Since Chris Petersen arrived at Washington he’s kept the state’s top recruits at home.
When the Huskies football coach inked his first recruiting class in 2014, despite being hired just two months before signing day, Petersen retained Bellevue High School star Budda Baker — who was dubbed the state player of the year by The News Tribune, Associated Press and The Seattle Times.
Baker was regarded as the top recruit in the Northwest in his class, and originally committed to the Oregon Ducks, but reopened his recruitment and then signed with the Huskies.
“That first class, Budda had committed to Oregon, and Petersen flipped him back,” said Brandon Huffman, the National Recruiting Editor at 247Sports.com. “Then they closed with Kaleb (McGary).”
Baker and McGary, a four-star lineman out of Fife, were the state’s top two recruits in that class, and Petersen kept both.
“You want to keep the kids in-state right here. That’s where it starts, without question,” Petersen said at his opening press conference in 2013. “Now, there’s a lot of good players in the Northwest, and it’s going to be a competitive battle to be able to keep them here.
“But, I look at this setup, I look at what we have to offer and I think we’ve got a great shot of keeping some of those great players right here.”
Including his inaugural class, Petersen has successfully recruited the top player in Washington in four of the six classes he’s signed. In 2017, the Huskies missed out on Graham-Kapowsin’s Foster Sarell, who signed with Stanford, and a year earlier on premier Lake Stevens quarterback Jacob Eason, who left for Georgia — though Eason has since transferred to UW.
“After they lost Eason and Foster in back-to-back years, it was kind of like, never again — if there is a top kid in the state, we’re keeping that kid,” Huffman said. “And that coincided with them winning.”
Petersen’s careful attention to his own backyard has rekindled in-state recruits’ interest in the Huskies. Because of that, Petersen’s staff has ended a trend that dates back to before The News Tribune first produced its annual Northwest Nuggets football recruiting package in 1988.
For the first time in recent memory, the Huskies have signed the state’s top quarterback recruit and top offensive lineman recruit in the same year, according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings, which survey various media outlets, and records kept by The News Tribune.
Graham-Kapowsin quarterback Dylan Morris, the consensus No. 1 recruit in Washington in the 2019 class, and fifth-ranked pocket passer in the nation, earned an offer from the Huskies before his sophomore campaign. And Rainier Beach offensive lineman Nathaniel Kalepo, the No. 2 recruit in the state, was offered the summer after his sophomore season.
The two verbally committed within a month of each other that summer, and never wavered, signing their National Letters of Intent during the NCAA’s early period this past December. And Morris, who graduated high school early, has already enrolled at UW.
“It was just definitely that home feeling, and the coaching staff there, you can’t beat it,” Morris said last summer. “My parents can be at every game. I’ve grown up with the dudes in the quarterback room, so I’ve played with them, trained with them and played against them.”
Kalepo, who grew up in Seattle, said as soon as the Huskies offered, he knew where he wanted to go.
“UW has been a dream school of mine since I was like 5,” he said. “To have that family connection I did at such a young age, I feel like that really influenced my decision of where I wanted to go. ... They basically made it a point to tell me I’m not only going to become a better football player, but I’m going to leave the program a better man. I just thought that was huge.”
Before Morris and Kalepo, the allure of staying home for the state’s top quarterback and top lineman hasn’t been as strong — at least not in a single class. In years past, the Huskies have often had success recruiting one, but not the other.
Last year, the program got close. Bothell quarterback Jacob Sirmon chose UW, but Woodinville’s Cade Beresford, who the Huskies never offered, signed with WSU. Beresford was ranked just above Fife offensive lineman M.J. Ale, who did sign with UW.
In 2012, the Huskies kept Mercer Island quarterback Jeff Lindquist, but Puyallup offensive lineman Joshua Garnett, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers, went to Stanford.
And, back in 2006, Ferndale’s Jake Locker remained in state, and was a beloved member of UW’s program before playing four seasons with the Tennessee Titans. But Stephen Schilling, from Bellevue’s Academic Institute, signed with Michigan before spending time in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers and the Seahawks.
The only exception to this drought would seemingly be in 2008, when UW signed Rainier Beach offensive lineman Alameda Ta’amu, and Evergreen of Seattle quarterback Luther Leonard — but Leonard never threw a pass for the Huskies, and eventually made the jump to wide receiver.
Twice in Petersen’s tenure — in 2017 and 2016 — the Huskies missed out on the state’s top quarterback and top lineman. Twice during the five seasons Steve Sarkisian coached at UW, the Huskies also missed out on both.
Under Sarkisian, the Huskies kept the state’s top overall recruit just once in five seasons, landing Gig Harbor’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins in 2011. Skyline’s Max Browne (USC), Garnett, Skyline’s Jake Heaps (BYU) and Garfield’s Deandre Coleman (Cal) all went elsewhere.
Petersen is now regularly keeping top recruits from Washington at home, and has signed 40 in-state players in his first five seasons — averaging eight per class.
“Really the point of emphasis has been on keeping those local guys, and offering them early,” Huffman said.
Morris, Kalepo and Federal Way linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala, the state’s ninth-ranked recruit, who also signed with the Huskies in December, join the fraternity of UW players who have stayed home.
“For all of us to end up on the same team, people like Jacob Sirmon, (Arbhishop Murphy’s) Kyler Gordon, (Wenatchee’s) Trey Adams — he’s coming back for another year, so I get to soak everything up he has to offer — it’s a blessing,” Kalepo said.
Kalepo chose the Huskies over offers from 18 other Division I schools, including nine Pac-12 programs. Morris turned down early offers from Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon and Oregon State to join UW.
The two have long been considered the consensus top two players in Washington, and were the only two from the state invited to Nike’s The Opening Finals in Dallas last summer, which showcases the nation’s top recruits. Morris was also a finalist in the Elite 11 quarterbacks competition last spring in California.
Kalepo helped pace Rainier Beach to the Class 3A state playoffs — including a runner-up finish his junior season — twice during his high school career, and is a two-time AP all-state selection.
Morris took Graham-Kapowsin to the 4A state playoffs each of his four seasons behind center, making it as far as the quarterfinals, and cracked the top 10 on multiple all-time passing lists in the state — even passing Eason in career yardage (9,815) on his final throw.
He is seventh all-time in career yardage and eighth in career completions (636). Morris also completed 62.3 percent of his passes in four seasons with the Eagles, and threw 99 touchdowns.
Kalepo, who has the Seattle skyline tattooed on his left forearm, said he thought it was “awesome” that many in-state recruits have stayed in the past several seasons.
“Obviously they’re doing something special down on Montlake,” he said.