Huskies Insider Blog

Willingham talks about his fourth UW class

We have a lot of recruiting coverage in the Thursday paper: Huskies, Cougars, Pac-10, sports other than football, you name it.

My primary stories are on the Pac-10 ... where it looks like USC may have nosed in front again. And, of course, on the Huskies, who seemed pretty happy with their 26-player haul.

And for all the potentially damaging stuff that's trickled out since the season ended in Hawaii -- no bowl, the question about coach Tyrone Willingham's future, the staff shakeup, the Todd Turner departure, the Seattle Times series -- none of that seemed to chase off any of the recruits. And so there it sits, certainly ranking in the top half of the Pac-10 and in the top 25 nationally.

"This year had a lot of special hurdles to it," Willingham said. "This was probably an unusual year at the conclusion of the season. But I think it's one of those things in life that they tell you if it doesn't kill you it will make you stronger, and I think our program became stronger."

Here are a few other interesting things Willingham talked about Wednesday:

On what positions seem ripe for freshmen to get playing time: You start with a huge loss in our receiver group. Just about all of our veteran players are gone in that area, so ... some of those guys will walk on campus and be No. 2 from day one. It allows them much greater opportunity.

On signing no junior college players: In terms of making your investment, you like to make your investment in high school players because there's probably a greater chance to have them in your program, to grow them and develop them and have that commitment that you need in a program.

On recruiting against UCLA's Rick Neuheisel: We know and respect him. He is a good recruiter and he does a wonderful job. I think that in the years to come that will be a factor.

On the advantage of recruiting against a brand-new staff at Washington State: This is a real situation that changed hands, so it does take time usually to get your feet on the ground. In this case, the coach was local in a sense, so that made his process probably a lot quicker. But it does slow things down just a little.

On this year's in-state talent: I think it was stronger than some of the other years, probably deeper. I think there have been some really good players each year in the state of Washington. But I think if you went down the list, the depth this year in the state was probably a lot deeper.

On tight end Kavario Middleton: I think Kavario has a tremendous advantage in size over most of the guys we've recruited in the past. He's about an inch, inch and a half, taller than most and probably a little heaver. Yet he has excellent mobility, wonderful hands from his basketball career. He has a lot of the tools that you look for in a tight end. Now it's just a matter of making the adjustment to college football, understanding collegiate defenses, offensive responsibilities, and we think he'll do well.

On offensive line recruit Terence Thomas: When you talk about big you're really talking about Terence. Terence stands 6-7, some would say 6-8. So that is a big man. The way we have described him is he is a skinny individual at 300 to 312 pounds, so it is exciting to get him in the program. Obviously when you get offensive linemen that size one thing that you always say from a defensive standpoint is when they're big like that it's difficult to run around them. You have to run a wide path around them, so that's always helpful for our backs.

On defensive end Everrette Thompson: Everrette is exciting. Everrette really fills a void that we have in a sense, because I think you're always looking for big aggressive defensive-end type players. And I think he matches that for us.

On defensive lineman Senio Kelemete: I'm excited because that is a wonderful combination – Senio and Everrette – that you can maybe place at your defensive end. To that two guys with that kind of power and speed, that is exciting.

On finding two quarterbacks brave enough to sign on with a school that already has Jake Locker: It was a hurdle because I do think most young men out there recognize the ability that Jake possesses. But I do think that at the same time our coaching staff has been very clear that our goal is to play the best players.

On judging the class:

There are two benchmarks. There is the one I call a "paper benchmark," and that is the one you talk about today. Obviously on paper the class looks good. Those of you out there who rank them and rate them, you've rated them pretty high. So by that benchmark, it's a wonderful class. Then the other benchmark is what they do when they're done: What's they're record look like. And to the coaches, that's the benchmark that really matters. Can we as coaches take and develop these guys, make them better than they are now. And can they be driven, be motivated and be the championship caliber team that we want, desire and hope.