The biggest recruit in the 2013 football class at the University of Washington: A remodeled Husky Stadium.
Asked for the general impression when recruits had the first glimpse of the old joint under new construction, Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said, “Wow. Really wow.”
Since he didn’t use the adjective for any of the 22 new Huskies, we take that as a five-star indicator of blue-chipness. And the beauty of the new “recruit” is it will never flunk out, get homesick or hurt, or need money for a pregnant girlfriend.
As much fuss is made on national letter of intent day, none of it is meaningful until four years from now, and then only in hindsight. But there was no guesswork on the fact that the school’s decision to spend $250 million for a spiffed yard is far more impactful than any new kid’s time in the 40-yard dash or 225-pound reps in the weight room.
“There was some really jaw-dropping moments for them,” Sarkisian said Wednesday of the recruits’ visits to the project that is on budget and on time for delivery Aug. 31, the opener against Boise State. “It’s a distinct advantage for us.”
Given the facilities race that is rampant among TV-revenue-rich BCS programs such as Washington’s, it is debatable as to whether Washington has gained an advantage. But UW sure as hell made up a big disadvantage.
I asked Sarkisian whether he felt in his first four years he had to recruit around a facilities deficit. He answered carefully away from any direct confirmation of the truth that Husky Stadium, relative to the competition, has been a dump to the point of a handicap.
“I never paid that much attention to it,” he said. “Rule No. 2 in our program is, ‘No excuses.’ I didn’t say, ‘We didn’t get that kid because of our facilities.’ Our stadium, prior to this year, was one of the more historic stadiums in college football, in the best setting in college football. Our game-day atmosphere, when it was there, was amazing.”
In the tradition of letter day being over-amped more than the Superdome Sunday, Sarkisian can be indulged his misdirection. He knew full well Washington was operating from a hole, and history to a 17-year-old is the previous night’s episode of “Tosh.0.” And the game-day atmosphere over recent years often has been an echo of the halcyon days.
Recruits were unlikely to cite UW facilities as a negative, but would cite Oregon’s space station of an athletic campus as a reason to spend nine months a year in Eugene. Current Huskies D-lineman Danny Shelton put it best. During the week of the game at Oregon the past fall, he was asked about his recruitment by the Ducks, and how close the competition was.
“It was close,” he said. “I almost went there.” Asked why, he said, “Because of the bling.”
For a lot of high schoolers, the trick-or-treat uniforms, wifi-in-the-toilet, cosmic-whammy offense and splendidly upgraded Autzen Stadium by the University of Nike are huge deals. To them, history is a class to be avoided. The factor of coolness that includes top-tier facilities is the primary reason the Ducks have blown past the Huskies, to the tune of nine wins in a row.
No one knows it better than Sarkisian.
“What is most most impressive to kids is where they live their daily lives,” he said. “The locker room, weight room, training room, meeting room. Then you walk out of that new tunnel and look at the south stands (from a stadium floor lowered six feet), it is an impressive deal.
“The kids saw the vision of where it’s headed. A year from now, it’s going to be even more of an impact. I really believe it’s a game-changer: Best setting in sports for the best fans in college football.”
As for the athletic virtues of this class, the most distinctive thing is another Oregon angle: They were selected for having a better chance to beat the Ducks, who have been slaughtering the Huskies for most of a decade with a spread offense that has been unstoppable for UW.
Sarkisian wants long, lean, fast guys who look a lot like Ducks players, in order to catch Ducks players. He may have been the first college football coach to begin letter day by citing height as the class’s chief physical virtue, as if he had to go up against the Ducks basketball team. He said “11 or 12” players are 6-foot-3 or taller.
Seems he attended the Pete Carroll School of Freakish Outliers. Which of course, he did, as a USC assistant as well as Huskies head coach.
“This has been an ongoing conversation with us, going back a couple of years,” he said of player body types. “Prior to our first practices, I had a chance to go to some Seahawks practices. I saw Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, those linebackers, Red Bryant. You could see the length they possess, and they can run and cover ground. We’ve been aspiring to that, and addressed a lot of it.”
The same principle of verticality applied to the offense’s wide receivers, where the Huskies last season lacked game-breakers. Sarkisian mentioned two big guys, 6-foot-3 Damore’ea Stringfellow of Perris, CA., 6-4 Darrell Daniels of Pittsburg, CA.
“We wanted to address the explosiveness, or playmaking ability, at the wide receiver position, and I think we were able to do that,” he said.
Whether all these tall guys get the Huskies closer to the skies flown by the Ducks over the last decade is arguable. But with the upgrade at the position of facilities, UW at least is able to play man coverage on Oregon patron Phil Knight’s wallet.