CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: Revisiting UW Huskies’ 2020 recruiting class, of which only 5 remain

May 31, 2024, 10:13 AM

UW Huskies Carson Bruener...

Bucky Irving of the Oregon Ducks is tackled by Carson Bruener of the UW Huskies on Oct. 14, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

At this time last year, there were 12 members of the UW Huskies’ 2019 recruiting class still on the roster, preparing for their fifth season at UW. Several of them — Troy Fautanu, Nate Kalepo, Julius Buelow, Bralen Trice, Alphonzo Tuputala, Mishael Powell, Kam Fabiculanan, Asa Turner, Faatui Tuitele — played key roles for a team that made the national championship game.

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The 2020 class, though, has not held together quite as well. Only five of Washington’s 23 signees that year remain on the roster, as a group that ranked 16th nationally when it signed has become the first class at UW truly affected by the advent of the transfer portal.

Two coaching changes and a pandemic factored in, too.

I decided to dive into the numbers behind UW’s 2020 class this week, after Max Olson published his annual class re-rank at The Athletic. Typically, Washington fares quite well in this ranking. Former coach Chris Petersen’s first four classes — 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 — ranked in the top-10 based on actual performance, and the aforementioned 2019 class ranked 16th. The 2020 class, though, didn’t even crack the top-35, despite placing three players in this year’s NFL Draft.

Based on program circumstances, some attrition was inevitable. Each player committed to play for Petersen, then signed their letter of intent after Petersen resigned and the UW Huskies announced Jimmy Lake would take over. The COVID-19 pandemic rocked the globe mere months later. Lake was fired during the 2021 season, and Kalen DeBoer left after the 2023 season. So Jedd Fisch is the fourth head coach involved with either recruiting or coaching the 2020 signees who remain on the roster.

Some fast facts on the group before we go player-by-player:

• Not counting those who left for the NFL, 14 of the 23 signees left the UW Huskies with eligibility remaining, though only nine continued playing football. Seven of the 14 were blue-chip recruits.

• Of the nine who transferred, four went to schools currently in the Power 4, three transferred to San Diego State, and two transferred to FCS schools.

• Of the 14 non-NFL departures, one never made it to campus, two left after the 2020 season, six left after 2021, three left after 2022 and two left this offseason.

• Olson reported an average attrition rate of nearly 60 percent for 2020 recruiting classes. Washington’s rate — 14 of 23 — is 60.8 percent. (Corrected from earlier.)

• So far, the class includes only one player who earned first-team all-conference honors at UW (Rome Odunze, and he did it twice), and another who made first-team in the Mountain West — but three players who became NFL Draft picks, including a first-, second- and third-rounder.

• Of the 23 signees, 10 have started at least one game at Washington on offense or defense, and Jaden Green became the starting longsnapper.

• The UW Huskies have added several 2020 recruits via the transfer portal who are on this year’s roster, too: QB Will Rogers, RB Daniyel Ngata, WR Jeremiah Hunter, OL Maximus McCree, LB Anthony Ward (originally a UW walk-on), DL DeShawn Lynch, and S Cameron Broussard, plus CB Thaddeus Dixon, who was a JUCO signee last season. Don’t forget about Ja’Lynn Polk, either, who signed with Texas Tech in 2020 and transferred to UW after one season. or Dillon Johnson, who came to UW after three seasons at Mississippi State, or Jabbar Muhammad, who played his first three seasons at Oklahoma State. Also, edge rusher Zach Durfee was a 2020 high-school graduate, though he didn’t begin playing football until the 2021 season.

Due to the pandemic, nobody in this class has exhausted his eligibility yet — save for junior-college transfer Triston Brown, who never resurfaced after leaving, anyway — though four have left college to pursue pro careers. Another five do not appear to be playing football anymore. Of those still playing, nine have two years of eligibility remaining, and five are entering their senior seasons in 2024.

Here’s a look at how each prospect has fared so far. All rankings are via the 247Sports Composite, and all snap counts are via Pro Football Focus, and refer only to offensive and defensive snaps unless otherwise noted. Within each category, players are ranked in order based on college performance.

Breaking down UW Huskies’ 2020 recruiting class

• The big hits

WR Rome Odunze, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman

Ranking: Four-star, No. 225
Snaps at UW: 2,181

There’s not much left to say about Odunze, who became one of the top receivers in school history and just the third UW wideout picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. He is also the highest draft pick ever recruited by Petersen. It was quite the journey — Odunze committed when Petersen was coach, signed after Petersen announced his resignation, chose to stay at UW after Jimmy Lake was fired and DeBoer took over, then chose to stay one more year rather than enter the NFL Draft.

WR Jalen McMillan, Fresno (Calif.) San Joaquin Memorial

Ranking: Four-star, No. 67
Snaps at UW: 1,582

McMillan was a huge recruiting victory and developed into exactly the kind of player UW fans hoped he would be. An injury held him back some in 2023 — after he put up 1,098 yards in 2022 and led the team in receptions — but didn’t stop McMillan from catching nine passes for 131 yards in the Pac-12 title game, or from catching a touchdown pass in both of UW’s CFP games.

OL Roger Rosengarten, Littleton (Colo.) Valor Christian

Ranking: Four-star, No. 171
Snaps at UW: 1,951

One of three blue-chip offensive linemen in this class, Rosengarten started each of Washington’s last 28 games at right tackle, declared for the NFL Draft with two years of eligibility remaining and became a second-round pick (though somehow, he was never voted first- or second-team All-Pac-12). Washington won a tight recruiting battle against Oregon for Rosengarten’s signature, and he teamed with Troy Fautanu to form one of the nation’s top tackle duos.

• The regular starters

LB Carson Bruener, Redmond (Wash.) High

Ranking: Three-star, No. 995
Snaps at UW: 1,007

There’s still time for Bruener to play his way into the top category, because he enters his senior season as one of the team’s top defensive players. He’s trending up, too, despite having to battle for playing time the past two years. It’s actually sort of a misnomer to refer to him yet as a “regular starter,” considering he mostly came off the bench the last two seasons and has only six career starts to his name. But it’s so obvious he’s going to play a starring role on this year’s defense (assuming good health, etc.) that I feel he fits best here. And his production has outpaced some starters the past two seasons, anyway, as he’s totaled 132 tackles and six TFLs in that time. Bruener has played a ton on special teams, too.

CB Elijah Jackson, Lawndale (Calif.) High

Ranking: Three-star, No. 533
Snaps at UW: 897

The bulk of Jackson’s college experience came last season, when he was an every-game starter at cornerback and eventually made one of the most memorable plays in program history. He’s battling for his job as a fifth-year junior, with Arizona transfer Ephesians Prysock a likely starter and senior Thaddeus Dixon ascending. Regardless, Jackson should be a big part of Washington’s secondary this year, and he has another year of eligibility remaining in 2025.

LS Jaden Green, Mesa (Ariz.) High

Ranking: Two-star, No. 3,114
Snaps at UW: 372 (special teams)

Recruited as the replacement for the steady A.J. Carty, Green was the Huskies’ starting longsnapper from the moment he set foot on campus to his final game in 2023. He settled down after sailing his first career snap over Race Porter’s head, which gifted Oregon State a touchdown in UW’s 2020 opener, and even caught a two-point conversion last season (though his kick-catch interference penalty in the Sugar Bowl could have been costly). Green surprised by declaring for the NFL Draft rather than stay at UW for his senior year, but on the whole, he turned in the kind of career you hope to see from a scholarship longsnapper.

• Part-time starters and reserves

S Makell Esteen, Lawndale (Calif.) High

Ranking: Three-star, No. 600
Snaps at UW: 468

Esteen’s role has gradually expanded throughout his career, and he was a regular contributor on defense last season, even making his first start. He spent the spring alongside Kam Fabiculanan at safety with the No. 1 defense, though the arrival of Oklahoma transfer Justin Harrington and Sacramento State transfer Cameron Broussard will increase the competition for a starting job.

RB Sam Adams II, Sammamish (Wash.) Eastside Catholic

Ranking: Four-star, No. 298
Snaps at UW: 148

There have been times when it appeared Adams might be on the verge of becoming a regular contributor, but he’s struggled to stay healthy and has carried just 23 times in his first four college seasons. Adams was limited this spring and faces an uphill battle for playing time with Jonah Coleman, Cam Davis and freshman Adam Mohammed likely forming the top trio this season.

OL Gaard Memmelaar, Middleton (Idaho) High

Ranking: Three-star, No. 515
Snaps at UW: 58

Memmelaar has only appeared in four games so far, but likely would have been on the depth chart last year and seen the field in some capacity if not for a season-ending injury sustained during preseason camp. He was limited this spring but seemed to be moving well, and should compete for a starting job at guard this August, assuming full health. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining, and is the last player from UW’s touted 2020 o-line class still left on the roster.

• Attrition

TE Mark Redman, Newport Beach (Calif.) Corona Del Mar

Ranking: Four-star, No. 300
Snaps at UW: 164

Another huge get in this class, Redman’s offer list included Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, LSU and more than a dozen others. He played in all four games as a freshman in 2020 and all 12 games in 2021, though he caught only one pass for five yards. Redman transferred to San Diego State after that season and spent two years with the Aztecs, catching 58 passes for 633 yards and five touchdowns in that time. Coaches voted him first-team All-Mountain West in 2022 and second-team in 2023, and Redman recently transferred to Louisville to play his senior year.

EDGE Cooper McDonald, Justin (Texas) Northwest

Ranking: Three-star, No. 1,103
Snaps at UW: 465

McDonald started 10 games for the Huskies as a freshman in 2021, but hit the portal soon after the season ended. He wound up at San Diego State, where he played alongside his brother, Caden. He made 35 tackles in 2022 and 43 tackles in 2023, and transferred to TCU for his senior season.

QB Ethan Garbers, Newport Beach (Calif.) Corona Del Mar

Ranking: Four-star, No. 121
Snaps at UW: 0

It was something of a big deal for the UW Huskies to hold onto Garbers, who had risen from a three-star prospect to one of the top quarterback recruits in the class, and then was among UW’s last few signees to reaffirm their commitment to Lake — without knowing whether offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan would still be on staff. Of course, Hamdan was fired, and Garbers transferred to UCLA after the pandemic season. He made his first career start in 2021, started another six games last season, and will likely be the starter as a senior in 2024.

CB Jacobe Covington, Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro

Ranking: Four-star, No. 193
Snaps at UW: 24

Covington appeared in all 12 games for the Huskies as a freshman in 2021, though mostly on special teams. He stuck around only for part of DeBoer’s first spring before entering the portal and transferring to USC. He’s played nearly 500 snaps for the Trojans the last two seasons as a part-time starter and regular reserve, though he missed time due to an apparent injury last year. He’s still with USC as a senior in 2024.

OL Geirean Hatchett, Ferndale (Wash.) High

Ranking: Four-star, No. 211
Snaps at UW: 335

Hatchett likely would have started the next two seasons if he’d stayed at Washington, but he transferred to Oklahoma following DeBoer’s departure. He battled injury last season but started four games at right guard and was a key reserve for an o-line group that won the Joe Moore Award.

EDGE Sav’ell Smalls, Burien (Wash.) Kennedy Catholic

Ranking: Five-star, No. 30
Snaps at UW: 602

The only composite five-star prospect who ever committed to Chris Petersen, Smalls was a rotational player who never quite took that next step to become a productive pass rusher. He was on the depth chart in both 2021 and 2022 — and likely would have been again in 2023, but entered the transfer portal mid-spring last year and landed at Colorado. He played sparingly for the Buffaloes last season and switched positions to play tight end this spring. Because he appeared in only four games last year, Smalls still has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

OL Myles Murao, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei

Ranking: Four-star, No. 114
Snaps at UW: 30

At the time this class signed, you could have argued Murao was the biggest recruiting victory of the bunch. It’s not often, after all, that a Mater Dei offensive lineman chooses Washington despite being pursued by USC. It wasn’t difficult to envision him as the center of the future. But it just never clicked for Murao at UW, where he appeared in only four games at guard as a third-year freshman in 2022 before transferring to San Diego State. He played 481 snaps in eight games for the Aztecs last season with seven starts (and missed four games due to injury). Murao will be a fifth-year junior at SDSU this season

RB Jay’Veon Sunday, Waco (Texas) Connally

Ranking: Three-star, No. 682
Snaps at UW: 17

There was a time when Sunday seemed he might become a fan favorite, considering his physical running style and willingness to mix it up with upperclassmen at practices. But it became apparent early in DeBoer’s tenure that Sunday didn’t fit what the new staff wanted at running back, so Sunday transferred to FCS Abilene Christian, where he rushed for 677 yards and three touchdowns last season.

WR Sawyer Racanelli, Brush Prairie (Wash.) Hockinson

Ranking: Three-star, No. 919
Snaps at UW: 47

A two-way star at Hockinson, there was some question about whether Racanelli fit better as a receiver or outside linebacker, but then-receivers coach Junior Adams liked him on offense. There was some thought that Racanelli might be among the most underrated players in this class, and a nice complement to star recruits Odunze and McMillan. After mostly standing on the sidelines in 2020 and 2021, though — he never caught a pass at UW — Racanelli transferred to Montana, where he caught 10 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown last season.

OL Samuel Peacock, Gig Harbor (Wash.) High

Ranking: Three-star, No. 1,675
Snaps at UW: 55

A career reserve, Peacock did make it onto the depth chart as UW’s backup right tackle last season, and appeared in 10 career games, mostly on special teams. He left the program after last season and appears to be done with football.

TE Mason West, La Habra (Calif.) High

Ranking: Three-star, No. 995
Snaps at UW: 0

West was part of the program for two seasons but was sidelined by injury and never appeared in a game. He was no longer on the roster when UW began spring practices in 2022, and apparently is no longer playing football.

P Triston Brown, Mt. San Antonio College

Ranking: Three-star, No. 291 (JUCO)
Snaps at UW: 0

Brown appeared to sign as the successor to punter Joel Whitford, but was beaten out by Race Porter and never played.

CB James Smith, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco

Ranking: Three-star, No. 822
Snaps at UW: 0

Smith enrolled and spent the 2020 season at Washington, but never appeared in a game and left the program prior to preseason camp in 2021. He entered the transfer portal but does not appear to have continued his football career.

TE Jack Yary, Murrieta (Calif.) Valley

Ranking: Four-star, No. 356
Snaps at UW: 0

Yary was a touted recruit and the son of a USC legend, but he never made it to campus. He later ran into legal trouble and does not appear to have resurfaced at any college program.

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

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