For months, many of the top football recruits across the state of Washington have been forced to navigate their college recruitment with no chance to show out on the high school stage.
The situation is especially dire for the senior class, many of whom are waiting for an opportunity to perform in front of college coaches.
But with the high school football season postponed into the spring due to COVID-19 — and the NCAA keeping coaches in an in-person recruiting dead period with no indication of a delay to the December or February signing days — the deck is stacked against Washington’s top high school athletes. Especially while high school football is being played in more than 30 states across the country.
“We just need another opportunity to just show ourselves and do something to get coaches to notice,” Mount Si senior Cole Norah said. “Because there’s 30-something other states playing that have the opportunity to show themselves and we don’t.”
States have enacted varying degrees of restriction in response to the coronavirus. Washington is in the minority of states that are not allowing education-based athletics until case counts and positive test rates drop significantly.
“I was really looking forward to this (fall) senior year just to show all those schools and coaches that I have transformed, I have gained 20 pounds, gotten smarter, more accurate,” Bothell quarterback Andrew Sirmon said. “I was ready to lead the offense and the team more … I was hoping that would bring in more offers and interest.”
SBLive Washington took a look at 26 uncommitted standouts and provided breakdowns and updates on their respective recruitment:
TOP 26 UNCOMMITTED SENIORS IN WASHINGTON
J.T. Tuimoloau, Eastside Catholic, 6-5, 280, DE
Favorites: Alabama (Power 5), Michigan (Power 5), Ohio State (Power 5), Oklahoma (Power 5), Oregon (Power 5), USC (Power 5), Washington (Power 5).
It’s not clear when Tuimoloau plans to make a decision, but when it comes to powerhouse football programs, the top-ranked player in the class of 2021 nationally has his pick of the litter.
He narrowed his long list of offers down to seven in Oct. 1: Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC and hometown Washington. Most recruiting experts predict he’s favoring Ohio State.
Emeka Egbuka, Steilacoom, 6-1, 190, WR
Finalists: Washington (Power 5), Clemson (Power 5), Ohio State (Power 5), Oklahoma (Power 5).
He’s regarded as a top athlete in the country and, like Tuimoloau, is being pursued hardest by some of the nation’s top blue bloods.
After leading Steilacoom to to the 2A state championship game in 2019, he was named 2A state player of the year. Flat out, Egbuka, is among the most gifted athletes this state has seen in some time.
In May, he narrowed his final college choices down to four: Washington, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma. Recruiting experts predict he’s favoring Ohio State.
Milton Hopkins, O’Dea, 6-5, 220, ATH
Offers: San Jose State (FBS), Eastern Washington (FCS), Fresno State (FBS).
Hopkins Jr.’s recruitment has been unique, mainly because the schools talking to him have yet to see him play the position they are pursuing him for.
“I haven’t had a timeline to make a choice,” Hopkins said. “I’m just waiting on anything (more) to come up.”
Most schools see him as a defensive end, outside linebacker hybrid. Some like his potential as a tight end. The catch? He quarterbacked O’Dea’s vaunted ground-and-pound option-heavy offense all the way to the 3A state title game. In his preparation to play defense, the experience playing quarterback has helped.
“I’m able to diagnose certain concepts the offense runs and certain situations the offense might do,” Hopkins Jr. said. “Also being QB for O’Dea, I know how to win. And I can take hard coaching. Playing for coach (Monte) Kohler is not an easy task. He expects the best out of you. If you can get past him, you can take any coaching.”
He’s up to 220 pounds from 210 last season and hopes to get to 225.
Lack of film on defense hasn’t stopped him from reeling in several offers, like Eastern Washington this week, though his recruitment hasn’t taken off like he hoped. But Hopkins Jr. will play defense at O’Dea if he gets to play his senior season. He hopes that opportunity will show coaches on the fence about offering him what they need to see, which is why he’s in no rush to make a decision.
Both Washington State and Washington have talked with him and Boise State outside linebackers coach Zac Alley continues to keep in touch, he said.
Jaedon Hall, Lakes, 6-2, 195, ATH
Offers disclosed: Nevada (FBS).
Hall could play several positions at the next level — safety, wideout or even up at outside linebacker.
The first team all-3A PCL selection on defense, and second team choice on offense, received his first offer from Nevada in the spring.
He’s also a multi-sport standout, having placed second at the 3A state wrestling tournament at 182 pounds. Lakes coach Dave Miller said Hall has continued competing in club wrestling through the high school sports shutdown.
“He doesn’t necessarily want to be recruited as much as he wants to find a good spot,” Miller said. “Jaedon just wants to go do the work.”
Reed Shumpert, Kennedy Catholic, 5-11, 175, WR
Offers: Army (FBS), Air Force (FBS), Bucknell (FCS), among others.
Shumpert is aiming to commit just ahead of the first national signing day on Dec. 16.
“Right now I’m waiting to see if anything else comes through,” Shumpert said.
Make no mistake — Shumpert is among the more gifted receivers in the state. And while he lists seven offers, he hopes one looms from Washington State, a school he considers a favorite.
As a junior, Shumpert had 551 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior playing alongside Pac-12 wideouts Jabez Tinae and Junior Alexander in one of the most prolific passing offenses this state his seen. And despite not having a fall season, Shumpert caught two long touchdown passes in the FSP padded scrimmage in early October.
“Right now I feel pretty good about (the process),” Shumpert said. “Even though (COVID) happened, I feel like I made the best out of it that I could.”
Leon Neal Jr., Garfield, 5-10, 165, WR/DB
Offers: Georgetown (FCS), Montana Tech (NAIA)
He’s waiting on one particular offer — the “big one,” he calls it — from a school down the road that holds a special place in the Neal household: University of Washington.
Huskies running backs coach Keith Bhonopha, where Neal Jr.’s dad, Leon Neal Sr. played in the mid-90s before landing in the NFL for a season, have established and maintained contact with the jittery, elusive Neal Jr. He has no shortage of people to lean on through the process — his uncle, Rashon Powers-Neal, played at Notre Dame and had a stint in the NFL, too.
“I really hope something happens with UW,” Neal Jr. said. “But I’m still being patient, trying to be open to every college that’s talking to me. Nothing has really changed.”
He was a threat as a receiver as a junior at Garfield and also ran the ball. With running back Avery Morrow off playing at Nevada, Neal Jr. will shoulder a bigger load in the run game for Garfield this season. He proved more than capable at a padded scrimmage showcase in early October, and he’s been practicing with Heir Academy’s padded club team, which promises players a national travel schedule beginning in November.
John Taumoepeau, Eastside Catholic, 6-2, 290, DT
Offers disclosed: None
Sure, Eastside Catholic has fielded its fair share of flashy, talented players in the skill positions. The country’s most heralded recruit, J.T. Tuimoloau, is a defensive lineman.
But head coach Dominic Daste, who likes to start building his team in the trenches and work out from there, says directing traffic at defensive tackle, Taumoepeau might be a the most important feature in the Crusaders’ defense.
He was a first team all-Metro League defensive lineman on Eastside Catholic’s repeat 3A state title campaign, and shined at a the FSP padded scrimmage in early October.
He lists no offers at the moment. That is sure to change — very soon. According to his social media, Pac-12 schools continue to show interest.
Tuna Altahir, Kamiakin, 6-0, 215, RB
Frontrunners (no order): Eastern Washington (FCS), Montana (FCS), Montana State (FCS), Sacramento State (FCS).
Altahir is “staying patient” as he looks to build on a strong junior season that put him on the radar of a litter of schools.
He was named offensive player of the year in the Mid Columbia Conference after leading it in rushing yards with 1,406. He also scored 16 touchdowns on the ground. Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Altahir put on 15 pounds of muscle to transform into the league’s most dominant back. Now, he hopes to add a little lightning to the thunder.
“I want to make stuff faster, quicker,” Altahir said. “I’m already big enough.
And though two of his Kamiakin teammates — Woodley Downard and Messiah Jones — are committed to Eastern Washington and are making a push for Altahir to join them, he’s keeping his options open. And he admits, the prospect of both playing with and against his friends and teammates excites him.
“It does,” Altahir said. “Both ways would be pretty cool.”
His recruitment isn’t over. Washington State reached out for film from practice in early October and Wyoming entered the picture and has maintained contact over two-to-three months.
Matulino Masunu, Bellevue, 6-0, 280, DL
Offer: Montana Tech (NAIA), Presentation College (NAIA).
Masunu has been a difference-maker in the high school setting for several years. He’s a multi-year all-3A KingCo League selection and was an all-state defensive line choice as a junior. But he’s just now starting to see that recognition translate into college scholarships.
Both of Masunu’s offers have come since the start of the school year.
With no fall season, he’s tried to keep his head down and control what he can. That’s meant a lot of time in the gym.
“I’ve just been working out,” Mason said. “Just workouts and workouts, so I can stay in shape. Whenever colleges call, I show them videos.”
Masunu traveled to Utah with Ford Sports Performance’s “trench squad” to compete at a showcase, where he bumped shoulders with high-level talent from multiple states and fielded advice from USC-bound four-star lineman Mason Murphy (JSerra High School, Calif.) about navigating his own recruitment.
Masunu doesn’t have a timetable to make a college decision.
Caleb Christensen, Royal, 6-3, 200, QB
Offers: Virginia Military Institute (FCS), Whitworth (D-III), Whittier (D-III)
The big-bodied, pro-style signal caller led Royal to the 1A state title in 2019 and was named 1A state player of the year. His recruiting process picked up several months after the state championship win over Lynden Christian. None of those schools saw him play in person, he said — only film.
“I think all my offers came during the pandemic,” Christensen said.
While some have leapt at opportunities, he’s’s not ready to commit quite yet. Christensen wants to play his senior season and once that concludes, reassess his options.
Nowlin Ewaliko, Ballard, 6-4, 240, DL/TE
Favorite: San Diego State (FBS).
Offers: San Diego State, Wyoming, Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Central Washington.
Nowlin Ewaliko has options, and he’s feeling out where he stands. Several FCS and Mountain West schools have offered him, while two Pac-12 schools — Washington and Oregon State — made clear there’s room for him, though as a preferred walk-on and he’s been talking to Central Michigan coaches.
Most of those relationships began in 2019.
“I’ve got some options, but it’s difficult for me not to take visits,” Ewaliko said.
Right now, San Diego State is in the lead of the Ballard pass-rusher’s choices. Why are the Aztecs his current No. 1?
“I really like the coaching staff and I have a good relationship with coach Jordan Thomas,” Ewaliko said. “And out of my offers, outside of Wyoming, that’s one of the highest levels of play. … coaches showed me the facilities, the area and I feel like I could fit in there really well.”
He’s gleaned that from a virtual tour and hopes to visit campus at some point, though it’s not a dealbreaker for his commitment if he doesn’t due to COVID uncertainties.
Oge Feo, Bethel, 6-1, 230, LB
Offers: Hawaii (FBS), Montana State (FCS), Nevada (FBS).
Feo, a first team all-3A Pierce County League selection linebacker and second team choice at fullback, received his first offer in Dec. 2019, from Nevada. From there, Hawaii offered him in March and Montana State in June.
Recently, he’s spoken with Morgan State and University of St. Thomas and has no timetable for a decision. As far as the schools that have offered, he hasn’t narrowed them down at all and says his recruitment is “still open.”
“Right now I’m just being patient with the process because I know God has a time and the right decision for me,” Feo said. “I just got to keep my head up, be patient and just keep working and keeping my head in the books.”
Cole Norah, Mount Si, RB/DB
Like many of his peers, Norah isn’t just waiting for his shot to play in front of college coaches.
He’s been proactive, sending videos of his workouts to college coaches while high schools are sidelined, playing in a padded showcase scrimmage as well as actively helping advocate for an early high school football restart in Washington. Norah missed nearly the first half of the 2019 season recovering from ACL surgery, but returned to play a key part in Mount Si’s run to the 4A state semifinals as an 11-seed.
He doesn’t yet have an offer, though he’s heard from several Ivy League schools, as well as San Diego. All have told him they want more film. He’s confident playing his senior season will serve as a boost to his recruitment.
“At the end of the day I think everything’s going to be fine,” Norah said. “I see myself playing D-I somewhere, for sure. However that happens or whoever that happens, I don’t know. It’s kind of tricky right now. It’s hard to see, but it’s going to happen.”
As a junior, he still earned second-team all-4A KingCo Crest division honors, though he’d missed the first four weeks of his junior year. And he’d been banking on a full offseason of training to prepare for taking a bigger step forward as a senior.
Styles Siva-Tu’u, O’Dea, 6-0, 205, LB
Offer: Nevada (FBS).
Like many of his peers, Siva-Tu’u wants a chance.
To prove himself to colleges. And to hopefully break through in a recruiting process that has left him no option but to wait and hope — and work on his own.
“Honestly, nothing’s really changed,” Siva-Tu’u said of his recruitment.
A Minot State coach recently reached out to check in, but he’s lost touch with some of the college coaches who were talking to him before the pandemic, or in its early days. Talks with Nevada, his early and only offer to this point, have become less frequent.
Siva-Tu-u is hanging on the chance to not only avenge a 3A state title loss to Eastside Catholic in Dec. 2019, but also in hopes that college coaches will take notice. He’ll have quite the stage playing as a feature in the middle of O’Dea’s revered defense.
And he’s been able to stand out among a talented bunch (several of his teammates will play high-level Division I football). Polled by one another, 12 of 13 coaches at O’Dea labeled Siva-Tu’u their best football player.
“To me, a (senior season) would make a huge difference,” Siva-Tu’u said.
Brody Schlaefli, Prairie, 6-5, 320, OL
Offers: none disclosed.
He has the size. He has the skill. And he has the will.
But Schlaefli is honest with anyone who asks as he confronts the current road blocks between him and college offers: poor grades as an underclassmen. And he’ll be up front about
He’s talked to several schools, including Eastern Washington, though those talks have stalled due to eligibility concerns. Schlaefli is exploring the junior college route.
“I’m open to it, because if I do go, it’s another year of growth for me,” he said.
That’s why he’s plans to wait until after the season, when he plans to have his grades in a better place.
Tanner Jellison, Lake Stevens, 6-5, 185, QB
Offers: San Diego (FCS), Montana State-Northern (NAIA).
There may not have been a more productive passer in the state in 2019 than Jellison.
Lake Stevens’ tall, long signal-caller amassed 3,053 yards and 38 touchdowns through the air opposite eight interceptions with a 74.5 percent completion rate as the Vikings won the 4A Wesco and went 11-0 before falling to Mount Si in the state quarters.
He has ample opportunity to build on a strong season, if given one.
Caleb Kwalalon, Lakes, 5-11, 200, RB
Offers disclosed: Washington State (previous staff)
Kwalalon stands to gain, tremendously, from a senior season. If not to show his eye-popping quickness and power he’s flashed at Curtis as an underclassman, then to prove he can stay healthy for an extended period of time.
He received an offer from Washington State — his lone listed offer — before the 2019 season. Since then, the Cougars have changed coaching staffs and it’s unclear whether that is committable. What is clear, according to Lakes coach Dave Miller, is that Kwalalon is a Pac-12-level talent.
“When he played, he was phenomenal,” Miller said. “Since we’ve had him, he’s been phenomenal.”
Kwalalon transferred to Lakes in January. Injuries nagged through his sophomore and junior seasons. But he showed glimpses of dominance, including a 361-yard, five touchdown performance as a sophomore.
Cooper Wall, Tumwater, 6-4, 245, DE
Top three: Utah State (FBS), Wyoming (FBS), Air Force (FBS).
Offers: Utah State, Wyoming, Air Force, Wyoming, Central Washington, Eastern Washington, Portland State.
Wall was a force on one of the most talented — and dominant — lines in the state, regardless of classification as a junior. He logged 18 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, two fumble recoveries, a blocked punt and an interception.
After winning the 2A state title, several Division I schools made their interest clear.
“I had no idea I’d be getting offers after the season,” Wall said. “I kind of look back at it, if we would have had camps in summer that would have really helped me, but in all I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got.”
He’s narrowed it down to three favorites — Utah State, Wyoming and Air Force — but he says he’s still “pretty open and in no rush to make a decision.
It helps that fellow T-Bird linemen Jacob Schuster, Austin Terry and Ryan Otton are Divison I recruits navigating the same process.
“Whenever it feels best for me and my family to choose a school, we’ll do it,” Wall said. “There’s no timetable. If I feel it’s right, I’ll commit.”
Kobe Young, Chiawana, 6-5, 205, WR
Offers: Army, Central Washington.
He’s up nearly 15 pounds of muscle from last season. And that’s not the only reason the Chiawana star, who says he’s trying to model his body after Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf (which, aren’t we all?), is one of the state’s most intriguing prospects.
Young holds offers from Army and Central Washington in football and UC Davis and Idaho State for basketball — he could reasonably pursue both at a high level — but he’s somewhat of an unknown quantity with either due to missing most of his junior year with a broken foot. Power Five coaches have told him they want to see him play more. And after winning offensive MVP honors at the National Preps Collegiate Showcases in Springfield, Ore., the Oregon Ducks football team reached out for his transcripts. Young also wants the opportunity to take official visits.
That’s why he’s in no rush to make a college decision.
“I really haven’t shown people what I’m (capable of),” Young said. “I definitely think my best option right now is to wait to see what I have in offers.”
Robert Silva, Camas, 6-0, 265, DL
Offers: Did not disclose.
Silva was instrumental for a Camas squad that won the 4A state championship. Even on a Papermakers team that boasted depth on the line on both sides of the ball, coach Jon Eagle had a hard time keeping Silva off the field.
In the offseason, he’s led positional workouts in his teammates’ garage, he’s been a source of motivation — and levity — for teammates as Camas has started to re-introduce limited on-campus training and he’s hoping for the opportunity to build on a strong junior season.
Silva says he’s talked to several Division II schools, and has his sights set on the FCS. He’s in no rush to make a choice.
“I would prefer to play a game of football before committing,” Silva said. “I’m waiting for something that’s really going to catch my eye.”
Desmond Licon, Pasco, 6-0, 190, WR/DB
Offers disclosed: Eastern Washington (FCS).
Licon is a two-way standout at Pasco and was a first team all-Mid Columbia Conference choice at both wideout and defensive back. He received his first offer in June from Eastern Washington. The Eagles want him as a DB.
“It was crazy,” Licon told Myck Miller of KEPR TV in June. “It was a moment where it just flashed in front of my eyes. It was cool, though. It was everything I’ve been working for. … it’d be a dream come true.”
Licon’s 70-yard kick return against Pasco in Sept. 2019 was voted SBLive Washington’s top play of the season by fans.
Andrew Sirmon, Bothell, 6-0, 200, QB
Offers: Georgetown (FCS), Montana State Northern (NAIA)
He quarterbacked Bothell through the 4A KingCo gauntlet, all the way to the 4A state championship game as a junior.
He accounted for more than 2,500 yards passing with 21 total touchdowns opposite four interceptions and nearly 500 yards rushing.
Now, the signal caller is much heavier, and not just because of his shaggier hair. He’s added 20 pounds this offseason, having lifted six days per week. He’s seen his maxes go up in the weight room. He wants to be the one delivering the hit as a quarterback.
“We lost in the state championship and that really triggered a big effort boost (in the offseason),” Sirmon said. “I was like ‘I’m not going to feel like I can’t lead my team enough again.’ What I can do right now is lift, so that’s what I’m going to put my effort into.”
Justin Brennan, Lakes, 6-0, 195, QB
Offers: Trinity International (NAIA), Southwest Minnesota State (D-II), Montana State-Northern (NAIA), Culver-Stockton College (NAIA).
As a junior, Brennan threw for 1,985 yards with a 61.5 percent completion rate, 19 touchdowns opposite eight interceptions and helped Lakes reach the 3A state playoff. Since then, he’s hit the 6-feet mark in height and added nearly 30 pounds in the offseason.
“He’s got all the tools to be a really good college QB,” Lakes coach Dave Miller, who thinks Brennan is an FCS or mid-major-level talent, said. “Runs well, great feet, great escapability, quick release, decision-making.”
And he has a rocket for an arm, which has been on display throughought the pandemic at various showcases and 7-on-7 events, including a player-run “COVID 7s” tournament in September, which Lakes took down several state powerhouses to win.
Dustin Shelby, Prairie,6-1, 190, RB/LB
Offers: Central Washington (D-II), Montana Tech (NAIA).
Shelby is hungry. He’s frustrated. He wants — badly – an opportunity to show college coaches his productive junior season on both sides of the ball is only a glimpse.
And he doesn’t mince words talking about the predicament recruits in the class of 2021 are in.
“It’s almost destroyed my whole senior season, and for everyone,” Shelby said. “Kids like me who can ball but are under-looked aren’t given a chance. (Fall senior) season may have been just what I needed.”
As a junior, he was a first team all-3A Greater St. Helens League choice at running back and linebacker. He believes he can play either in college.
Both of Shelby’s offers came during COVID. Montana Tech offered right before summer. Central Washington’s came in September.
Jaylen Fite, Evergreen (Vancouver), 6-1, 175, WR/CB
When Fite isn’t working with at-risk youth for his job at a nonprofit in Gresham, Ore., he’s lifting four-to-five times per week and going to throwing sessions just as frequently.
When it comes to recruiting, Fite, a 3A Greater St. Helens League first team selection on both sides of the ball as a junior, is waiting for his time to show for a productive offseason.
“I’m going to let it take its time and work itself out,” Fite said. “Recruiting is a very long process. I saw how Zyell (Griffin), and all the guys at Evergreen last year got offers late and committed late, after the first national signing day. To me, God has his plan so I’m going to let it unravel for itself.”
He’s put on 17 pounds of muscle, hovering between 175 and 180 pounds, and has gotten faster — Fite says he ran a personal best 4.5 40-meter dash at a recent showcase.
He’s talked to “pretty much every Big Sky school,” Central Washington and Southern Oregon over the summer, as well as San Diego State and Eastern Washington. Fite, who cites Plainsmen coach Christian Swain as his teammate in the recruiting process, was supposed to visit EWU, but the trip was cancelled due to COVID.
He’ll play on either side of the ball in college, but Fite wants to make clear: “I think I’m a Division I receiver.”
Tom Lambert, La Center, 6-0, 215, LB/QB
Offers: Valparaiso (FCS), Whitworth (D III), Graceland (NAIA).
As he gears up for La Center’s first team practices on Monday since the outset of the pandemic, Lambert feels confident where he’s at in his recruitment.
The 1A Trico League MVP has played small-school ball his entire life, until suiting up in the FSP scrimmage against some of the state’s better players. Frankly, after an uber-productive high school career to date, he was even surprised when offers began rolling in.
He’s retooling his body to play linebacker at the next level and the results, he said, will be worth having a go at his senior season before making a college decision.
“I’m not in any rush at all. I’m waiting until after my senior season to see if I can get any more offers,” Lambert said. “I’ve gained 20 pounds and cut 0.2 off of my 40 (4.81 seconds). I think it’s going to show.”