BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 02/04/2016

Thiel: Petersen and the myth of recruit rankings

Based on his experience in Boise State, where he beat Oklahoma and Oregon with one-star recruits, Huskies coach nearly sprains his eyebrow when it comes to recruiting “services.”

Coach Chris Petersen, here with CB Kevin King in Hawaii, announced an “exciting, uneventful” third recruiting class at Washington Wednesday. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Followers of this column know that letter-of-intent day often has been declared the most dubious day in the annual national sports calendar, because it is sound and fury signifying (almost) nothing. Finally, even Chris Petersen got around to acknowledging it Wednesday.

“These days are certainly different than they used to be way, way, way, way, way back in the day — about five years ago,” the Huskies coach said, smiling, “when maybe you (reporters) didn’t know everything about — more than we know — about these recruits.

“I should just start asking you about who we missed, who are guys you know we don’t.”

Well, thanks for that insincere flattery, coach, but no, we don’t know. We know you don’t know, either. In fact, nobody truly knows what’s in the heads and hearts of 17-year-old boys, including all of the 18-member freshman class announced Wednesday at Montlake.

Some things can be known about their bodies — height, weight, strength, speed — but those same bodies are loaded with the world’s most unstable fuel — testosterone.

Nevertheless, the college football culture looks at one website’s ranking of national recruiting classes, another website’s distinctions between five-star recruits and four-star recruits, yet another website’s forecasts for freshman impact, and believes all of this guesswork combines to mean something. It does not.

The proof comes after four, sometimes five, years, when the highly touted freshman class inevitably is down to 12 or 13 survivors. Flunk-outs, drop-outs, firings, injuries, pregnant girlfriends, overbearing parents, transfers, coaching changes, turning pro — all of the age-old predations on football players that turn the predictions to mush.

Yet early every February, about the same time Pennsylvanians rely upon a large furry rodent to forecast the weather, the college football nation relies on less reliable indicators to classify teams as empires or failed states. Given a choice, I’d take Bill Murray and give the points.

Petersen, who has to make his living navigating this phantom universe, understands that rankings are meaningless. He spent years at Boise State helping make alleged one-star white chippers into conquerors of Oklahoma and Oregon.

I don’t know . . . I need to be careful,” he said. “I’ve got a chip on my shoulder about that. I think at Boise at one time in the year, with the class that ranked No. 75, we were No. 3 in the country. Those are the rankings you need to pay attention to.

“We thought all along we were getting really good players there. Now, things change a little bit, being in (the Pac-12 Conference) and this university. People have asked: ‘Is it easier recruiting here?’ No, it’s harder recruiting here. There’s more competition. There’s so much parity.

“But I don’t know about those stars. We just don’t get caught up in them. We take pride in doing so much research. Then all of a sudden they say, ‘Oh, this is a really good recruiting class, this is the highest ever,’ and it’s like, who’s saying that?”

The “who” are many, but few are in the know. Sure, it’s easy for any of us to spot those truly incandescent youngsters who have what it takes for college and pro greatness, like the five-star hero, everyone’s No. 1, Jake Heaps . . . I mean, Jake Locker . . . I mean, Jake Browning, the current Huskies quarterback. Whew. Time to use the jake brakes for my literary truck.

One who figures to get closest to knowledge is Petersen, who by all accounts is as detail-oriented as was Don James. I tend to take Petersen’s word that he’s done his research, given what he helped create at Boise State.

“The thing that is so hard to measure in this whole thing is all the intangible factors,” he said. “On tape, it’s pretty easy to evaluate a kid. Do any of these recruiting services look at a kid’s transcript and really find out his background? No. That’s not their job. That’s our job.

“To us, we think (intangibles) factor into so much, in terms of how a kid develops. That’s why talent is overrated. Everybody’s got talent. How do they handle being away from home? And what kind of teammates are they? How we can develop them? That’s why I’m so lukewarm on (recruiting rankings). There’s a lot of guys who have a lot of talent, and it’s like, ‘We’re not going to recruit that guy.’ He might turn out to be good, but it’s just not the profile we’re looking for.”

Still, Petersen misses. He’s thrown off the team a couple of players he’s recruited, as well as nearly 10 he inherited from his predecessor, Steve Sarkisian. There’s always a handful who don’t pan out, but remain on the team.

But the fact that Petersen, as well as his predecessors and successors, made a national powerhouse at Boise State from a blank slate, tells much about the minimal value and virtue of recruit rankings.

Petersen, apparently getting comfortable at the start of his third campaign at Washington, seemed to enjoy explaining his tactics, even pretending to share a confidence with the muggles gathered for letter day.

“It’s really a unique and secretive deal,” he said. “So I hesitate to say it — it’s just called honesty. We just try to be as honest with these guys as we can.”

Petersen thinks that being direct and square with players about what to expect from Washington and what he expects plays a big role in having none back out of their oral promises to Montlake.

“The problem with these kids who change their minds is they get so much pressure on them from professional salesmen,” he said, which may or may not be a shot at his profession. “That can be very confusing, not only to the 17- or 18-year-old, but to the families who have never been through this. That’s a really hard thing.

“We try to educate them on the whole process the best we can. Like, what will be coming if you commit to us. We think we’re in this together, and we don’t want a kid to commit to us unless he, in his heart, feels like, ‘This is really where I want to go.’”

Below is the list of Washington’s recruiting class. Feel free to add or subtract all the stars you wish. You won’t be wrong.

Or right.

Washington 2016 football recruiting class

Player Pos. Height Weight Hometown High School
Daniel Bridge-Gadd QB 6-3 195 Phoenix, AZ. Paradise Valley
Jordan Chin WR 6-0 151 San Fernando, CA. Chaminade
Camilo Eifler OLB 6-2 214 Berkeley, CA. Bishop O’Dowd
Aaron Fuller WR 6-0 177 McKinney, TX. Lovejoy
Isaiah Gilchrist CB 5-10 188 Bellevue, WA. Bellevue
Nick Harris OL 6-1 282 Inglewood, CA. JSerra Catholic
Jacob Kizer TE 6-4 250 Salem, OR. West Salem
Kentrell Love CB 6-1 165 Corona, CA. Centennial
Sean McGrew RB 5-7 173 Torrance, CA. St. John Bosco
Byron Murphy DB 5-11 172 Scottsdale, AZ. Saguaro
Levi Onwuzurike DL 6-4 262 Allen, TX. Allen
Kamari Pleasant RB 6-0 195 Rialto, CA. Etiwanda
Taylor Rapp S 5-11 196 Bellingham, WA. Sehome
Myles Rice DE 6-4 220 Houston, TX. Bush
Van Soderberg K/P 5-11 199 Olympia, WA. Capital
Luke Wattenberg OL 6-4 275 Trabuco, CA. JSerra Catholic
Brandon Wellington OLB 6-0 215 Kent, WA. E. Catholic
Amandre Williams DL 6-3 223 Maple Valley, WA. Tahoma


  • jafabian

    Don James didn’t always have the best recruiting class until the last couple years of his career when Napolean Kaufman and Jason Shelley were recruited out of California. But he always had a top 15 finish and got to the Rose Bowl several times which ultimately is what you want. A top 10 recruiting class can inject some excitement but what’s best is keeping the in state recruits and getting a top tier bowl.

    I did enjoy Petersen’s comments yesterday. He not only believes in the football program but the school itself as an educational institution. Rare is the time you hear a coach say that.

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  • Kirkland

    Honest question. Do college coaches recruit for l specific position needs, or the best available player? I’m wondering how much of recruiting strategy is similar to a pro team’s draft philosophy.

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