By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
Chris Petersen has already faced a big challenge as the new University of Washington head football coach, and the 2014 season opener is still seven months away.
Petersen, hired on Dec. 6 to replace Steve Sarkisian, was tasked with salvaging Washington’s current recruiting class and it was no small assignment given that several prospects who had previously committed to the Huskies changed their minds and instead followed Sarkisian to USC.
But with today being national letter-of-intent day, as decreed by the NCAA, Petersen and his staff of assistants have the makings of a respectable recruiting class, and one that could be even better than it appears at first glance.
Washington’s class improved significantly on Tuesday night when 5-foot-10, 177-pound defensive back Budda Baker of Bellevue High School, regarded as the premier prospect in the state, announced he will attend UW. Before Baker committed to the Huskies, Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for FOX Sports/Scout.com, said Baker had been on the fence between Washington and UCLA, but “now it looks like (the Huskies) are probably going to get him.”
Baker joins 6-8, 280-pound offensive/defensive lineman Kaleb McGary of Fife and 5-11, 170-pound cornerback Naijiel Hale of Bellflower, Calif., as premier prospects to announce for the Huskies in recent days.
“In the last week they’ve been on a nice little hot streak,” Biggins said. “They got McGary, they got Hale, and now I think they’re going to land Baker, so they’re actually closing pretty fast. … Getting Baker is huge. He alone almost makes their class.”
Baker took a recruiting trip to UCLA in late January, “and I think he really liked (the Bruins) a lot,” Biggins added. “That’s actually where we had him pegged a week ago. But I think a lot of the family is pulling on him to stay close to home.
“He can come in and play right away. As a safety, a cornerback and returning kicks, he’s really a dynamic guy.”
Sarkisian resigned shortly after last November’s season finale with Washington State, and UW athletic director Scott Woodward hired Petersen a few days later. Though a handful of Washington commits switched to USC in the ensuing weeks, Petersen likewise had several Boise State commits subsequently opt for Washington.
One of them is 6-3, 235-pound defensive end Jaylen Johnson from Corona, Calif., who had offers from several Pacific-12 Conference schools including USC, Oregon and Arizona State. He is, Biggins said, “a big-time guy.”
Other standouts in the class include 6-0, 170-pound wide receiver Dante Pettis from San Juan Capistrano, Calif., “who is probably the biggest sleeper on the West Coast,” while 6-4, 207-pound K.J. Carta-Samuels “is the quarterback they wanted,” Biggins said.
Because of the late start in recruiting for Petersen and his staff, “there’s maybe not a lot of names that wow you,” he went on. “Initially there were probably a lot of Husky fans who were asking, ‘Who are these guys?’ But the guys they’re bringing in are good players, they’re good kids, they work hard … and there are some really high-quality football players in the mix.”
Undoubtedly, the Huskies missed out on a few top players because of the coaching change. Biggins acknowledged as much, but then said, “I want to see what happens when (Petersen) gets a full year under his belt, and when his assistants have a full year to build relationships with those (recruited) players.”
But even if recruiting in the coming years is better, this year’s class is by no means a bust, Biggins pointed out.
“(Washington’s) class actually has some real difference makers,” he said. “And if they can close with Budda (Baker), then I think you’d say this class is successful.”