Steve Sarkisian makes Washington a winner on signing day
In his first full recruiting season, coach Steve Sarkisian has broken through by landing a top-flight recruiting class on signing day. It bodes well for Washington's future.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Sometime during its telecast of the 2009 Rose Bowl, ABC trained its cameras on Steve Sarkisian as he prowled the sideline for the last time as USC's offensive coordinator.
Sarkisian was headed for his first head-coaching assignment at Washington, and legendary play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger gushed about the Huskies' good fortune. His analyst, Kirk Herbstreit, however, was more cautious.
"He better recruit," Herbstreit soberly interjected.
His charge, when he came to Washington last winter, was unambiguous. Sarkisian was supposed to restore the Huskies' lost football glory. He was supposed to take Washington to places it hadn't consistently visited since the Don James era.
It was a daunting assignment.
Washington had been down so long, it has forgotten what up looked like. It hadn't been to a bowl game since the 2002 Sun Bowl. It no longer was a destination for blue-chip recruits. At best, Washington was a fallback position.
But as signing day will attest Wednesday, Washington is back in the game, back in the living rooms, back in contention for blue-chip recruits.
The Huskies have returned to the big stage in a big way. They still are involved with three recruits who will announce their intentions Wednesday on national television.
At sunrise, four-star safety Sean Parker from Harbor City, Calif. will choose Washington, California or Michigan. Later, linebacker Josh Shirley, from Fontana, Calif., will pick Arizona, Miami, USC or Washington. And defensive tackle Ricky Heimuli, from Salt Lake City, will decide on Washington, UCLA or Utah.
The Huskies may not get any of these three (Heimuli is the longest of long shots). But the fact that, on signing day, UW is on the minds of some of the remaining best in the West is a huge upgrade from Februarys past.
When Sarkisian came to Washington, his main priority was to get the school back on the national stage. He had to show an energy and appetite for recruiting that his predecessor, Tyrone Willingham, never had.
Sarkisian needed to have commentators on ESPNU and FSN talking about Washington, because every talented high-school freshman, sophomore and junior is paying attention on signing day.
Sarkisian had to win in February before he ever could win in November.
Perception is reality, and the perception by everyone who touts recruiting classes is that Sarkisian has scored this winter. He has gone toe-to-toe with USC, Oregon, California, Michigan — all of the schools James used to compete with, and beat — and he has won his share of battles.
The adage that games aren't won on paper doesn't apply on signing day. In college football, you have to win on paper before you win on the field.
Taking advantage of the changes at USC, Sarkisian won battles in California. He swept through Hawaii like a Kona wind and signed four of that state's top recruits. He won turf wars in his home state.
Already Sarkisian has addressed the yawning needs in his program. He signed Lakes defensive tackle Sione Potoa'e. He added a top Hawaiian recruit, offensive tackle Micah Hatchie. And running back Deontae Cooper from Perris, Calif., already is enrolled in school.
Sarkisian beat every big school on the West Coast for Erik Kohler, generally considered the best offensive lineman in California. Kohler will protect the backside of Washington's quarterback of the future and Kohler's teammate at Oaks Christian High School, Nick Montana.
This is how it is supposed to be on signing day. The winning programs are players, not spectators, on this day.
Recruiting classes, of course, are susceptible to all of the vagaries of college athletics. Players will get hurt. Some will get lazy. Some won't make it academically. There is attrition in the best of classes.
But February is a solid barometer for future Novembers. Top-ranked recruiting classes usually land in top-flight bowl games.
In his first full recruiting season at Washington, Sarkisian broke the curse that hung over Montlake for a decade.
He won on paper. He won in February. This winter Steve Sarkisian made Washington a player again.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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