Washington football coach Chris Petersen shouts to his team in the second half of a Sept. 15 game in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Washington football coach Chris Petersen shouts to his team in the second half of a Sept. 15 game in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Huskies’ signing class could be best of Petersen era

  • Tuesday, February 5, 2019 6:02pm
  • Sports

By Mike Vorel

The Seattle Times

Let’s start with some unrealistic expectations.

’Tis the season, right? After all, Wednesday is national signing day, a college football holiday marked by press conferences wherein every coach at every school raves about every one of their 20-something signees. Every program is on the rise. Every need was filled. Every team is undefeated and will be forever and ever.

It’s no different at the University of Washington, where 20 recruits signed with the program in December and several more are expected to officially join the class on Wednesday.

So how does the 2019 class compare to its Husky predecessors?

“Shoot, this might be the best class UW has ever had,” defensive tackle signee Noa Ngalu told The Times on Tuesday in a phone interview from the library at Menlo-Atherton (Calif.) High School. “I can’t wait to get it started.”

But first, let’s all stop and take a breath. Best ever? It’s far too early to tell and possibly reckless to even suggest. But that doesn’t mean UW fans shouldn’t be plenty excited.

“I think no matter what this is going to be (head coach Chris Petersen’s) best class that he’s signed,” said Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247Sports.

“They’ve got a fantastic D-line group, both with defensive tackles and guys that are playing on the edge. You’ve got a fantastic linebacker corps. You’ve got a top-quality secondary class. You’ve got a running back. You’ve got a quarterback. You’ve got at least one receiver and potentially two.

“Up front on the offensive line you’ve got guys that can come in and play right away. You’ve got some guys that you’re going to be able to develop. Then, to make it even more worthwhile, you get a top-tier kicker. You’re seeing not only an upgrade in talent, but more importantly, playable talent, and filling just about every need.”

Just about. If Washington’s current class — which is ranked 14th nationally by 247Sports — has a weakness, it’s that the Huskies snagged just one wide receiver and zero tight ends during the early signing period in December. UW may be able to patch those holes on Wednesday, when tentative USC commit and consensus four-star wide receiver Puka Nacua announces his college destination. Huffman said that Petersen and Co. “very realistically do have a shot” at flipping Nacua, who has taken official visits to UW and Oregon in the last few weeks and also has a brother who plays for Utah.

Outside of Nacua, two four-star Huskies linebacker targets — Daniel Heimuli and Henry To’oto’o — will sign with someone on Wednesday. Huffman said he’d be “stunned” if Heimuli doesn’t ink with UW, while Alabama is still the favorite to land To’oto’o’s services and signature, though the Huskies might not be far behind.

“As far as Henry is concerned, everything I’m hearing is still Bama, but Washington has made it compelling,” Huffman said. “They’ve certainly put themselves in the mix.

“I think Washington has been that one Pac-12 school that has just hovered there the entire recruitment, and I still think they have a realistic shot of getting him. But they’ve just got to overcome the big lead Alabama had built up over the last six to eight months.”

In Petersen’s dream signing day, To’oto’o, Heimuli and Nacua — plus four-star safety Asa Turner, who reaffirmed his commitment to the Huskies last week — would add to an already impressive haul. Of course, that might be just a dream.

But what if the dream came true?

“It would be tremendous (for UW),” Huffman said. “It would be up there among their biggest signing day closes probably since they signed Budda Baker and Kaleb McGary in the same class, or the year that they got Shaq Thompson and a few other guys that committed on signing day.

“You don’t have that impact Shaq Thompson-type guy, but you close with three of your biggest targets for the better part of a year — one at an extreme position of need at receiver and the other two at a (linebacker) position that you’ve really stocked up well.”

If, somehow, that all came to pass, UW’s existing signees would deserve some credit for the accomplishment. After all, nine Huskies signees participated in the Polynesian Bowl all-star game last month, more than any other program. They spent a week in Hawaii playing with, practicing with (and, yes, recruiting) some of the top uncommitted prospects in the country.

Any guesses which other players attended?

Nacua? Check. Heimuli? Check. To’oto’o? Check. Turner? Check.

They came. They saw. They recruited.

“I think last year is when you really saw the impact the Polynesian Bowl had on prospective recruits,” Huffman said. “(Washington defensive tackle) Tuli Letuligasenoa didn’t sign in December, spent a week in Hawaii around all the Polynesian Bowl players going to Washington and ultimately turned. That week had a huge impact on him.

“A year later, Daniel Heimuli was coming off his official visit to Oregon. Henry (To’oto’o) had already visited Washington in the fall, but he was getting ready to visit Alabama. Then (Alabama defensive coordinator) Tosh Lupoi, who was recruiting both of them, leaves.

“Now you’ve got nine other guys that are already committed to Washington spending that entire week recruiting them, and a lot of guys had just come off their own official visits to Washington earlier in the month.”

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