Maybe it’s still too early to tell, but some local coaches and experts say the 2021 high school football class could be the best Washington has ever produced.
There are five sophomores in the state ranked in the top 50 nationally in their class by 247Sports.com — with more expected to emerge.
“It’s special,” said Brandon Huffman, the national recruiting editor at 247Sports. “Usually when you see a class emerge, it’s going into their junior year, maybe even their senior year.
“This class, when they were freshman ... you were like, there are four or five guys in here that are future stars.”
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The five players from the 2021 class in Washington that have already burst into the national recruiting conversation after breakout freshman seasons include four from South Sound schools — Sam Huard (Kennedy Catholic), Emeka Egbuka (Steilacoom), Julien Simon (Lincoln) and Will Latu (Bethel).
“I think we’re in a rare time as far as football goes, that so many freshmen are not only playing at the varsity level, but also making a huge impact,” Steilacoom coach Colby Davies said. “I think the quality of football players is getting better.”
The No. 1 ranked prospect in the nation by 247Sports is from Sammamish: Eastside Catholic’s J.T. Tuimoloau. He is a 6-foot-5, 280-pound linebacker and defensive end for the Crusaders, and a four-star recruit with size and speed.
Tuimoloau has already drawn an offer from defending national champion Alabama, and has nine more from Boise State, Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Oregon State, Tennessee, Utah, USC and UW.
After him, though, look further south for a big talent pool:
▪ Huard (6-2, 180) is listed as the No. 13 prospect in the nation in 2021. The four-star recruit, who was the MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year a season ago, tied a state record in his opener two weeks ago, throwing for 10 touchdowns.
In just two games, he has thrown for 1,024 yards on 52 of 81 passing with 12 TDs and two interceptions. He holds offers from Florida, Nevada and WSU.
“He is a seeker,” Kennedy Catholic coach Sheldon Cross said of Huard before the season began. “He is somebody that seeks how to be great.”
Tuimoloau and Huard are the top two recruits on the West Coast in the class. Huard is also currently ranked as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the nation in 2021.
“There were more Washington kids in the top 50 than any state in the West when we did our initial top 50,” Huffman said. “There were two Washington kids before you got to a California kid in the rankings period. That’s unheard of.”
▪ Steilacoom’s Egbuka (6-1, 180) is a four-star athlete, listed at No. 38. He has early offers from Florida State, Oregon and Oregon State.
Davies, says after relying on raw talent, an ability to high point the ball and run past defenders at wide receiver last season as a freshman, Egbuka has refined his game.
“His game has transformed,” Davies said. “Not only is he bigger, stronger and faster — he has put a lot of work in the weight room to develop this summer — but he’s also playing defense for us.
“He’s a lockdown corner. He’s shown he has a special ability there. He’s improved so much of his game. … The maturity of him is just crazy. He presents himself like a senior.”
▪ Lincoln’s Simon, who was a preseason MaxPreps sophomore All-American pick, is listed at No. 45.
“He had a big freshman year,” Abes coach Masaki Matsumoto said in August. “He’s physically gifted, naturally strong and big. He can really go get the football.”
Simon (6-2, 215) is listed as a four-star athlete — a sure-handed slot receiver who also plays nickelback — and is the South Sound’s most recruited player in the 2021 class at this point.
He has offers from Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Tennessee, USC and Utah.
▪ Bethel’s Latu (6-2, 185) is a running back and safety. He is listed at No. 46 and has an offer from USC. In last week’s near upset of defending Class 3A state champion O’Dea, Latu scored two touchdowns.
Beyond these five, Huffman says there could be plenty more players from Washington in the 2021 class that gain national recognition as their careers progress. The class has star power and depth, he says.
“There are kids that aren’t even starting on varsity right now, that we don’t even know about, that will end up (making a big impact) in that class,” Huffman said.
Kennedy Catholic receivers Junior Alexander and Jabez Tinae already have Division I offers, while teammate Reed Shumpert has generated plenty of interest. Garfield’s Antwan Brown has an offer from Arizona.
Camas quarterback Jake Blair was impressive in his opener against Lincoln, and Mount Si backup Clay Millen has an offer from Oregon, where his older brother Cale is already committed.
“The class of 2021 might be the best class in Washington state history from top to bottom,” Cross said. “There’s so much talent. There’s so many kids that want to be great, and they’re all the same age and grew up playing well at all different levels.”
Huffman, who has covered recruiting in the Northwest for more than a decade, said there have been impressive recruiting classes in Washington in the past.
In 2017, the most recruited player ever in the state, Graham-Kapowsin’s Foster Sarell, signed with Stanford. Sumner’s Connor Wedington joined him there. And Eastside Catholic’s Hunter Bryant and Juanita’s Salvon Ahmed signed with UW.
Puyallup’s Josh Garnett (Stanford, San Francisco 49ers) and Lakes’ Zach Banner (USC, Pittsburgh Steelers) topped another talented class in 2012.
A year before that, a handful of NFL players, including Gig Harbor’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins (UW, Jacksonville Jaguars), Skyline’s Kasen Williams (UW, Indianapolis Colts), Gonzaga Prep’s Bishop Sankey (UW, free agent most recently with the Minnesota Vikings) and Auburn’s Danny Shelton (UW, New England Patriots) made their college commitments.
But no class, Huffman says, has been top-to-bottom quite as intriguing as this 2021 group.
“This class is unreal,” Huffman said. “That’s the only way to properly describe it.”