There once was a time when the best high school football players in the Northwest grew up wanting only to be Huskies. With the exception of a few outliers, most of them were set on coming to Montlake since the day they first pulled on a helmet and shoulder pads.
Not much of a sales pitch was required. Very little persuasion was needed. It was a no-brainer. It was give me that national letter of intent and tell me where to sign.
Lately, that's not been the case for the University of Washington, even this week after Lynden Christian High School tight end Kade Eldridge committed to USC on Wednesday and Kennedy Catholic High offensive lineman Micah Banuelos narrowed his choices to Oregon, Texas A&M and USC on Tuesday.
Both were Husky targets. The Purple and Gold simply didn't hold their interest.
This comes after Rainier Beach offensive lineman Josh Conerly Jr. picked Oregon, Lake Stevens running back Jayden Limar committed to Notre Dame and showcase Lincoln of Tacoma edge rusher Jayden Wayne pared his suitors to Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Michigan State and Oregon in the previous weeks and months.
No Huskies, no deal.
This happened after a host of other offensive linemen such as Todd Beamer's Malik Agbo signed on with Texas, O'Dea's Mark Nabou chose Texas A&M, Graham-Kapowsin's Vega Ioane selected Penn State and Puyallup's Dave Iuli settled on Oregon.
So what gives?
Well, there's clearly a layer of permafrost below the surface hampering the UW's newly introduced Loyal to the Soil campaign.
For one, college football has changed dramatically with the transfer portal and name, image and likeness opportunities often canceling out the automatic desire to be a hometown hero. Money always talks. Geographical preference is becoming a distant afterthought. Players are more of their own little corporations with national desires and don't need hometown adulation.
Two, it appears a lot of damage was done to the Husky football program with two coaching changes over the past three seasons, with the leadership suddenly transferring from Chris Petersen to Jimmy Lake to Kalen DeBoer, with a disastrous 4-8 season mixed in.
That's disastrous, as in the way the UW barely beat three of those opponents in the closing minutes, seconds or overtime, and each of them ended up with a losing record.
No one wants to rebuild anymore. They want their college programs on solid footing or they're not coming at all. They want to make steady progress, not start over.
While Petersen brought a winning reputation to Seattle, some recruits even back then felt he was a little too conservative for their tastes or the UW was too singular in what it had to offer. They wanted UCLA and Hollywood. Or Oregon and Nike. That trend has continued to evolve.
DeBoer is dealing with all of those things now as he implements his program.
The recent losing. The limited NIL frills and thrills. The absence of a glitzy Lincoln Riley marketing campaign — though the Huskies should make a point of introducing every last recruit to Mr. Personable, UW receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard.
The bright lights are blinding these young high school players these days as the nation's top football programs go everywhere for talent, unconcerned themselves about how many of their own locals they sign.
Ferndale High offensive lineman Landon Hatchett, younger brother of the Huskies' well-regarded center/guard Geirean Hatchett, has narrowed his choices to Michigan, Texas A&M, Oregon, USC and the UW, and he seems to be enjoying the national courtship. His family connection hardly guarantees he will commit to the Huskies.
On Monday, DeBoer was able to draw a commitment out of Emerald Ridge edge rusher Jacob Lane, but that's just scratching the surface, with a lone local among the six 2023 commitments received so far.
This means the Huskies frequently have to shift to Plan B, but Plan B is not always a bad thing.
While losing out on Lake Stevens' Limar, the new Husky coaching staff earlier gained a commitment from Bakersfield's Tybo Rogers, currently rated as California's No. 2 running back in this class. So the addresses are different, but the players might be very similar.
As an unknown coach, Don James had to show what he could do on Saturdays before he stemmed the flow of the Northwest's better players leaving for schools elsewhere. Early on, he lost Shorecrest High quarterback Marc Wilson to BYU and Wilson High running back Phil Carter to Notre Dame, both of whom became highly productive collegians and All-Americans. Meantime, James made sure to pick up a lot of California talent to offset those losses.
Moving forward, DeBoer will find the only sure way in keeping more of the top locals home is to win right away and do it in an exciting manner, all of which is certainly possible.
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