Hope and promise. Those two words are why National Signing Day and recruiting, as a whole, comes with so much year-round drama.
Washington fans can relate. In down years, recruiting has been used to determine what players can restore the Huskies to relevance. Or as recent years have shown, it’s now a matter of what former high school stars can continue UW’s trek of competing for Pac-12 Championships and College Football Playoff appearances.
The 21 players the Huskies signed this year come with expectations. It’s the strongest recruiting class Chris Petersen has ever assembled. The group is also the highest-rated bunch the Huskies have pieced together in the modern recruiting era. As of Wednesday afternoon, they were the No. 2 class in the Pac-12 and ninth overall, according to 247 Sports.
The Huskies finished strong by grabbing four-star defensive back Julius Irvin and four-star defensive tackle Tuli Letuiligasenoa. UW missed out on four-star defensive end Jeremiah Martin, who opted to sign with Texas A&M.
UW also included Jacob Eason on the release of new players. Eason, a Lake Stevens native, is transferring from Georgia. He’ll sit out the 2018 season and will be eligible to play for the Huskies in 2019.
“We feel very positive about this group,” Petersen said in a release about Eason and UW’s two signees. “Our staff did a lot of homework and research, and we believe that all of these guys are not only excellent players, but also good fits for our culture.”
Now comes the fun part.
Of the players UW signed, it’s about trying to figure out who are the players that can come and help the Huskies right away. Here’s the five players to look out for in the fall:
NO. 1 ALE (BRANDON) KAHO, LB
UW returns senior linebackers Tevis Bartlett and Ben Burr-Kirven but there is an opening now that Keishawn Bierria has graduated.
A former BYU commit, Kaho spurned the Crimson Tide and chose the Huskies. At 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds, he was the composite No. 7 linebacker in the nation. Kaho was a composite four-star but 247 considered him to be a five-star prospect.
“I just think for one thing, in that defense, they really treasure athleticism at linebacker,” said 247 national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman. “They also want guys who are high football IQ guys.”
Huffman said Kaho has the ability to diagnose plays and quickly bring them to an end. He also said Kaho knows where to be on the field at all times.
“It’s not just his athleticism. But his instincts and ability to read the plays, react quickly, shed tacklers and drop into coverage,” Huffman said. “He is the complete package.”
NO. 2 TULI LETULIGASENOA, DT
Landing Letuligasenoa fulfilled a need the Huskies had at defensive tackle. Four-star offensive lineman Sam Taimani is moving to defensive tackle but Letuligasenoa gives UW a natural at the position.
The 6-foot-1 and 338-pound four-star prospect is expected to compete for the role that was occupied last season by Vita Vea. Vea, in his final year at UW, won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award.
“He was a little banged up partly because he is taking on double and triple teams. At least in the last two years,” Huffman said. “He’s a guy that has played a high level for quite some time and he brings that experience.”
Letuiligasenoa committed to USC last spring but switched to UW. Getting a high-end defensive tackle is only one of the reasons why getting Letuiligasenoa was important to the Huskies, Huffman said.
He starred at national power Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and its puts the Huskies in the position of trying to build a pipeline out of the football factory.
“This cannot be understated enough. He brings (UW) some connection to De La Salle,” Huffman said. “A lot of school have been trying to crack that pipeline.”
NO. 3 MARQUIS SPIKER, WR
Receiver is an area of need with Washington losing senior Dante Pettis to graduation. Plus, the Huskies will have Chico McClatcher and Quinten Pounds back after they suffered season-ending injuries.
UW will have 15 receivers on the roster but Spiker, a four-star prospect, could present himself as an immediate option. The 6-3 and 180-pound target holds the California prep record with 72 touchdowns. As a senior, he hauled in 83 receptions for 1,490 yards and 27 touchdowns.
“He’s sneakily fast. At his size, he may not look like a burner but he gets separation,” Huffman said. “He has a big catch radius and he’s a guy that I think will be a really key target.”
NO. 4 AUSTIN OSBORNE, WR
The Huskies have four receivers on their current roster who are taller than 6-2. Osborne and Spiker are two of them.
Osborne is 6-2, 188 pounds and has the ability to stretch the field while imposing his will on a cornerback who underestimates him.
As a senior, he led Mission Viejo with 47 catches for 889 yards and nine TDs.
“He’s physical ... You have to put your bigger, thicker corner on him,” Huffman said. “Against bigger corners, he has an advantage. He’s crafty with his routes and can lull people into a false sense of security.”
NO. 5 KYLER GORDON, DB
Huffman said UW’s depth at defensive back will make it tough for Gordon to break into the rotation. But he could make his mark in the return game.
Pettis, who holds the NCAA record for punts returned for touchdowns, is gone and there’s a void the Huskies need to fill.
Gordon handled returning duties at Everett Archbishop Murphy for three seasons while also starring on defense and offense.
“Kyler has that extra gear,” Huffman said. “He’s fearless. He does not care of there’s not a wedge that’s been set or there’s open field. He’s going to make his cut and go.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark
University of Washington’s 2018 recruiting class
M.J. Ale, OL, 6-6, 361, Tacoma, Wash. (Fife)
Draco Bynum, DL, 6-4, 258, Wilsonville, Ore.
Devin Culp, TE, 6-3, 235, Spokane, Wash. (Gonzaga Prep)
Victor Curne, OL, 6-3, 313, Houston, Texas (Second Baptist)
Jacob Eason, QB, 6-5, 235, Lake Stevens, Wash. (Lake Stevens / Georgia)
Kyler Gordon, DB, 6-1, 177, Mukilteo, Wash. (Archbishop Murphy)
Dominique Hampton, CB, 6-2, 197, Glendale, Ariz. (Centennial)
Julius Irvin, DB, 6-1, 177, Anaheim, Calif. (Servite)
Brandon Kaho, LB, 6-1, 218, Reno, Nev.
Tuli Letulgasenoa, DL, 6-1, 338, Concord, Calif. (De La Salle)
Trey Lowe, WR, 5-7, 174, Portland , Ore. (Jesuit)
Matteo Mele, OL, 6-5, 277, Tucson, Ariz. (Salpointe Catholic)
Mosiah Nasili-Liu, DL, 6-2, 281, Puyallup, Wash. (Emerald Ridge)
Richard Newton, RB, 6-1, 183, Lancaster, Calif. (Palmdale)
Austin Osborne, WR, 6-2, 188, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. (Mission Viejo)
Jackson Sirmon, LB, 6-2, 224, Brentwood, Tenn. (Brentwood Academy)
Jacob Sirmon, QB, 6-4, 227, Bothell, Wash.
Marquis Spiker, WR, 6-3, 180, Wildomar, Calif. (Murrieta Valley)
MJ Tafisi, LP, 6-0, 224, West Jordan, Utah (Alta)
Sam Taimani, DL, 6-2, 320, Salt Lake City, Utah (East)
Zion Tupuola-Fetui, LB, 6-2, 250, Pearl City, Hawaii
Colson Yankoff, QB, 6-4, 204, Hayden, Idaho (Coeur d'Alene)