High School Sports

When it comes to recruiting, Chris Petersen, Huskies have different definition of ‘committed’

Chris Petersen says of any UW recruit: “You need to know in your heart, 100 percent, that there’s not another school you want to go to.”
Chris Petersen says of any UW recruit: “You need to know in your heart, 100 percent, that there’s not another school you want to go to.” The Associated Press

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As National Letter of Intent signing day looms this Wednesday, the Washington Huskies are prepared, as of now, to add 17 players to their roster.

And because recruiting never stops, there are already several prospects, UW coach Chris Petersen said, who say they are ready to make an oral commitment to play for the Huskies in the class of 2017.

But when some of those players tell Petersen about their desire to commit, the coach sometimes does a funny thing.

He tells them to wait a bit.

“We’re slowing them down,” Petersen said, “because they haven’t come up to Washington. They need to come up and see us. They think they know what we’re all about from afar, but they need to really know what we’re about. They need to sit down face to face, see what we’re about, and they need to check out other programs, too.”

At the crux of that attitude is Petersen’s belief that a commitment should mean more than it does in typical college football parlance.

The way he sees it, too many prospects announce commitments as if they are simply reservations, “committing” to one school only as long as it takes to get an offer from another school they would rather attend.

“We’re trying to get away from that,” Petersen said.

So here’s how Petersen does it: When a player says he wants to commit to play football for the University of Washington, that player’s recruitment is, in effect, over. That’s how Petersen views it, anyway, and this much is articulated to the player in his commitment confirmation letter from UW.

And if at any point that player decides he wants to take another official visit (or visits) to other schools, then Petersen no longer considers him committed. In other words: If a recruit is looking at other schools, then UW is looking at other recruits at his position.

This is not how many coaches operate. And Petersen welcomes the perception that UW is a little different. The “no more visits” rule is intended to encourage recruits to do as much research as possible about every school they’re considering before making a commitment.

“You need to know in your heart, 100 percent, that there’s not another school you want to go to,” Petersen said. “And if you can say that, we’ll welcome your commitment. We just try to be thorough on both sides and make sure they understand what a commitment means, and how it changes our recruiting and how it should change their recruiting. We just think it makes for a cleaner, better process.”

And an out-of-the-ordinary one, says Brandon Huffman, Scout.com’s national director of recruiting.

“It’s pretty unique in this day and age,” Huffman wrote in an email. “Many top-tier recruits commit early, then decide they committed too early and still want to look around. But Washington under Petersen has weathered that very thing well, largely because he targets the guys they want early and makes sure they understand the situation. And that’s why they hang on to most of their recruits.”

About that: While other schools sometimes struggle to sign players who commit early and then change their minds — a common occurrence everywhere, and something to which UW was not immune under previous coaching staffs — the Huskies have more or less avoided such hand-wringing under Petersen.

This year’s class will be the third to sign letters of intent during Petersen’s UW tenure, and in that time, only one player — Jalen Greene, a quarterback prospect from Inglewood, California — has publicly committed to the Huskies and wound up signing elsewhere. (Greene was committed to Petersen when the coach was still at Boise State in 2013, switched his commitment to UW after Petersen took the job there, then signed with USC after getting an offer from the Trojans.)

“It’s not really surprising that they have such little wavering,” Huffman wrote. “The guys they target really do fit what they want and what they do, and aren’t the wavering type.”

(Petersen said UW will recruit players who are “committed” to other schools, but only if the coaches at those schools are aware that the player is talking to other programs.)

It isn’t always easy for the kids. It can be difficult to be a recruitable athlete who announces his commitment early without taking all of his official visits, then sits and watches as all of his friends take all-expense-paid weekend trips to some of college football’s most impressive programs.

Camilo Eifler, a four-star linebacker prospect from Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School, committed to the Huskies in July and will sign with UW on Wednesday. If you’ve ever seen his Twitter account, you know he’s as all-in on the Huskies as any recruit can be.

Still, he said he originally wanted to take four official visits, and wound up taking only one — to Washington.

“All my friends, they were uncommitted at the time and they were taking trips,” Eifler said this month. “I follow them on Snapchat, and thought, ‘I wish I could take trips every other weekend.’

“But then when I think about it, (committing early) paid off a lot. I used that time to get better at football and focus on me. I had the time of my life (on my UW visit). I’m just glad I’m in the situation that I’m in with the guys around me, especially the recruits, and the guys at UW and the coaching staff.”

Eifler joked that when Petersen came to his house for a visit recently, the coach let loose a bit and rode Eifler’s skateboard … until the player pulled his phone out to record it, at which point Petersen jumped off.

Petersen doesn’t exactly do viral. And his substance-over-style approach, in general, carries over into recruiting. He loathes what he calls the “car salesman” pitch given by some coaches, who emphasize peripheral matters — uniforms, sponsorships, out-of-conference travel — over foundational, day-to-day operations when encouraging a recruit to attend their school.

“A lot of places seem to gloss over those type of things,” Petersen said.

His philosophy might rub some prospects the wrong way — particularly those with long lists of scholarship offers and plenty of options. But the Huskies must think that’s a worthy tradeoff for being able to (mostly) avoid the anxiety that can surround signing day at a lot of schools.

“Does it cost them some top-tier guys? Probably,” Huffman said. “But the previous staff had guys commit early and then they let them visit other schools, and they ultimately ended up elsewhere.”

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