On the first day of the early signing period Washington all but wrapped up its 2023 recruiting class in star-studded fashion.
Caleb Presley, a four-star cornerback from Rainier Beach High School, flipped his pledge from Oregon to UW after being committed to the Ducks for over six months.
The 6-foot, 180-pound defensive back was the only high school prospect added to the class on Wednesday.
All but one of the Huskies’ 19 verbal commitments put pen to paper and sent in their Letter of Intent.
UW signed only five during the early signing period less than three weeks after Kalen DeBoer took over as head coach on Nov. 30, 2021.
“We got a few more than a year ago, huh?” DeBoer said Wednesday with a grin.
Not only did the staff sign more players than last year, they did so by expanding the recruiting footprint of the program.
California, Colorado Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas and Washington are all represented in the class.
Anthony James, a 6-foot-5 and 265-pound edge rusher, and Diesel Gordon, a 5-foot-11 and 175-pound safety, represent the Lone Star State.
UW has signed at least one recruit from the state of Texas in four consecutive recruiting classes.
Curley Reed, a 6-foot-1 and 180-pound cornerback out of Lake Charles Prep, is the first Louisiana recruit to join the program since fullback Charlston Grimes came as a walk-on in 1990.
To say the Huskies loaded up on defensive backs in this years’ class would be an understatement.
Reed and Presley – both four-star recruits – are joined by fellow four-star safety Vincent Holmes, three-star safety Diesel Gordon, three-star corner Leroy Bryant and cornerback Thaddeus Dixon, a junior college signee.
Dixon is the only Juco addition, but not the only player who comes in with prior college experience.
UW signed six transfers; wide receiver Germie Bernard, a freshman from Michigan State; running back Daniyel Ngata, a sophomore from Arizona State; tight end Josh Cuevas, a redshirt freshman from Cal Poly; edge Zach Durfee, a redshirt freshman from Sioux Falls; edge Joe Moore III, a redshirt sophomore from Arizona State; and linebacker Ralen Goforth, a senior with two years of eligibility remaining, from USC.
DeBoer said six players will enroll at the beginning of January with a potential for six more by the start of spring ball.
Only one commit did not sign on Wednesday.
Taeshaun Lyons, a four-star receiver who made his pledge to UW five days before the start of the early signing period, did not send in his LOI.
DeBoer noted that he expects to add one or two more either before the early signing period concludes or the National Signing Day in early February.
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Last line of defense
DeBoer stated during his early signing day press conference that the positions with the highest number of signees indicates the priority of need, both for next season and beyond.
Washington signed six defensive backs on the first day of the early signing period. As DeBoer alluded to, another player has joined the class on Thursday, third-year Oklahoma State cornerback Jabbar Muhammad. It’s the second transfer at the position along with Dixon which should improve a pass defense that ranks 91st in college football heading into the Alamo Bowl on December 29.
With Jordan Perryman exhausting his final season of eligibility and UW signing only one cornerback, Jaivion Green, in last years’ class, the need for immediate and long-term help at the position is evident.
“The DB position I think that was the position we were most significantly under this year when it comes to the number of scholarships,” DeBoer said. “We certainly had a lot to work with. I would anticipate one more yet joining the class at some point. Address some needs for the future with Thaddeus in there right now as a guy that can come in, has a lot of experience playing at the college level, can come and take some snaps.”
Dixon is expected to slot in as an outside cornerback while Muhammad played both slot corner and on the boundary for the Cowboys.
Despite Oklahoma State ranking 25 spots lower than Washington in pass defense Muhammad was the lone bright spot in the secondary. The cornerback even drew comparisons to a former All-American Oklahoma State defensive back by his head coach, Mike Gundy, before the start of the 2022 season.
UW returns just two upperclassmen at the position next season, Mishael Powell and Julius Irvin. The latter converted to cornerback this season due to mounting injuries before having his season cut short for the same reason. Dominique Hampton, who played most of the season at the Husky – traditionally known as a nickel cornerback – is the only other player with more than 200 at either corner position.
Muhammad played 627 snaps at outside corner and 96 in the slot for Oklahoma State this season and allowed just one touchdown while being targeted 88 times in 12 games. It goes without saying he’ll be an immediate contributor next fall.
As the staff showed this season they aren’t afraid to play true freshmen.
Bryant, Presley and Reed could all see the field in 2023
Reloading the Road Graders
Another position group that saw limited numbers signed in 2022 was the offensive line.
Although UW didn’t need to sign any high school recruits due to the number of underclassmen benefitting from an extra year of eligibility as a result of the Covid season, it meant a need to load up with the 2023 class.
Scott Huff has consistently given his younger offensive linemen a mix of positions in their first year or two in the program to see where they excel most in the scheme. Sixth-year senior Jaxson Kirkland began his career at right guard and ended at left guard with a rather strong 2021 season at left tackle despite battling through injuries.
DeBoer shares the belief that offensive linemen is one of the most important development positions on the roster. As a result UW effectively signed a starting offensive line, five recruits, on Wednesday, including Landen Hatchett, the younger brother of redshirt freshman Geirean Hatchett.
“I think you see a lot of tackle bodies in that position group,” DeBoer said. “A lot of big bodies that can be grown into, especially with a guy like Elishah Jackett and Soane Faasolo. Those two guys exceptional length. And then Zach(ary) Henning and Kahlee (Tafai) also just guys that got big frames already and (are) going to be able to put on some good pounds and move exceptionally well for how big they are.
“Landen Hatchett, interior wise, can do center, could play guard. Just really mobile. Great athlete all around. Excited to have him, especially out of the state of Washington.”
Kirkland and right guard Henry Bainivalu are the only departing lineman that participated in Senior Day, though other linemen could transfer out after the bowl game making the need for an infusion of freshmen all the more vital.
Keeping the Edge
Washington already won the recruiting edge by retaining a pair of their own, sophomore Bralen Trice and junior Zion Tupuola-Fetui, even before Letters of Intent could start pouring in.
With starter Jeremiah Martin finishing his final season of eligibility UW didn’t necessarily need to add an immediate transfer player at the position. The Huskies did however need to build up depth at the position, both for next season and in the years to come.
DeBoer announced three edge signees on Wednesday; Anthony James and Jacob Lane out of high school, and Zach Durfee, a redshirt freshman transfer from the University of Sioux Falls. Joe Moore III, a third-year sophomore transfer from Arizona State, is listed as a defensive lineman but is expected to play both inside and outside.
“Between those four guys you got two transfers and two high school guys,” DeBoer said. “Great length. 6-5. Joe more in a 6-3, 6-4 range. Zach was a guy from my alma mater, Sioux Falls, had entered the portal. Definitely always know what’s going on back home there. He fit the bill in what we were looking for. Has three years left to play.
“Anthony James, probably the thing I want to make sure I want to note about him is just he was one of the guys who really rallied our recruiting class from the beginning back in the summer. Exceptional player. Can’t wait to get him on the football field. But just who he is and his focus and intensity on continuing to make our recruiting class great was certainly notable.
“Jacob Lane committed this summer. Local Washington prospect that – Mr. Athlete. I just love the way he carries himself. Had an exceptional season this year and excited about what the future is there with those edges and how they’re going to follow the guys that we have in the upper tiers and upper grades currently in the program.”
Receiving Some Takers
Around this same time last year DeBoer talked about the impact Germie Bernard would make in Purple and Gold. It took a little longer to materialize than both the coaching staff and Bernard had hoped, but the talented receiver is set to make a significant impact at UW for years to come.
“It’s an awesome thing to be able to get him back. Fired up about Germie and what he’s going to do,” DeBoer said. “He’s got three years left. He’ll be here in January. Really it’s a gap in the class. Denzel was the only one. Those two are going to be a big part of our future there’s no question.”
Bernard, a 6-foot, 200-pound former four-star recruit out of Liberty High School in Henderson, Nevada played in all but one game for the Spartans this season missing only the game against Michigan. He finished with the most receiving yards (128) and touchdowns (two) of any true freshman receiver in the Big 10.
With third-year sophomore Jalen McMillan set to return in 2023 and fellow classmate Rome Odunze still undeclared, UW could feature one of the deepest receiver cores in the Pac-12 if not college football as a whole.
UW has lost one receiver, redshirt freshman Lonyatta Alexander Jr., to transfer since the regular season concluded. It’s expected the room will have at least one more transfer out to make the scholarship numbers work.
Washington didn’t sign a tight end in the 2022 class and needed to bridge the gap.
Josh Cuevas, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound FCS All-American, is a significant linchpin. As a redshirt freshman Cuevas was the second-most targeted tight end at the Football Championship Subdivision level and finished the 2022 season tied for fifth in touchdown receptions (6), fourth in receptions (57), fourth in receiving yards (672) and fourth with 34 first downs in 11 games for Cal Poly.
Combined between juniors Devin Culp and Jack Westover the Husky tight ends totaled 547 yards and 52 receptions with just two touchdowns and 30 first downs.
What makes the addition of Cuevas unique is how he was utilized in the Mustangs offense.
Based on Pro Football Focus’ metrics Cuevas lined up almost 70 percent (305 snaps) of the time in the slot while playing just nine pass blocking snaps in 2022. Both Culp and Westover primarily lined up inline – which Cuevas is also capable of – with 255 combined snaps between the two.
The versatility could create even more mismatches for opposing defenses and result in an even more dynamic offense than the Huskies featured this season.