Following recruiting is interesting. Especially after the recruit has been in the program for a couple of seasons. It’s then that the head coach’s talent evaluation ability often becomes most evident.
When Steve Sarkisian was named the U of W Head Coach, the first thing he did – immediately (snap your fingers) – was hire strength coach Ivan Lewis away from USC.
That was indicative of what USC and other coaching staffs thought of the Washington strength program.
Next Sarkisian evaluated the recruits who had verballed to the prior coaching staff, and told several they were not of the caliber Sarkisian needed – “low-hanging fruit,” as some said at the time.
The difficulty bringing good players on board continued as, of the recruits signed during Coach Steve Sarkisian’s first recruiting class, 2009, several, e.g., Daniel Mafoe and Johnny Tivao, did not make it into school while, of the remainder, others such as Kimo Makaula and Victor Burnett, are no longer with the program. Of course, a few such as Desmond Trufant and Keith Price have done exceptionally well but Sarkisian obviously needed much more talent and soon. As expected at that time, Sarkisian’s first real recruiting year would be 2010, and the staff was under extreme pressure to recruit excellent athletes both because of and in spite of the team’s previous dismal record. For the Husky faithful, accurate talent evaluation had never been more important.
In that class, Sarkisian recruited several offensive linemen of which the best at the time was considered to be Colin Porter, now unfortunately retired due to injuries. Recruiting analysts considered the next two best O-linemen to be Erik Kohler and Micah Hatchie. The others were Michael Criste, James Atoe and Colin Tanigawa, all rated two-stars.
Criste verballed in January 2010, and video of Criste showed a player who had quick feet and played with intelligence. There was definite upside there.
Although Tanigawa verballed earlier in October 2009, I never watched video of Tanigawa because there didn’t seem to be video accessible. Atoe came as a surprise to everyone so video was also unavailable there. As Husky fans recall, however, on signing day Sarkisian said the under-the-radar Atoe had the potential to be a first-round NFL draft choice by the end of his senior year of eligibility. A favorable assessment.
Although what was about Tanigawa was also favorable, relatively little was said.
At the beginning of last season, when prominent sportswriters anointed Erik Kohler as starting weakside guard, with Porter at the other guard, I wrote that, based on his performance on the 2010 scout team, it was going to be very difficult to keep Tanigawa off the field. He had been game-day captain twice while on the scout team where his play was indicative of what should follow during his redshirt freshman year.
Tanigawa moved into the starting position during fall camp and, until he was injured, never looked back.
A person who was not surprised was his coach at Loyola High, Adam Guerra, who said, “I would love it if all my players were like Colin. He set an example for the rest of the team. He would get to school at 6:00 a.m. and watch film. He loved the weight room, loved the film room. He never missed a practice and never did not practice. I loved coaching Colin every day of the week.”
Loyola is an all-boys school off Venice Blvd. about a mile west of the Los Angeles Convention Center. Guerra called Loyola “one of the elite high schools in southern California, comparable to Seattle Prep,” and indicated Loyola has had some pretty good athletes in the past but, in his opinion, none like Tanigawa.
“Colin’s parents are great, and their expectations were high. So each year he got better and better.” Although Tanigawa’s father played high school football, Colin is the first college athlete in his family, so he does not follow in the steps of an older brother or father in that regard. Under Guerra’s coaching, Tanigawa simply developed a go-for-broke attitude that remains constant from one play to the next.
“Colin was always a very serious and quiet as a child,” said Colin’s mother, Pam. “His fierceness was a pleasant surprise, and Coach Guerra was instrumental in positively directing Colin.”
“Colin never stopped until the whistle blew,” said Guerra. “We would watch film and at the end you’d see a defensive player flying in the background after getting hit by Colin. I cannot say enough about Colin. He’s my favorite player of all the players I’ve ever coached.”
When watching Chris Polk’s inside runs last season, especially during the Colorado game, it was interesting how many times Polk followed Tanigawa – and it was impressive how many times Tanigawa had a hole open for Polk.
Last year, defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu said that Tanigawa was extremely tough to practice against and, while stopping short of stating that Tanigawa was Washington’s best offensive lineman, in context that was the implication.
There are still those who believe Erik Kohler will take over at one of the guard positions this season. With no disrespect for Kohler, look at the photograph at the top of this article. Short of injury, it won’t be weakside guard. Center Drew Schaefer is the senior O-line leader at center, no questions asked, and one of the best centers in the Pac-12. But who is Washington’s best lineman? Based on how Tanigawa has played in practice and in games during the past two seasons – and how quickly he was back in the starting lineup when fall practice began – if Tanigawa isn’t considered Washington’s best lineman, it will be difficult to explain why not. He’s certainly Washington’s most underrated lineman.
But that should change this season. Coach Sarkisian hit a homerun with Tanigawa. With respect to recruit evaluation, Steve Sarkisian would look like the smartest football coach in America if every Washington two-star recruit turned out like Colin Tanigawa.