Offensive linemen seldom receive the attention they’re due, and Mike Criste is probably the least publicized offensive lineman to start for the Huskies. So, a little about Criste.
If a college offensive lineman’s career were the 400 meters, Mike Criste probably would have been dead-last at the beginning of the first 100 meters but would now be in the middle of the pack after 200 meters where, as the race continues, he will likely pass others who were well ahead of him at the beginning.
Accordingly, Criste was lightly recruited in high school. Continuing the analogy, the Huskies, however, saw 400 meter potential other teams did not. For starters, Criste played for Mission Viejo.
Mission Viejo High School coach Bob Johnson has been a head coach for 42 seasons, and head coach at Mission Viejo for the last 13 during which his teams have won the league title 10 times, and were CIF champions three times.
“No, he was not highly recruited in high school,” said Johnson. “There were a lot of lesser colleges interested in him but, besides Washington, only a couple of other Pac-10 schools. But that was fine because Mike really liked it up there [U of W], and was very happy when he got the offer. And I was happy for him.”
Mission Viejo High has more assistant coaches than most college teams. Behind Johnson are two assistant head coaches – his sons Bret and Rob, both former NFL quarterbacks – as well as 10 additional position coaches, and a team physician, a team trainer, manager, assistant manager and two videographers. Mission Viejo is possibly the best organized high school football program in southern California.
In 2010, Coach Johnson was named by the NFL as High School Coach of the Year, nominated by former Mission Viejo and now New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. Unsurprisingly, every year Mission Viejo sends players to Division I schools – last year they sent five.
In summary, Criste was well-coached in high school as evidenced by All-CIF Southern Section Pac-5 first team and All-State 2nd team honors his senior year.
What did Johnson believe the Huskies liked about Criste?
“I thought that his best was in front of him,” said Johnson, “and it would take a year or two for him to get to a point where he could make it into the rotation. They [Washington coaches] really recruit hard here [Mission Viejo] and he’s an athlete. He has feet – athletic as heck! His brother was a swimmer and came close to making the Olympic team.”
Criste’s brother, John, a 6’ 6” All-American swimmer who holds the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke records for Stanford, competed in the Olympic trials. Obviously, athleticism runs in the family. Washington coaches looked at Criste’s size and athleticism, and liked his long-term potential.
With that evident potential, why were other schools hesitant to recruit Criste?
“Increased strength was the biggest thing he had to achieve,” said Johnson. “His pass blocking was always good. He was a big kid with great feet but to be a good run blocker at that [Pac-10] level he had to get much stronger. He’s smart, and doesn’t shy away from being physical; but he had to get stronger.”
In summary, the Husky coaches saw a large athlete with great upside potential if, as with most young linemen, he committed himself to the weight room. The opportunity was there as was Strength Coach Ivan Lewis. Then it was up to Criste to realize his God-given potential.
Now in the third season, Criste has grown stronger and practiced every position on the offensive line including center. This ability and versatility were evident last Saturday when, due to injuries to Ben Riva and Erik Kohler, Criste started at right tackle. It might have been premature because, while he’s cerebral, doesn’t take plays off, and moves well, strength-wise Criste may not be to the point of competing as a regular starter.
But that will come.
At the 200 meter mark, Mike Criste’s best is still well in front of him.