- Mason Kelley, Reporter, Recruiting Nation
SEATTLE -- For a few hours Thursday, CenturyLink Field becomes the center of the college football world.
Washington welcomes No. 8 Stanford in the only game of the night -- a nationally televised matchup on ESPN. The Huskies are trying to orchestrate the “Blackout of the Century,” wearing all black uniforms, while encouraging their fans to follow suit.
The game is an opportunity to pull off an upset against a ranked opponent. It is a chance to show Washington is ready to take the next step under fourth-year coach Steve Sarkisian. But it is also a chance for the Huskies to build their brand in front of a national audience peppered with prospects.
Recruits will be watching.
There will be the prospects planted in front of their TVs in addition to the five official visitors sitting in the stands. Center Dane Crane and athlete Connor O’Brien, teammates at Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita, will be in attendance, confirming their Washington commitments.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the guys compete,” O’Brien said. “I know we’ve got a great team, a young team. We’ve got a lot of potential. We’ve got some young coaches and I know they’re good coaches.”
Crane and O’Brien will be joined by three defensive backs -- Johnny Johnson Jr. (Fresno, Calif./Central East), USC commit Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga) and UCLA commit Jermaine Kelly (Los Angeles/Salesian).
“I’m just going to go out there with an open mind and see how it is,” Kelly said.
When Crane and O’Brien aren’t spending time getting better acquainted with the players in the program, expect them to mingle with Johnson, Hawkins and Kelly. The teammates plan to pitch the program and help bolster Washington’s 2013 class.
It should be an easy sell. Washington has a staff packed with proven recruiters and visits are orchestrated to plant positive impressions. But the Huskies have an opportunity to turn a big weekend into something special -- if they can win.
Hawkins, who remains “100 percent” committed to USC, said Sarkisian contacted him on Facebook, offering him an opportunity to take the trip.
He figured it couldn’t hurt to take a look.
“I’m just excited at this point,” Hawkins said. “I’ve never been on an official before, and I’ve heard from people that they’re really fun. I'm just looking to enjoy myself.”
Kelly is taking a similar approach.
“I really like UCLA,” he said. “I like Washington a lot, too. As of right now, I don’t really know what’s going to be that one thing that’s going to send me over the top. Right now, I just want to get out there and see what it is.”
Five players are heading to Washington to take a closer look at the program. Win or lose, O’Brien and Crane will keep their commitments. But what if Washington pulls off the upset?
Will it be enough convince Kelly he is a better fit in purple and gold than UCLA blue and gold?
Recruiting success is about more than wins and losses. But if the Huskies can knock off the Cardinal, five top-tier California talents will return home with stories about what they witnessed.
Maybe a win would be enough for O’Brien and Crane to convince teammate Riley Sorenson -- a three-star lineman -- to commit to the Huskies. Maybe Johnson is sold on Seattle and pitches the program to his talented teammates. Maybe a postgame victory celebration would help persuade UCLA linebacker commit Myles Jack (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue) to flip from the Bruins to the Huskies.
Jack won’t be an official visitor, but he is expected to attend the game with teammates Sean Constantine -- a Washington linebacker commit -- 2014 safety prospect Bishard “Budda” Baker and 2015 lineman Henry Roberts.
Prospects don’t often put much stock in a loss. Washington linebacker commit Caleb Tucker (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish) was in Baton Rouge, La., for the Huskies’ 41-3 loss to LSU, and it didn’t change the way he felt about the program. But a win against Stanford could leave a lasting impression.
The weekend could have been even bigger had two-sport stars Tyrell and Tyree Robinson (San Diego/Lincoln) followed through on a planned visit. But when the twins committed to Oregon earlier this week, they canceled their trip.
The Huskies have a built-in audience against Stanford. All they have to do is find a way to win.
Recruits will be watching.