Neuheisel secures recruits for 2002

The Washington football team welcomed 21 new faces yesterday, along with two players from last year's class that were unable to compete due to academics. The 2002 recruiting class appears to be solid in all aspects, especially athleticism.

"We're all excited," said an exhausted Rick Neuheisel. "We feel like we have a great group of guys who are going to do big things for us in the future."

The Huskies made it a point this season to land as many local recruits as possible, and their efforts definitely paid off.

Garfield quarterback Isaiah Stanback leads the way, along with Shelton Sampson, a running back from Tacoma. Other in-state additions include wide receivers Jordan Slye (Franklin) and Nathaniel Robinson (Rainier Beach), as well as defensive end Demar Baisy (Rainier Beach) and departed Husky center Kyle Benn's younger brother, Jason, a tight end from O'Dea.

Washington also secured running back Kenny James from Dos Palos, Calif., who rushed for over 2,900 yards and 49 touchdowns his senior year. Rounding out the offense is wide receiver Eddie Jackson, a junior college transfer from Kansas, and tight end Ben Bandel of Murrieta, Calif.

A major area of concern for the Huskies last season was the offensive line, and Neuheisel made sure to snag some top-notch players. The best of the bunch is Nathan Rhodes, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound monster from Bakersfield, Calif., who hopes to make an immediate impact with the Huskies. Washington also picked up Stanley Daniels and Robin Kezirian from California, plus Clay Walker from Scottsdale, Ariz. Add in Francisco Tipoti, who sat out last season for academic reasons, and the Huskies' offensive-line troubles may be a thing of the past.

"The lack of depth at offensive line was our biggest concern," Neuheisel said. "We made a push to get a great class and, hopefully, now we can enjoy a long and prosperous run with our O-line."

Another point of concern was the defense, which ranked ninth in the Pac-10 last season. The Huskies landed a slew of defensive linemen that should fill the void left by Larry Triplett and Marcus Roberson. Donny Mataeaki, from Honolulu, is the leader of the pack at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds. Dan Milsten from Tacoma and Jordan Reffett of Moses Lake round out the defensive front. The Huskies also picked up two linebackers from California in Dash Crutchley and Scott White, as well as Brandon Ala from Hawaii.

As for the secondary, Washington was unable to land many of its top recruits and will have to try again next year. However, safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Matt Fountaine should prove to be viable assets in the future. Cornerback Eric Shyne, who also sat out last season, returns to the team and should benefit the practice squad.

Even though it lost out on the nation's top prospect in Lorenzo Booker, Washington's 2002 recruiting class is loaded with athleticism and versatility.

"I don't know where we'll be ranked nationally," Neuheisel said, "and I'm not concerned. I think this group has great potential and I'm just thrilled to get back to work."

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