeing the Huskies win and win and win, that starts really getting this ball rolling, and that’s how it should be. Kids around here should want to stay here and play for their hometown school.
(On whether getting local players early helped) “There’s no question. I mean, we come in here getting Budda Bakers and Kaleb McGarys and all these guys that have offers across the country, and they’re choosing to stay right here. I think all their coaches and their families and the people who know them to come and see them play, I think that matters. Brandon Wellington’s another guy that we’re extremely proud of. I think he may have been one of the biggest … I don’t want to say under the radar guys, but I kind of think that, because he just said, this is where I’m going. He could have gone to a lot of places. But I think he’s a Dawg, I think his family’s all about the Dawgs, and we couldn’t be more pleased.”
(On being able to keep committed players committed) “It’s really a unique and secretive deal, so I hesitate to say it – it’s just called honesty. We just try to be as honest with these guys as we can. It blows my mind when people are talking about kids aren’t flipping – and I get it. The problem with these kids who change their mind is because they get so much pressure on them from professional salesmen, is what it is. And so that can be very confusing not only to the 17 or 18-year-old, but to the families who have never been through this. So that’s a really hard thing. but what we basically try to do is educate them on the whole process the best we can. Like, what will be coming if you commit to us. Because it changes our process as well. So we think we’re in this together, and we don’t want a kid to commit to us unless he, in his heart, feels like ‘this is really where I want to go.’ So we just try to be honest, we try to paint the picture of where the recruiting process would go from here, and if you’re good with all these things, and your family’s good with that, then we’d love you to commit. But if there’s any shakiness, you probably shouldn’t commit until you check out some other things because in a lot of ways, you committing to us just means you’re going to get committed harder and more, so if you’re not 100 percent, don’t do it.”
(And you tell them that?) “I say those exact words. So it just creates, I think, a little less drama. And you’re still going to have kids that – it’s hard. I think what’s hard about it is, there’s a lot of good places out there. And the trick in this whole thing is finding the best place for you and the right fit, so then you get these guys that are pretty good doing their deal, getting these kids thinking a different way, so they really need to have already kind of worked a lot of this stuff out in their head before they commit.”
(Byron Murphy says he wants to play football and basketball, have you ever had a guy do that?) “We’ve never had a guy do that. I think this – I think a guy needs to come here and get adjusted to football, get adjusted to school, and if a guy can handle those type of things … we’ve had never with basketball, but with the track situation. That can come up. But you just want to feel like a guy can be successful and you’re not putting too much on his plate. And the one thing that they have to go through is to come here and see how much is on their plate, and sometimes those aspirations change a little bit.”
(Think he can do it?) “I’m telling you, that guy is very, very athletic. He’s very athletic. I haven’t studied him as a basketball player, but as a football player, there’s no doubt in my mind he can play either side of the ball with probably just as much success.”
(Could some of these guys play two ways, like in the secondary?) “Those are really the guys that we’re looking at in the secondary, those four guys. So most of the time, the way not just this league, but football in general with the spread offenses, you’re seeing three receivers and four receivers most of the time, so most of the time, we’re playing with five defensive backs, and so you really need – we look at our numbers continually, every year, every three months, what we’re doing on defense, what we’re doing on offense, and how does that change our strategy and how many we need at each position – and the one thing we know is that we can’t get enough good defensive backs. With the style of offenses we’re seeing, you need a bunch of good DBs.”
(On the “star system” of ranking recruits) “I don’t know. I need to be careful, because I’ve got a chip on my shoulder about that. I think at Boise we were 75 and then when you look at the real rankings, at one time in the year with the class that ranked No. 75 we were No. 3 in the country. Those are the rankings you need to pay attention to. So we thought all along we were getting really good players there. Now, things change a little bit being in this league and this university. I know this – there’s a lot more competition for some of these guys. And so people have asked, is it easier recruiting here? No, it’s harder recruiting here. Who you’re recruiting against, there’s so much parity, it’s much harder. But I don’t know about those stars. I mean, I even know my first year here, and even last year, I saw some stars on Trey Adams, and I’m like, are you kidding me? That’s the best high-school lineman I’ve ever seen. And whatever he was ranked. And so yeah, that’s why we just don’t get caught up in them. We take pride in doing so much research and then all of a sudden they say, ‘oh, this is a really good recruiting class, this is the highest ever,’ and it’s like, who’s saying that?”
(more on recruiting services’ star rankings) “I think the thing that is so hard to measure in this whole thing — and it’s hard for us — is all the intangible factors. On tape, it’s pretty easy to evaluate a kid. Do any of these recruiting services look at a kid’s transcript and really find out his background? No. That’s not their job. That’s our job. And to us, we think that factors into so much in terms of how a kid develops. So that’s why talent is overrated. Everybody’s got talent. It’s like, how do they handle being away from home? And what kind of teammate they are and how we can push them and develop them. And I think that’s why I’m so lukewarm on all that (recruiting rankings). There’s a lot of guys who have a lot of talent and it’s like, ‘We’re not going to recruit that guy.’ He might turn out to be good, but it’s just not the profile we’re looking for. If that makes sense.”
(on communication with recruits throughout the process) “There’s always going to be some twists and turns in the whole process that both sides go through. And I think the key is just open communication, so we both know where we are the whole time. And if something comes up and a guy’s changed his mind and needs to go look at a place, then they need to do that. They just need to understand how that kind of affects us and where we go from here. So I’m not saying a kid doesn’t go take another visit after he’s committed — that’s not the direction that we were planning on going, and it may change us; we may go look for another guy as well. But’s it’s never going to be 100 percent and you can’t be so black and white with this thing. We’re not going to cut off our nose to spite our face. But you try to put boundaries and guidelines and we communicate the whole way through it. I think that’s what nobody really likes, when somebody feels like they’re trying to pull a fast one — on either side. … We just try to communicate and work through the process as best we can.”
(on importance of relationships with past players, coaches and other connections to recruit players) “I think our best recruiters should be our players and ex-players. That’s what I think. Ask those guys. They’ve been through it. And if we’re doing our process right and if we’re the coaches we hope to be and think we are, those players should sell this place for us and say, ‘Hey, what they’re telling you is legit.’ And this is why it’s good, and here’s the hard part of it. But I tell our coaches that all the time — our best recruiters should be our players. The coaches can get them here, and then I would like them around our players as much as they can possibly be — and tell them how it is. I think one of the worst things in this whole recruiting process is, you get kid here and he’s different than you thought he was or the place (he’s) coming too is much different. I always tell the guys the worst thing I could hear is for someone to walk into my office and say, ‘Coach Pete, this is a lot different than what you told me it would be.’ And I think about that when we’re recruiting these kids. I don’t want that to happen. Because it’s going to be different than what he has in his mind anyway. It’s just how it is when you get here and you’re going through the grind. So I think it’s really important to communicate and be honest about it. I think there’s a lot of good players who fit certain programs and might not fit other ones. And that’s the trick to the deal. We tell them: ‘If there’s a better place that fits you, you should go there.’ This thing goes so fast and you only get to go to college one time and do this, and it’s all about being at the best place for you. Because there’s a lot of players that will still fit really well here.”
(Breaking down the class) “We’ve got Daniel Bridge-Gadd, the quarterback that’s here now, which is really cool for a quarterback. I’m still right in the middle of the road on where kids should come early or not. We get that question all the time, even from families. And I tell them: ‘That’s really your call. If you’re really itching to leave high school early and be up here, awesome. And if you don’t want to do that, we get that as well.’ But there’s so much for a quarterback to digest; when he is ready to leave (high school), that is good because he’s going to be lost and confused for half this year. So he’s here now and we like that.
“The two runnings that we signed in Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant, both those guys are a little bit different, but both really productive guys. The tailback thing, I think you can kind of see how important we think that is, with some of the things that Myles (Gaskin) and some of our other tailbacks have done. You’ve got to have a guy that can get some things done back there. And that position takes such a pounding that you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got some guys that can pack the mail for you.
“The wideouts — Jordan Chin and Aaron Fuller. Jordan Chin is a guy that kind of came onto the radar (late). We’ve known about all these guys, even if we got them late we’ve known about them for a long time … Jordan is a track guy that can run. It’s very hard to coach up speed. We can get them a little bit faster and quicker, we know that, from Coach Socha’s program, but he brings a lot of god-given tools there. So getting him with Coach Socha in the weight room will be good. And Aaron Fuller plays in just awesome high school football in the state of Texas. His dad is a coach, comes from a football family, football program (where) those guys are year-round down there. I actually got a chance to see him probably a year ago when we were out and about recruiting somebody else, when they were out working out for the year next already, so I saw him and ‘Oh, this guy’s good.’
“Jacob Kizer from Oregon is legitimately right now 250 pounds and so he’s a guy we like that can set the edge on that line of scrimmage. And then this one’s kind of unique and interesting: We kept looking at this going, ‘Really. Can this happen?’ But we’ve got two linemen (Nick Harris and Luke Wattenberg) coming from the same high school, but it’s a heck of a high school — JSerra down there in Southern California, same high school Dante Pettis comes from. So we know the program really well, and Coach (Jim) Hartigan is tough, hard-nosed coach, which we really like. These guys have had a hard development going through there, and they have an O-line coach down there that’s really, really good. So they’ve been coached well. And you watch them on tape and you can see how they play with technique and just how well they move. We like athletic guys. Pat Harlow is the offensive line coach and just does a really good coach. I feel strongly about those guys.
“Our two defensive linemen — Some of these guys are interchangeable at that standup BUCK position. Levi (Onwuzurike), Myles (Rice), both Texas guys. Both really good frames, explosive players. It’ll be really interesting to see how they develop. We’re really excited about both those guys, Myles is here now adjusting.
“Our linebackers with Camilo (Eifler), Brandon Wellington and Amandre Williams. Really athletic. I think Amandre is really interesting. He’s a darn good quarterback. I think he threw for, you guys know better than me, close to 3,000 yards or something like that. Then he puts his hand down as a true defensive end. It’s like, ‘How often does that happen?’ Brandon, we already spoke about him; I think he’s phenomenal. Camilo is explosive. He hasn’t played a lot of football in terms of some of these kids who have played since they were like seven years old. He was a basketball player his first two years of high school. I think his second year of high school they talked him into coming out for the time. He ran around, tested vertical jump. All of a sudden he was a short basketball player but a good, decent looking football player. Everyone was going ‘huh? Who’s this guy?’ If you watch his tape it’s really explosive.
“Our secondary is good, these four kids. Byron Murphy, Kentrell (Love), Isaiah Gilchrist from right across the bridge, and Taylor Rapp, who’s already here. These guys are very, very solid. Better than solid. I’m excited to get these guys going. I think Byron, he caught 80 some passes. He’s on tape a guy who has as good ball skills that I’ve seen. And I’m talking receiver-wise as well. I’m not just talking about DBs. Usually those guys are DBs because they can’t catch the ball. This guy can catch the ball. He can track the ball. He’s really excited. He’s going to do some special things. Kentrell Love is very close to 6-1 on our scale. He’s long and when you watch his tape you think ‘okay, he’s kind of long and lean and a cover guy.’ He hits like a linebacker. He’s very, very aggressive. He brings a lot to the table. Isaiah, coming form that great program across the bridge there in Bellevue, we’ve known him for a long time. I think he’s going to fit our program to a tee. He can run. He’s a track guy. We always like that. I’m excited to finally get him in. Taylor, that we do have here early, he’s another guy that played quarterback, played receiver, played running back, wherever they need him. Really, really sharp and physical. We’re excited about that.
“The last is Van Soderberg, kicker. We’re really kind of looking at him in the punting department. He’s athletic. He just kicked down there for those (Capital High School) guys, but according to coaches he could have been a linebacker. He’s close to a 300-pound bench presser, but his mom wanted him to stay to kicking. So they said ‘we’ll honor mom.’ And he’s pretty darn good at kicking and so we’re excited about him as well.”
(On Levi Onwuzurike choosing UW) “I can’t wait to get him here and really ask him that. I think he felt a connection here. I mean all the things we talk about, he’s like ‘I think I fit this place.’ You’re right, there are so many different places that came after him. What were the things that really triggered for him to say ‘hey, that’s where I feel most comfortable with.’ I don’t really know all of those answers right now, but I can’t tell you how excited we are, because this guy can play. I think sometimes kids are just looking; a lot of kids are looking to stay close to home. Some kids are different. Some kids are like ‘I want something different. I’ve been in Texas my whole life. I want to experience some of this water and these boats and those types of things. It’s hard to know sometimes.”
(Jim Harbaugh wants to take Michigan’s spring practices to Florida. Have you ever considered having spring practice elsewhere, maybe Maui?) “Maui? I’m in on that. Yeah, I could. I’m going to talk to Jen Cohen right now as we leave this meeting. I don’t know. I don’t know. I think these are things that the NCAA and everybody has to look at. And I get it. Get around. Get your brand out there. Have other kids see you. We all know coaches will do the craziest things. Whatever you let us do, we’re going to do it. Everybody comes down on the NCAA for all these crazy rules but we see there needs to be kind of structure and all those things to save us from ourselves.
(On media scrutiny has changed the process) “I don’t think it does at all. I don’t think that’s changed at all. I think there are a lot of kids out there that are all about the things that we’re all about. What I do think is harder is I think there’s a lot more outside noise in their ears in terms of making choices, what’s important, what’s the cool thing to be like, to do. But the world has just shrunk. I was just talking to one of our players about that. I don’t think it’s that much different than when I played way back when. What I think is different is the scrutiny and microscope that they’re under is so much different. I think kids – I don’t think the principles of raising kids and doing the right things – I think that’s all the same. But I think they see a lot more. They get influenced more. And that’s where I think it goes back to communication. Like ‘hey, here are the things we really think are important in your development for the next four or five years. These are the things you’re going to be hearing. Is that important to you? Do you want to hear those things?’ That’s kind of what I think about that.”