Notebook: Kalen DeBoer provides a blueprint for Washington’s recent recruiting resurgence

Sitting at a table on the roof of the Novo Theater in Los Angeles, overlooking his most important recruiting region, Kalen DeBoer was asked what has resonated most with Washington’s recruits.

The Huskies’ first-year coach talked for two minutes straight.

And though DeBoer’s answer spanned 318 words, it can be distilled into three primary points:

  • Recruits see the brotherhood and camaraderie that exists within the team
  • Recruits feel that UW’s coaches care about them both as people and players
  • Recruits are confident that UW’s coaching staff can develop them into NFL draft picks

Regardless of the formula, the results have been emphatic. A year after Jimmy Lake’s 2022 class plummeted to 97th nationally and 11th in the Pac-12, via the 247Sports Composite, the Huskies rank 20th nationally and third in the Pac-12 in the 2023 cycle — despite a 4-8 debacle gradually fading in the rear view mirror. Of UW’s 21 official visitors on the week of June 19, 14 are currently Husky commits. (A 15th could also arrive on Thursday, when four-star Arlington, Texas, safety Jordan Sanford announces his college destination.)

All told, UW touts a total of 19 2023 commits, with just 2-3 high school spots remaining — and fall camp isn’t yet underway. They include prospects from far and wide — including four-star Lake Charles, La., corner Curley Reed, four-star Wylie, Texas, defensive lineman Anthony James, three-star Moorhead, Minn., defensive tackle Elinneus Davis and three-star Pierre, S.D., quarterback Lincoln Kienholz. They include an unsurprisingly significant 11 commits from the state of California.

They include just two homegrown recruits — three-star Ferndale center Landen Hatchett and three-star Puyallup edge rusher Jacob Lane — though DeBoer has vowed to improve upon that effort.    

They include proof, it appears, that the formula works.

“I think what prospects have really seen is that the family that we talk about really is happening within our team,” DeBoer said Friday at Pac-12 Media Day. “When they come to practice, when they’re with (current players) on the official visit away from our organized schedule and they ask those questions, they see the energy. They see the genuine answers that they’re getting, and they see the brotherhood that exists within our program, that we’re facilitating as coaches.

“But we’re really trying to make our program player-led at the end. I think they see that and they feel that and it’s like, ‘Man, that’s what I really want to be a part of.’”

Of course, time will tell — as it always does — whether recruiting rankings yield actual results, and UW will likely fall out of the top 20 as competing programs add late commits. But given the splash zone associated with the previous staff’s collective recruiting belly flop, this recovery likely can’t be overstated.

At his introductory news conference on Nov. 30, DeBoer said “I’ll be very diligent in putting together a great staff, and I think first and foremost (it will be) a staff that can recruit.”

The early returns have been encouraging — and DeBoer credits his staff for much of that recent recruiting resurgence.

“Then they look at our coaching staff,” he continued in the aforementioned manifesto, “and when you talk about messaging or what (recruits) are seeing or feeling, they feel that there’s truly a staff that cares about them, but also are expert coaches who are going to develop them to go on to even the next level beyond college. Then on top of it, you’ve got a place that’s done that. You can go over the last five, six, seven years, and we have numbers that show how many players we put in the NFL — first round, second round, all rounds compared to the rest of the Pac-12 and the country. We’re in the top 10 in all those different areas, no matter how you break it down.

“That happens here because of the resources, and people that are going to invest in you. That’s what I think our staff does the best, is invest in you individually to help you grow both as a person and a football player. Parents love hearing that. They love seeing that. But most importantly, I think they feel it.”

Back to Husky recruiting rivals …

Last November, before the annual game against rival Oregon, former UW head coach Jimmy Lake was infamously asked if he considers the Ducks to be recruiting rivals as well.

He did not handle it well.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think that is way more pumped up than it is. Our battles are really — the schools that we go against are way more … have academic prowess, like the University of Washington. Notre Dame. Stanford. USC. We go with a lot of battles toe-to-toe all the way to the end with those schools. So I think that’s made up in your world. In our world we battle more academically prowess teams.”

Of course, the phrase “academically prowess” quickly became social media fodder, and Lake was fired less than two weeks later.

On Friday, DeBoer — Lake’s successor — was asked a not-so-coincidentally similar question:

Are there specific schools DeBoer thinks UW needs to be recruiting against most?

“I don’t think it’s isolated to one,” he said, politely declining to take the bait. “Naturally, because of geography, we’re going to be competing against the Pac-12 schools. But our staff has a lot of connections in the Midwest, even all the way across the country, and even into Texas. So we run into competition with a lot of other teams outside of the Pac-12 as well. So I don’t think we single out one of, ‘Oh, that’s who we’re going against.’ Honestly, I hope the (commits) we have, have a lot of offers.”

DeBoer’s impact on realignment

If you think DeBoer has any significant say in UW’s eventual conference destination, think again.

On Friday, when asked how much he hears from athletic director Jen Cohen and others regarding ongoing realignment machinations, DeBoer confirmed: “It’s really not much. Probably the biggest thing I’m continuing to be reminded (by UW administrators) is, ‘Don’t believe what you read most of the time.’”

That’s the case with most programs nationwide, as presidents and athletic directors make the vast majority of overarching departmental decisions. But while DeBoer is hesitant to declare where UW should ultimately land, he’s confident that the Huskies’ will settle into an advantageous situation.

“I don’t really have a lot of thoughts, other than I know we’re a university that has a lot to offer. We’re a community that has a lot to offer,” he said. “I just have a lot of confidence in president (Ana Mari) Cauce and Jen Cohen that we’ll end up in a place that is a great situation for us. I know the Pac-12 leadership is doing everything they can and really doing a great job in exploring opportunities. We’ve kind of got to let that play out, and we’ll see what happens.”

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