SEATTLE - Washington coach Tyron Willingham landed the largest and deepest recruiting class of his three-year tenure Wednesday.
He said his Huskies' shocking, 4-2 start to last season - including a last-play loss at Southern California - got Washington into more living rooms. Many doors were slammed shut to Huskies' recruiters after a two-win season in 2005 and a 1-10 catastrophe in '04, the latter under Keith Gilbertson.
"The encouraging thing is that we're gaining more acceptance," Willingham said following a 5-7 season that also including an overtime loss at co-Pac-10-champion California and an upset win at Washington State in the Apple Cup.
"The young people were pleased with some of the things we did last year. Obviously, we're not totally pleased with what we did last year. But there was progress."
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The 27-player class has 14 Californians and six from Washington. It is led by flashy wide receiver Anthony Boyles from Compton, Calif., speedy running back Brandon Johnson of Hawthorne, Calif. , and two new kickers who have jobs to lose in the fall: punter Jared Ballman, a junior college transfer from San Diego, and placekicker Eric Folk, yet another Californian from Woodland Hills.
"We will still make our focus Washington and California. That will never change," Willingham said.
Running back Nate Williams from Kennedy High School in Burien, tight end Chris Izbicki of Kirkland's Lake Washington High School and massive, athletic lineman Emeka Iweka from Rainier Beach High School in Seattle led the in-state signees. Williams and Izbicki fill positions of need. Iweka fills every coach's dream of having a 6-foot-4, 340-pound menace who can run. Iweka, who plays for Rainier Beach's basketball team, will begin as a defensive linemen at Washington.
• WSU FOCUSES ON DEFENSE: Looking to improve upon last year's mediocre season, Washington State coach Bill Doba went heavy on defense.
The Cougars announced 23 high school or junior college transfers had signed national letters of intent as Doba looks to do better than last season's 6-6 record.
"I think we filled some needs we had," including eight players in the secondary," Doba said.
Cougars coaches signed four safeties and four cornerbacks.
Grossmont College Junior All-America defensive back Terry Mixon from San Diego, Calif., is considered the Cougars' top pick. The 6-1, 190-pound Mixon played both safety and cornerback and was a five-star pick by the Scout.com recruiting service.
Devin Frischknecht, 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, of Snow Junior College in Utah, was brought aboard to help out at tight end.
Among Washington state signees are two quarterbacks: Class 4A 2006 Player of the Year Marshall Lobbestael of Oak Harbor and Pullman's J.T. Levenseller, son of Cougars' offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller.
With Eric Block, who signed as a safety but played quarterback at Bellevue, the Cougars added three signal-callers from championship teams, Doba noted.
• BEAVERS LAND RUNNING BACK: Running back Ryan McCants of Santiago High School in Corona, Calif., made it official and signed a letter of intent to play for Oregon State, where he'll follow the footsteps of the likes of Ken Simonton and Steven Jackson.
McCants, at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, rushed for 1,439 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior, but missed much of his senior season with a broken fibula. He chose Oregon State over Colorado.
• DUCKS ADD TO DEFENSIVE LINE: The Oregon Ducks, who had trouble stopping the run at times last season, landed five defensive linemen on Wednesday, the first day of the national signing period. Ranking services had named Oregon as the 11th best recruiting class in the country.
Two key catches were teammates Carson York and Brandon Hanna of Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, which went 12-0 and won the big-school Idaho championship.
• FLORIDA RATED NO. 1 IN RECRUITING, TOO: The Florida Gators capitalized on last month's national title win over Ohio State and down years from Sunshine State rivals Florida State and Miami to bring in the top recruiting class in the country Wednesday.
"No one is even that close to them," recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CSTV said. "They got help everywhere."
Florida's class also was rated No. 1 by SuperPrep, Rivals.com and National Blue Chips, beating out Southern California, Texas and two of the Gators' SEC rivals, Tennessee and LSU. UW signs only six from Washington