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The class of 2006
Malamute, 7 February 2006

Where are the playmakers, the pocket busters, and the pancake servers in this recruiting class? The five-star studs? The Huskies need playmakers, not prayer makers. They need kids who will stick around for three years, not for four or five and grow beards. In other words, the UW needs immediate help, having gone 3 for 19 over the last two years.

Put another way, the Huskies were last in the nation in scoring two seasons ago, averaging 14 points per game. This last season, they averaged a meager 21 points per game, this in the face of the top teams in the conference which averaged around 40 points per game.

Putting more points on the board will be at a premium for the Huskies next season.

Is there anyone in the 2006 class who can take it to the house, recapture momentum, turn a game around and put points on the board?

Quarterback Jake Locker, a four-star athlete out of Ferndale who signed a letter of intent with Washington, may do an impression of Marques Tuiasosopo next season; he comes out of high school with a stronger arm than Tui, so they say. The only kicker Ė actually, there arenít any kickers in this class Ė is that past history says that Locker, a man among boys, could very well opt out of his commitment to sign a professional baseball contract (e.g., think Grady Sizemore and Matt Tuiasosopo).

Junior college transfer Marcel Reese (6-3, 235, 4.4) fits the mold of a playmaker. With his speed and size, he could give the Huskies a quick fix at wide receiver, replacing Craig Chambers who left school prematurely.

Defensive tackles Cameron Elisara (6-3, 295, 4.9) and DeíShon Matthews (6-5, 253, 5.0), as true freshmen, could qualify as pocket busters as early as next season.

Will offensive linemen (J. C. transfers) Brandon Jefferson (6-5, 310, 5.0) and Aaron Mason (6-6, 265) serve up some pancake blocks this next season? The Huskies need immediate help on the offensive line and, in this regard, went to the J.C. ranks to fill some gaps, pun intended. Evidently, Jefferson hasnít yet signed a letter of intent, according to Scout.com, and may have academic issues. Getting Jefferson enrolled will be critical for the Huskies.  

At safety, J. C. transfer Ashlee Palmer (6-2, 210, 4.4) promises an immediate impact, as will the reliability of Danny Morovick, who was recruited as a long snapper, and just that.

All three linebackers that were signed (Matt Houston, Paul Homer, and Donald Butler) are unranked at their position and were given two stars each by Scout.com. All three of them ran the ball with good success in high school. 

But failing to sign Parade All-American James Montgomery, who orally committed to Washington in the early going of the recruiting rush, but signed with Cal, could be the Achilles heel of this recruiting class. You canít have enough running backs in my opinion. After next season, with the graduation of Kenny James, a committee of what now appears to be vaporware and two studs will be needed to fill an immense hole at running back. J. R. Hasty and Louis Rankin will be left to fill the void.

Mistakes and holes in a recruiting class will eventually show up in the won/loss column, the net effect of which can get a coach fired faster than almost any other reason, although at Washington, which is always the exception, there are plenty of other reasons for getting fired. Not bringing in a can't-miss running back qualifies as a gargantuan hole in recruiting this season; the absence of a tight end, which used to be a Washington staple, and the lack of a true lock-down corner could, in future years, contribute to gaps in the depth of the overall team. 

Of the 21 players signed, 9 of them are linemen; 7 are Junior College transfers (Jefferson would make 8).  Losing 2 of the 3 top in-state student athletes (Taylor Mays to USC and Steve Schilling to Michigan) doesnít speak well for Coach Tyrone Willinghamís recruiting prowess. Locker's opting for baseball in June would further diminish Willinghamís mojo, considering the loss of Montgomery. Former coach Rick Neuheisel would have sealed the deals on Montgomery, Schilling and Mays, although in some peopleís minds, he may be the reason the deals werenít sealed.

This class, which is ranked 35th in the country and 6th in the Pac-10 by Scout.com, could be part of what appears to be an incipient pandemic: three mediocre recruiting classes in a row and counting Ė this said in deference to a number of talented players from the past two classes (2004 and 2005), as well as from this one, as witnessed above.  Once more, depth will be an issue for the Huskies this next season.

The recruiting rankings are becoming a more important predictor for success than in the past because, for one thing, the combines are separating the wheat from the chaff.* For example, an all-everything quarterback from Riverside County failed to get a D1 scholarship offer because of a lackluster performance in the combines. Iíll let you Google Ted Millerís article on the subject of recruiting classes and concomitant success on the gridiron.

The other downer: One-third of the 2006 class consists of J. C. transfers. Past history doesnít speak well for the Huskies in this regard either.

Counterargument: Taylor Barton, a JC transfer, was the last Husky quarterback to post a victory against USC (10/27/2001; 27-24).

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times has compiled a list of the 25 Junior College transfers Washington has recruited over the last 10 years. In my estimation, only 9 of those 25 players helped the Dub. The rest were hampered by injuries, didnít qualify academically, didnít pan out on the playing field, or just dropped out of school for one reason or another.

Before the start of the 2005 season, Coach Willingham bemoaned the lack of speed and toughness on his team. Yet, it's hard to act like a tough guy after getting hammered in the trenches, the pretense being ethereal. The UW needs to do its own pounding for a change, and needs more guys with six-pack abs -- that Rich Alexis look (see photo above). In his case: no gut, plenty of glory. I don't always get a warm, fuzzy feeling at Picture Day.  **

The smirk on Pete Carroll's face, his Trojans among the top recruiting classes in the nation, is like that of the smartest kid in the school spewing from memory a gaggle of lines from Chaucer in dialect, making all the rest of us feel like those kids who were left behind.


* Recruiting rankings are becoming more of a determiner for predicting success on the field: The five teams in the Pac-10 with winning records last season (USC, UCLA, Oregon, California and ASU), according to data taken over the last 5 recruiting seasons, have an average national ranking of 25.04. The teams with losing records (Stanford, OSU, UA, WSU, and UW) have a national average of 38.16. These same stats say that Arizona and UCLA are on the rise nationally, while Washington has bottomed out.

From a correlative standpoint, this is as good as it gets, for recruiting rankings are still a bit iffy. Looking at the same data, one could say that Cal (five-year ranking of 32.2) has overachieved while the UW (five year ranking of 30.6) has underachieved. The coaching situations at the two schools most likely explain part of the disparity; however, Cal's ranking (62nd in the nation) in 2002 affected its average. Its four-year average after 2002 is 21.5, while Washington's is 32.5.

** Basking in the warm sun,  while chatting with Dick Baird, Alexis was one of the few Huskies who dared go shirtless at the Olympia training facility a couple of Augusts ago. I kept my shirt on, as I listened to their conversation.

Weights, heights and 40 times were taken from Scout.com.

Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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