BY Art Thiel 07:10PM 02/06/2013

Thiel: Top recruit is tricked-out Husky Stadium

Washington seems to have a nice football recruiting class, but no one really knows. What is factual is that they finally have a stadium that can play with the Eugenes.

The remodeled Husky Stadium finally catches up Washington in the facilities race. / University of Washington

The biggest recruit in the 2013 football class at the University of Washington: A remodeled Husky Stadium.

Asked for the general impression when recruits had the first glimpse of the old joint under new construction, Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said, “Wow. Really wow.”

Since he didn’t use the adjective for any of the 22 new Huskies, we take that as a five-star indicator of blue-chipness. And the beauty of the new “recruit” is it will never flunk out, get homesick or hurt, or need money for a pregnant girlfriend.

As much fuss is made on national letter of intent day, none of it is meaningful until four years from now, and then only in hindsight. But there was no guesswork on the fact that the school’s decision to spend $250 million for a spiffed yard is far more impactful than any new kid’s time in the 40-yard dash or 225-pound reps in the weight room.

“There was some really jaw-dropping moments for them,” Sarkisian said Wednesday of the recruits’ visits to the project that is on budget and on time for delivery Aug. 31, the opener against Boise State. “It’s a distinct advantage for us.”

Given the facilities race that is rampant among TV-revenue-rich BCS programs such as Washington’s, it is debatable as to whether Washington has gained an advantage. But UW sure as hell made up a big disadvantage.

I asked Sarkisian whether he felt in his first four years he had to recruit around a facilities deficit. He answered carefully away from any direct confirmation of the truth that Husky Stadium, relative to the competition, has been a dump to the point of a handicap.

“I never paid that much attention to it,” he said. “Rule No. 2 in our program is, ‘No excuses.’ I didn’t say, ‘We didn’t get that kid because of our facilities.’ Our stadium, prior to this year, was one of the more historic stadiums in college football, in the best setting in college football. Our game-day atmosphere, when it was there, was amazing.”

In the tradition of letter day being over-amped more than the Superdome Sunday, Sarkisian can be indulged his misdirection. He knew full well Washington was operating from a hole, and history to a 17-year-old is the previous night’s episode of “Tosh.0.” And the game-day atmosphere over recent years often has been an echo of the halcyon days.

Recruits were unlikely to cite UW facilities as a negative, but would cite Oregon’s space station of an athletic campus as a reason to spend nine months a year in Eugene. Current Huskies D-lineman Danny Shelton put it best. During the week of the game at Oregon the past fall, he was asked about his recruitment by the Ducks, and how close the competition was.

“It was close,” he said. “I almost went there.” Asked why, he said, “Because of the bling.”

For a lot of high schoolers, the trick-or-treat uniforms, wifi-in-the-toilet, cosmic-whammy offense and splendidly upgraded Autzen Stadium by the University of Nike are huge deals. To them, history is a class to be avoided. The factor of coolness that includes top-tier facilities is the primary reason the Ducks have blown past the Huskies, to the tune of nine wins in a row.

No one knows it better than Sarkisian.

“What is most most impressive to kids is where they live their daily lives,” he said. “The locker room, weight room, training room, meeting room. Then you walk out of that new tunnel and look at the south stands (from a stadium floor lowered six feet), it is an impressive deal.

“The kids saw the vision of where it’s headed. A year from now, it’s going to be even more of an impact. I really believe it’s a game-changer: Best setting in sports for the best fans in college football.”

As for the athletic virtues of this class, the most distinctive thing is another Oregon angle: They were selected for having a better chance to beat the Ducks, who have been slaughtering the Huskies for most of a decade with a spread offense that has been unstoppable for UW.

Sarkisian wants long, lean, fast guys who look a lot like Ducks players, in order to catch Ducks players. He may have been the first college football coach to begin letter day by citing height as the class’s chief physical virtue, as if he had to go up against the Ducks basketball team. He said “11 or 12” players are 6-foot-3 or taller.

Seems he attended the Pete Carroll School of Freakish Outliers. Which of course, he did, as a USC assistant as well as Huskies head coach.

“This has been an ongoing conversation with us, going back a couple of years,” he said of  player body types. “Prior to our first practices, I had a chance to go to some Seahawks practices. I saw Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, those linebackers, Red Bryant. You could see the length they possess, and they can run and cover ground. We’ve been aspiring to that, and addressed a lot of it.”

The same principle of verticality applied to the offense’s wide receivers, where the Huskies last season lacked game-breakers. Sarkisian mentioned two big guys, 6-foot-3 Damore’ea Stringfellow of Perris, CA., 6-4 Darrell Daniels of Pittsburg, CA.

“We wanted to address the explosiveness, or playmaking ability, at the wide receiver position, and I think we were able to do that,” he said.

Whether all these tall guys get the Huskies closer to the skies flown by the Ducks over the last decade is arguable. But with the upgrade at the position of facilities, UW at least is able to play man coverage on Oregon patron Phil Knight’s wallet.


  • jafabian

    Though I don’t believe that before the remodel that Husky Stadium was so horrible it was long overdue for updating. If anything just a paint job. But to compete with the rest of the Pac-12 they have to do what they can to keep pace with the rest. If Sark really wants to impress recruits he should fly them in by seaplane and have it land right outside the stadium. Wish recruits could see what sailgating is like.

    Always wondered if Sark ever went to Seahawk practices. Nice to hear they made an impression on him. I remember Coach James saying something similar after the Huskies lost to Florida and he wanted to start recruiting the kind of players that Florida had.

    • art thiel

      Husky stadium was built in 1920 and it;s amazing how much remained from opening day through 90 winters in Seattle. It was a dump. But as Sark said, its the upgrades that you and don’t see — locker rooms, weight rooms, training and med facilities — that are the “bling” the players care about.

    • Wight

      Huskies never lost to Florida.Dawgs beat them 34 – 7 !

      • art thiel

        It was the Sun Bowl loss to Alabama that stirred James to go more athlete, less student. Three years later, they were great, and five years later, they were on NCAA probation.

  • banished

    So, blingwise, where will the Huskies now stand among major college football teams? Top 10? Top 15? More important, in the college football facilities arms race, how long will they STAY at their new current level? I’m as excited as anyone to see games in the new stadium, but this all reminds me of the old country song, “When the New Wears Off of your Crystal Chandelier.” Remember how ecstatic we all were when the Kingdome opened in 1976? When the Sonics returned to their remodled digs in 1995? Hmmm … what happened to those palaces? David Stern — and thousands of Sonic fans — grew tired of Key Arena about the same time we were told Y2K would make us cavebound.

    In our own lives, this same falling-out-of-love-way-too-soon effect appears in the form of new cars, new trophy wives, and 96-inch flat-screen TVs. That gleaming bling has a nasty habit of gathering tarnish, of becoming just a part of the landscape, astoundingly quick. I’m not trying to spit on anyone’s parade here, but I’m just having a hard time buying into the new UW facilties being the miracle cure, win-losswise, some apparently think they will be. For the other schools who haven’t upgraded their facilities, it won’t be long; the UW is hardly unique. Once the Huskies lose their first home game as a 4-point favorite, the usual fire-Sarkisian crowd will emerge in full crawl from wherever it is they dwell. To them, the new stadium may as well be Lower Woodland Field No. 2.