BY TODD MILLES / Staff writer
On Wednesday, Benning Potoa’e -- the biggest, most imposing man on the Lakes High School campus – was in the mood to prank inquiring classmates.
And he did by wearing a UCLA T-shirt around school.
“They were like, ‘You are making it so obvious,’” said Potoa’e, arguably the top high school football recruit in the state – and one of the top uncommitted prospects on the West Coast.
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Well, not so fast. Because when Thursday came around, it was decision day – and the 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive lineman wore a solitary blue sweatshirt, keeping his real college-choice intentions stuffed away in a backpack.
The teenager of few words did not waste much time: He pulled out a purple University of Washington hat from his backpack in the school’s career center, giving the Huskies a virtual clean sweep of the state’s top recruits for 2014-15.
The Huskies, UCLA and Oregon were all in close battle – up until last weekend when he made his official visit to Montlake.
“They gained a lot of separation on the visit,” Potoa’e said. “It was nothing flashy. But it felt like home, and brought me the most comfort.”
Just for reinforcement, UW coach Chris Petersen and defensive line coach Jeff Choate met with Potoa’e and his parents, Aleki and Sherry, on Wednesday night at Farelli’s Pizza in DuPont.
“I committed to them quietly,” Potoa’e said. “They were happy.”
This announcement puts a tidy bow on the Huskies’ in-state class. They have already received other pledges from Federal Way tailback Chico McClatcher, Marysville-Pilchuck defensive back Austin Joyner, Bellevue offensive lineman Henry Roberts, O’Dea tailback Myles Gaskin, Wenatchee offensive lineman Trey Adams and Lincoln linebacker Justiss Warren.
“Both UCLA and Washington did a great job of building a relationship with him,” Lakes coach Dave Miller said. “(The decision) was like splitting hairs. But in the end, being close to home mattered.”
To prove how far Petersen has restored the Huskies’ good faith with in-state players and colleges – two years ago, the chances of Potoa’e following in the footsteps of older brother, Sione, to the UW with former coach Steve Sarkisian around would have been deemed a long shot.
Miller went as far as to say that even with Benning Potoa’e and his parents visited the UW campus last weekend, they were still uncertain if they wanted to spend another four seasons tied for the purple and gold.
“Coach Pete did a great job,” Miller said, “of showing this is a new era.”
Potoa’e, a three-time News Tribune All-Area first-teamer, goes to the UW as a defensive end/outside “Buck” linebacker – but is open to playing some tight end.
“I always told myself I’d break the (UW family) chain,” Potoa’e said. “I guess not.”