Not surprisingly, Dan Hawkins isn’t among those who question Chris Petersen’s ability to recruit Pac-12 Conference-caliber athletes now that he’s at Washington after spending eight seasons as Boise State’s football coach.
Hawkins, a gregarious sort, reminds that this isn’t Petersen’s first go-round in the conference. Or in the region.
“The thing you’ve got to remember about Pete is, he was at Oregon,” said Hawkins, Petersen’s former boss at Boise State, of Petersen’s stint as an assistant at UO in the mid-1990s. “He gets that. He knows what the climate is. When he was at Oregon, he was a bird-dog recruiter. He got a lot of good players in there.”
Whether he can get a lot of good players at UW remains to be seen. Petersen will sign his first class as the Huskies’ coach Wednesday after taking over for Steve Sarkisian in mid-December.
The first class for any first-year coach is often a no-lose scenario. With so little time available to sign a full class of 25 players, fans often aren’t quite as upset if the class winds up ranking a little lower than what is usually considered acceptable.
Petersen’s first effort is shaping up to be fine, according to Brandon Huffman, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com, though there are still a couple of big fish — chief among them Bellevue athlete Budda Baker, the top recruit in the Northwest — who could buoy this class further.
Helping matters, Huffman said, is that Petersen didn’t recruit at a Mountain West level when he was at Boise State. So the transition isn’t quite as staggering as it might seem, despite the fact that six players formerly committed to Boise State have changed their minds and made public their intention of following Petersen to Washington.
Of those six, four are ranked as three-star prospects by Scout.com, and two are ranked as two-star prospects.
According to Scout.com’s database, Sarkisian’s first class in 2009 did not include a player rated better than three stars. His final class, which was considered his best, included 13 three-star and eight four-star prospects.
So far, Petersen’s first class is expected to contain at least two four-star prospects who have already committed: quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels from San Jose, Calif., and cornerback Naijiel Hale — the son of late singer Nate Dogg — from St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif. Baker and Fife offensive tackle Kaleb McGary, both of whom are considered four-star prospects, could join the class.
At Boise State, Huffman said, Petersen and his staff “would go toe-to-toe with BCS programs, and while they’d lose more than they’d win because most recruits wanted to play at a bigger school, they still were targeting those guys.”
“Each of the commitments from the Boise State verbals, save two, had BCS offers, and some had Pac-12 offers, too,” Huffman said. “In this particular class, I think they’re targeting the same kind of players they were at Boise State, just because they’re familiar with them, but I think they will definitely be aiming higher when they have their first full class.”
Landing Baker, who is also considering UCLA, could change perceptions even more.
“Budda Baker himself, I think, makes this class an A,” Huffman said. “Steve Sarkisian wasn’t getting Baker, and he struggled for the most part keeping in-state talent. If Petersen can bring in Baker, after he already had committed to Oregon, and then kept one of the best prospects from the state in a decade home, despite playing major catch-up, I think it serves major notice of the type of recruiting they can do.”
The message is mostly the same, said UW running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Keith Bhonapha. UW’s academic credentials are more impressive than Boise State’s, so that pitch helps. But there are more important things.
“I think the other thing that I will continue to sell is, we care more about these guys than just football,” Bhonapha said. “We want to help build these guys as individuals. We’re taking a 17-year-old young man, and he’s going to be with us the next four to five years. His family has to trust that we’re going to teach him more than just how to run a play.”
Hawkins, who hired Petersen as an assistant at Boise State and knows his recruiting style as well as anyone, said a no-nonsense approach is what helps attract the kind of players Petersen wants.
Petersen calls them “OKGs,” short for “Our Kind of Guys.”
“I think he’s very honest, and he’s very forthright, and I think that attracts a certain sort of an individual, and I think that leads to the culture of your team,” Hawkins said. “There’s no hidden agendas, no false statements, no innuendo, no misunderstanding. I just think he has a tremendous amount of integrity in how he deals with those guys and what he wants and what he expects.”