Puyallup's Joshua Garnett, Lakes' Zach Banner head talented group of in-state offensive linemen
Even talent-rich states like Florida and Texas can't match the depth and talent of this state's group of top high school offensive linemen.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The question was simple, the excitement genuine.
Mariner High School's standout running back, KeiVarae Russell, was asked what it would be like to run behind an offensive line that included Washington's top five prospects at the position, some of the most highly sought recruits in the country.
"Oh, my gosh!" Russell said. "That's like a running back's dream right there. I'm pretty sure I would break every rushing record there is."
While Russell thought about what it would be like to sprint untouched for 15 to 20 yards each carry, with Joshua Garnett (Puyallup), Zach Banner (Lakes), Walker Williams (Tacoma Baptist), Nathan Dean (Juanita) and Cory English (Auburn) blocking for him, Mercer Island quarterback Jeff Lindquist was asked the same thing.
"It would be incredible," the Washington recruit said. "That's a pretty solid top five. I don't think it matters where you go, you're not going to find talent like that. Those guys are studs."
Washington has produced its share of blue-chip offensive linemen in recent years, including Bellevue products Stephen Schilling, an NFL rookie with San Diego, and David DeCastro, a junior at Stanford. And former Bothell standout Colin Porter was an impact player for the Huskies as a freshman last season.
But the 2012 class is different. It is as deep as it is talented. The top five prospects all have blue-chip potential, and by signing day, there could be 10 or more Division I offensive linemen from Washington.
"It's kind of indicative of the whole West Coast, because this is the deepest year the West Coast has ever had and Washington is definitely in that mix," said Brandon Huffman, a national football recruiting analyst for FoxSports.com and Scout.com. "Any time you have the No. 1 player at his position, a guy like Josh Garnett, and then you've got a guy like Zach Banner, who is right behind him, that's good for any state. Then you just go down and depth-wise is where they really impress."
When it comes to offensive linemen, Washington's crop this year is better than Florida's, better than Texas' and as talented as, if not better than, the group out of California.
"I would have to say they lead every state," CBS recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. "California would be the only state that would have the elite offensive linemen like Washington does."
The dynamic duo,
Walker Williams and everybody else
Garnett and Banner decided, for a few minutes anyway, they wanted to try a new position.
One of the five-star offensive linemen lined up at receiver, while the other stood across from him at cornerback. Garnett is 6 feet 5, 285 pounds and Banner is 6-9, 330, so the scene was as entertaining as these seniors are big.
However, watching Garnett and Banner go one-on-one in positions they are unfamiliar with, it quickly became clear the state's top prospects have the athleticism to match their size, in addition to knowing how to put on a show.
Sure, their routes weren't crisp and the technique was all wrong, but they still managed to move gracefully. So it's no surprise Garnett is the top-rated guard prospect in the country, according to Scout.com, while Banner is listed as a top-10 tackle.
Their list of suitors includes major programs from the SEC to the Pac-12.
"While I watched Garnett's film, I was amazed," Lemming said. "Play-wise, there might not have been a better offensive lineman in the country."
Then there's Walker Williams, the 6-7, 320-pound tackle from Tacoma Baptist, who gave a verbal commitment to Wisconsin this month. After Lemming watched Williams for the first time — he knew the senior's name and nothing else — he called him "one of the 10 most impressive looking guys I've seen," and that's out of a group of about 1,500 players he saw in person this year.
"He's got long arms, quick feet," Lemming said. "I don't know about the competition there. Everything else, though, once he gets to college and gets coached, he could turn out to be the best of the bunch."
Garnett, Banner and Williams get a lot of the attention, but there is little drop-off after that. Nathan Dean (6-5, 270) committed to Washington. Mount Si's Josh Mitchell gave a verbal commitment to Oregon State and Nooksack Valley's B.J. Salmonson committed to Washington State. English, Bellevue's Jake Eldrenkamp and O'Dea's Sam Flor each have Pac-12 offers.
"There are a lot of big names and this is a really big class for linemen," Eldrenkamp said. "I've just been working hard. I was blessed with size, now I get to use it."
"Humble" group puts Washington linemen
on the map
Every lineman in this group has a story, a path that helped push them to this point. Garnett is the son of former Washington defensive lineman Scott Garnett. Dean's father, Tony, didn't let his son play growing up, no matter how much he begged.
English benefited from daily practice battles with current Huskies freshman Danny Shelton at Auburn High School, while Mitchell carries a chip on his shoulder because, at 6-3 ½, 275, some consider him undersized.
"It just pushes me, because I'm not 6-5 like a lot of those guys, so I get overlooked and that's what's driven me the past couple of years to work hard to just be as good as those guys," Mitchell said.
However, when it comes to being part of this year's elite recruiting class, no matter how they got to this point, they are all humbled by the process.
"It's a big responsibility," Banner said. "A lot of people around here, they look at the names Josh Garnett and Zach Banner and lots of other names like that. To represent the highest of the high, that's a real honor and it's also a big responsibility."
Added Garnett, "It's been very eye-opening, I guess. I don't really see myself as a big-time, huge football player guy. I'm just a guy who likes to play football, who wants to go out there and knock some heads around and play a game I love."
With the understanding of what it means to be included in this group comes the motivation to prove they belong, which only helps aid their development.
"You work hard every day to be the best," English said. "To see that there's someone above you it just makes you work harder to be the top guy."
It also makes them wonder what it would be like to play together, a thought as exciting for the linemen as it is for skill guys like Russell and Lindquist.
"I think the correct term would be Dream Team," Banner said. "But that's already been taken about five times. That's the best five in the state and you think about that, that's somebody's dream."
Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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