SEATTLE — Steve Sarkisian resurfaced Wednesday afternoon, looking refreshed and resplendent in a pinstriped suit.
The Washington football coach had been underground for more than six weeks. He hadn’t met with reporters since the Huskies’ loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. No postmortem news conference. No making sense of the 2012 season. No looking ahead to 2013. The coach shunned publicity, put his head down and went back to work, hoping to eliminate the perception that his program had lost momentum after three straight 7-6 seasons.
Nothing explains the state of a program more accurately than signing day. The fax machine doesn’t lie. The proof of progress, as well as the hope for improvement, always comes down to whether a program can lure quality prospects to sign letters of intent. This was an important recruiting year for Sarkisian as he prepares for his fifth season at Washington. He gave it his full attention at closing time. And just like the coach, the entire program emerged Wednesday with a reminder that, despite some struggles on the field, there is still ample reason to trust the Huskies will soon become elite once again.
Washington’s 22-member class has plenty going for it: the acclaim of recruiting gurus, battles won over the nation’s best programs and, most important, the common sense of bringing in talent that matches the Huskies’ needs.
Scout.com touts the Huskies’ class as the nation’s 14th best. ESPN ranked it No. 18, as did Rivals.com. The class is led by the well-regarded receiving trio of Damore’ea Stringfellow, Darrell Daniels and John Ross. The Huskies also did some of their best work in signing four defensive linemen who have the size and height they’re seeking to improve the defense. In fact, throughout this recruiting class, you see the coaching staff’s desire to become “bigger, faster and more athletic” on defense, Sarkisian said.
“I believe this class is in the upper echelon of our conference,” Sarkisian said. “Which is exactly where we want to be.”
This class is also the jolt of good news that the program needed after a rough finish to last season. The Huskies weren’t a great team last season, but they managed to rise to a 7-4 record late in the year, including victories over Pac-12 champion Stanford and nationally-ranked Oregon State. Dreams of an eight-win season seemed likely, and hopes of nine wins weren’t tossed aside as a fairy tale. Instead, the Huskies lost their last two games, falling to WSU in the Apple Cup and to Boise State in the Vegas Bowl.
So, they were 7-6. Again. And this one came with significant frustration.
A banner recruiting class doesn’t remove any of that bitter aftertaste. It does change the conversation, however. It does remind of the virtue of Sarkisian and his staff.
Remember, this was the first full recruiting year for the bulk of a staff that Sark revamped last year. It was impressive to see what Tosh Lupoi, Peter Sirmon, Johnny Nansen and the rest of the coaches accomplished as a staff of new and old Sark assistants. They had a little more turnover among the assistants after this past season, but overall, this recruiting class shows how well the reconfigured staff meshed and operated under a shared vision over the past year.
“They are highly competitive, and they set the expectations for the caliber of player that we want to recruit,” Sarkisian said. “This class is about quality.”
The Huskies had six primary goals this recruiting season. They wanted to be more explosive at wide receiver. They wanted some better pass-rushing defensive linemen. They wanted more length and size at linebacker. They wanted more length among their defensive backs. They needed a kicker. And when addressing the offensive line, they wanted to bring in a quality center.
As you look at their 22 signees, you can see that they accomplished everything on that list. The length on defense is most striking. It’s something that Sarkisian has wanted for several years, and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox believes in it, too.