All but one of the newest members of the Crimson & Black have something in common: they all have Evergreen roots.
For a fourth consecutive year, the Central Washington University football team’s recruiting class is overwhelmingly dominated by players from Washington. Of the 22 student-athletes who signed national letters of intent to play at Central Wednesday, 21 of them are in-state recruits.
“I talk about this in every home I go visit with - we will sign more Washington guys ever year, and this year is no exception, than Washington, Washington State and Eastern combined,” said Central Washington head coach Blaine Bennett, who will begin his fourth season in the fall. “Central Washington should be that type of program. We need to be able to go out and sign 20 to 25 in-state football players and be able to go out and dominate at the Division II level. I’m excited about the talent in the state of Washington and I’m excited we have a niche as the only Division II program in the state of Washington.”
Last signing day, CWU inked 26 players, 25 of whom were from the Evergreen state. The only non-Washington recruit in last year’s class was Bennett’s son, Blaine John, who prepped in West Layfayette, IN.
This year’s lone recruit from outside state lines is quarterback Colin Walsh of Reynolds High School in Troutdale, OR.
Highlighting the list of prep standouts that will join the Wildcats are six recruits tabbed at “white chip” recruits by the Seattle Times. The Times releases a list each winter highlighting blue chip (nationally sought after prospects), red chip (cable of starting in a major conference like the Pac-10 or starring in a lesser conference) and white chip (the rest of the top 100 recruits in the state) prospects in the Evergreen State.
The Daily Record previously reported the commitments of running back/linebacker Jeremiah Laufasa of Juanita (Kirkland) High School and lineman Jackson Wargo of Montesano. Joining the pair of early commits is linebacker Mitch Haldane of Mountlake Terrace, running back Nic Cooper of Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, safety Jake Baiton from Liberty in Issaquah and defensive end Ryan Romeis of Bothell High School.
“In my opinion, this is the best signing class we’ve been able to put together,” Bennett said. “We did a great job all across the state of Washington. Five (Seattle Times) white chips, so we are excited about that. The most evident thing is the players we have at all positions.”
Bennett said the Class of 2011 has a good mix of size up front (nine total linemen), a strong collection of athletes who can play either linebacker or running back (six total) and athletes who can play on the outside (five defensive back/wide receiver recruits). Bennett said Central didn't try to address specific needs with this class - rather, the Wildcats tried to build depth throughout the roster. The two things that stand out about this class, Bennett said, are versatility and speed.
"The speed - we have four or five track and football combination guys that allows us to gain great speed," Bennett said. "We don't have any local guy that we can brag about right now. Our No. 1 running back, Nick Cooper, the No. 1 guy on our board, has great speed. Dominic Maxey, an inside guy who will play receiver, can really run."
Maxie, a 5-foot-8, 165-pounder from Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, is a sprinter who was a member of the Class 3A 4x100 meter relay state champion in 2009. Cooper, a 5-foot-10, 195-pounder, is a track star as well, running a personal-best 11.3 in the 100 as a junior and long jumping 22 feet, one inch last spring.
Wide receiver Jerid Ronquillo of Hoquiam also fits the mold of a track star. The 5-foot-8, 150 pounder who will play wide receiver for CWU runs in the low 11's in the 100 and long jumped more than 22 feet as well.
Athletes like Ronquillo and Wargo and Josh Tippins of Lynden come from small high schools. In the past, athletes like them have fallen off the radar of bigger programs and into Central's lap. Adam Bighill is a prime example of a player from a small school (Montesano) who became a star for the Wildcats. But with the globalization of everything including football and the prevalence of personal highlight videos uploaded virally, its becomes increasingly difficult to miss an athlete who can play. Bennett said that's why it's important to meticulously evaluate each recruit.
"A kid in the state of Washington is going to be seen," said Bennett, who has a 29-6 record in three seasons at the helm for CWU. "I think we do an excellent job of evaluating if a guy is going to be successful at Central Washington or not, if he is a good fit. We've done a much better job this year with the fit socially, the fit athletically, the fit that can make sure that we can continue our dominance in the GNAC but also to achieve that retention you're always striving for."
Three sets of teammates will join CWU. Maxie and 6-foot-6, 260-pound offensive lineman Taylor Northern will come from Todd Beamer. Laufasa and running back Andre Casino come from Juanita. Running back/defensive back Kendall McNeil and 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive lineman Desi Morrow come from Stadium High in Tacoma.
As has been the plan for Bennett's other four recruiting classes, all the incoming recruits will redshirt unless called upon due to emergency. Running backs Levi Taylor and Louis Davis were forced into playing time last year, but all the other members of the Class of 2010 redshirted.
"We never want to convince a guy he should come to Central because he is going to play early, he should come to Central because it's a great place to go to school, the academics are very solid and you're going to win conference and national championships," Bennett said. "Last year, we had to play two freshman because of injuries, even though we didn't want to. (This year) they will all redshirt, which is why the fit and retention is so critical. They are going to be here for five years."
A whole whirlwind of factors have contributed to Bennett helping CWU climb the ladder of national prominence. In 2008, Western Washington dropped football, leaving CWU as the lone D-II program in the state and flooding the Wildcats phone lines with players looking to transfer. Both Washington and Washington State suffered through terrible stretches culminating in a 2008 season in which the schools combined to win two game.
Now, college football in the state of Washington is in the middle of a renaissance. Washington finished with a winning record and qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 2002. Eastern Washington won the Football Championship Subdivision national championship this season. Even with the resurgence around the state, Bennett said this recruiting season showed him the visibility CWU has gained. He said the team's annual games at Qwest Field in Seattle were a big part of that, as was the team's slim (35-32) loss to Eastern in Seattle.
"Central sells itself," Bennett said. "With 10,000 students, the academic programs we've built here, the social atmosphere, the location - everyone can get here in a couple hours - now when we go into a home, they know about Central, they know about Division II football, they know about the success we've had."