Keeping Budda Baker home was critical for No. 6 Washington
SEATTLE (AP) — It’s too simple of an equation to say that Budda Baker was the cause and Washington being on the cusp of a Pac-12 North title was the effect.
But it’s not too far of a stretch to believe that the most impactful recruit landed by Chris Petersen since he arrived at Washington came in February 2014. That’s when Baker decided to stay home with the Huskies rather than follow the lengthy parade of premier recruits from the state of Washington who decided to go out of state.
“We were very urgent. We knew he was a big time football player that could really change the direction of this program and that was job No. 1 when we first took this job was to make sure we kept a homegrown talent in Budda Baker here at the University of Washington,” Washington defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. “It was an intense battle and we’re obviously happy that we got him.”
There are numerous pieces that Washington has woven together to create a roster that this year is 10-1 and on the cusp of not only a Pac-12 North title but potentially a shot in the College Football Playoff headed into Friday’s Apple Cup against Washington State. Some were holdovers from the previous coaching regime, who have developed into stars later in their careers, like linebacker Keishawn Bierria and wide receiver John Ross. Others were recruits from out-of-state that Petersen and his staff convinced to make Washington their home, like quarterback Jake Browning.
But ultimately, for Washington to be successful, it must be keeping the top in-state recruits at home. And beginning with Baker, it has.
“I always heard it every day by friends, family, even random people that ‘You’re a hometown guy, you can put this program back on top,’ and all that type of stuff,” Baker said. “It hit because like they said I have a lot of family here, I had a chance to go to a great school.”
Since Baker’s commitment in 2014, the Huskies have had a pipeline of in-state talent staying home, including running back Myles Gaskin, wide receiver Chico McClatcher, left tackle Trey Adams, safety Taylor Rapp and offensive lineman Kaleb McGary. It’s not a huge list, and while California will always be the hotbed for Washington’s recruits, getting the top kids from the state is influential in what the Huskies are trying to build.
“I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I thought if I stayed here I would always being going home and doing chores and stuff,” Gaskin said. “My mom and dad kept it real. They said, ‘You are going to Washington.’ At the time I didn’t understand why but I’m very thankful for them.”
When many of the current Huskies were first making impressions about college football, Washington was a struggling program. The 2008 season where Washington went 0-12 was the clear bottom, but even under Steve Sarkisian there was a plateau reached — “7-win Sark” became the nickname — with little indication the Huskies would rise much beyond that mark.
Additionally, the group watched a number of top recruits from the state — Jonathan Stewart, Jake Heaps, David DeCastro, all the way up to Myles Jack — take the route out of the state rather than remain at home.
Which all leads back to why landing Baker was so important.
“It’s huge for that year and the years following, all the in-state talent that hey it is cool to stay at home and play for the hometown (Huskies),” Lake said. “Now hopefully those young guys are seeing where we’re at now and seeing the following that he has here and now when his career is over at Washington he’s going to be a legend here. He’s already made a ton of plays and hopefully we do some bigger things this year and next year and he’ll be a legend here for a long time to come if he keeps doing what he’s doing, and those other guys are seeing that.”
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