SEATTLE — As Washington coach Chris Petersen and staff wrap up another edition of spring football practices with Saturday’s fan fest and spring preview — note, it’s not a spring game, by design — at Husky Stadium on Saturday, the Huskies’ coach offered some perspective on college football and why he does what he does.
The Huskies are a program on the rise after winning at least 10 games in three straight years. But they are not on the level of football-crazed schools like Ohio State, which drew over 100,000 fans to its spring game in 2016 or an Auburn, which the Huskies will play in the season opener when the games are for real.
Those programs are constantly monitored by fans throughout an entire calendar year. Is that something Petersen would want? Or would he prefer the frenzy be restricted to the regular season games?
“You’re actually telling me we could get that done? They leave us alone for three quarters of the year and they show up passionate on Saturdays? I’ll take that any day of the week,” Petersen said with a grin.
“I think you can’t have one or the other. Our fans are awesome. College football fans are awesome. They want to talk about it. That’s why this recruiting thing has gotten out of control, because there’s nothing else to talk about other than this overblown, over-hyped recruiting process.”
Ah. The R-word. Recruiting.
It is the engine often driving the discussion when actual games aren’t being played. What will a win over Program X mean for recruiting? Will UW lose or get more recruits by switching from Nike to Adidas?
Petersen’s point was proven throughout the 20-minute session he had with reporters on Friday. He was asked about former Huskies star defensive tackle Vita Vea. It’s suggested Vea won’t fall below the 15th pick and there’s a chance he could go inside the Top 10 of next week’s NFL Draft.
Vea, arguably, is the strongest example of the recruiting approach Petersen and his staff have taken. The story itself is becoming commonplace. UW evaluates a player off the program’s individual criteria, regardless of what the 247 Sports’ and Rivals’ ratings say.
Like Vea. He was a three-star recruit any college could have had. Petersen and the Huskies got him. They mold him and after a few years, he’s the most dominant defensive tackle in college football.
And he’s also the latest player the Huskies can use when it comes to recruiting who they believe can be the next star.
“We are here to recruit and develop NFL players if we can get that done. That’s really, really important to us,” said Petersen, who will be with Vea at the NFL Draft next week. “But that’s not the only thing. That’s probably not even the first thing. But for us to be back there and celebrate that … I think it’s awesome.”
But as Petersen pointed out, whether it be with Vea or any other player, it’s a short window. He suggested Vea could play between eight to 10 years in the NFL. That’s a lengthy career but what will he do with the remaining 50-to-70 years of his life?
Here’s where Petersen gets a bit philosophical.
UW is in an interesting spot. The Huskies have played in two straight New Year’s Six bowl games and recently signed a Top 10 recruiting class that’s the school’s best-ever showing in the modern recruiting era.
Vea’s inevitable selection gives the Huskies back-to-back first round picks — wide receiver John Ross was selected ninth overall in last year’s draft by Cincinnati. Oh, and there’s also that 10-year, nearly $120 million deal with Adidas that starts in 2019.
The program is trending upward. But it won’t change how Petersen approaches how he builds teams or recruits.
“It goes back to the Day 1 stuff. We need passionate Myles Gaskin-type guys … but yet also realize, there’s more to life than just football,” Petersen said. “This education really matters. Not only getting this education but what am I going to do with this education and try to figure that out here.
“We truly believe that we can play with the best and be the best but it doesn’t mean that every waking second is all football.”
But has it ever been tempting to deviate from that plan? Or has that thought even ever crossed Petersen’s mind?
“To us, it’s not a choice. It blows me away when it’s that narrow of a focus by coaches and programs,” Petersen said. “Why would it ever be like that? I think everybody’s life is too important to just be about football. Mine is. I’m not showing up every day to be about football.
“I think the same thing for these kids.”