The Petaluma (Calif.) Casa Grande defensive tackle, Eljiah Qualls, was recruiting for his future…
Commitment Impact: Elijah Qualls
Call Him Lawrence Welk: When picking up a four-star prospect who is also a top-20 target nationally at his position, the focus would be strictly on what he does on the field. But in the case of Elijah Qualls, it seems like it's been anything but, and he's the one to blame for that. The reason is because the 6-foot-2, 280-pound defensive lineman from Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, Calif. was thinking big. Bigger than just his own interests. And those grand plans came to fruition during the Washington Rising Stars camp as he orchestrated the biggest group commit ever reported on.
"It's actually been rattling around in my head since the first time I came out here," Qualls told Dawgman.com of his commitment to the Huskies back on June 29th, the moment he was one of eight Washington 2013 prospects that either committed to Washington or reconfirmed their intent - as was the case with quarterback Troy Williams. "It's just one of those things…you get a feeling where it's right, and that's where you want to be. You can get it with people…you can't explain it, but that's how you feel. And that's how it was when I first came out here. I just felt like it was an amazing place and I loved it.
"I had a final six a few weeks ago, so I basically talked to those final six - the ones I was closest too and the people I felt were really important. All those schools had a chances, so I called all those schools and let them know. I didn't want to be a person that just commits out of nowhere and surprises everybody and then everybody is made at me; I'm kind of a people pleaser. I like to be loved by everybody."
How it All Went Down - As Greg Biggins points out in his story about how the eight players committed to UW on the same day, Qualls got the ball rolling when he decided Washington was the place for him. Then he reached out to players like Lavon Coleman and Demorea Stringfellow through social networking to get their takes, and all of them appeared to be on the same page early on. Then it was just a matter of convincing players, one by one, that UW was their best option. And then by luck, local defensive lineman Andrew Basham was set on making his decision on his own but the timing of the group announcement was a perfect opportunity for him to join in and show his support. The same held true for former Garfield standout Daeshon Hall, who had moved to Texas with his mother but is set on coming back to the Emerald City this summer.
"It all came down to being around my family," Hall said. "I really wanted to come back home, and I had developed a great relationship with Tosh Lupoi, the DL coach. I heard some of the guys were going to announce during the camp and I decided that would be a great time for me to do it as well. Elijah texted me about a week before and said he was going to commit during the camp and I told him I was in too. I'm real excited to be coming back home and happy to be a Husky," Hall told Biggins after the group decision had been made.
Qualls had even been talking with Louisiana standout Caleb Tucker before the Rising Stars camp, laying out the reasons he should join the group. "I talked to Elijah a few days before I flew out," Tucker told Biggins. "He told me what was going down and said I needed to be a part of it. I told him I wanted to commit but I had to make sure I was comfortable there first. I got in Friday and immediately loved the place. I had already built up a great relationship with Coach Lupoi, I liked how they planned to use me in their defense and I liked meeting the other recruits. I was sold on the school so had no problem jumping on board and committing with the rest of the guys. I didn't know I would be going first but it was an exciting time for sure."
A Commitment That Will Last - As we all know nowadays, high school football commitments are worth about as much as the paper they aren't written on. In reality, when a player makes a commitment - especially this early in the process - it's seen as more of a declaration toward a prospect liking one school ahead of the rest. In the end a coaching staff can hope that the work they've put in to get an early commitment and the subsequent maintenance all the way to Signing Day is enough to keep a top player from bolting to a situation that's perceived as 'better'.
When thinking about this in the context of Qualls' commitment to Washington, there are major reasons why Husky fans shouldn't sweat heavy interest from other suitors. Qualls didn't put together the group announcement just to make a major splash that would be noticed by every Pac-12 team; he did it because he wanted to signal a change in the way Washington recruits. He wanted people to pay attention to the fact that it's a new day on Montlake and recruits are taking what the Huskies are doing seriously. Like the remodel of Husky Stadium, the Washington coaches are rebuilding the program from the bottom up, and Qualls wants to be a part of that.
"Washington used to be a powerhouse," he said. "They lost it for a few years, but now we're bringing it back. USC, they've always been a competitive school and have always brought in good players. Everybody thinks they are going to be the top school - but me personally I want to be part of a legacy instead of just being part of a tradition, instead of being 'oh, he was just a part of USC, but they've always good'. I want to be a part of, 'he was there when Washington was up and coming, and he was part of the group that won their first Rose Bowl after they went 0-12. I want to build something, build a legacy and make Washington a powerhouse like it was in the early 90's."
Secondly, even if Qualls wants to take official visits - which has been reported by many people since his workout at The Opening - he's not going to do it without Washington's permission, and I don't believe the UW staff is concerned about another staff picking him off. The relationships he's forged with the UW coaches - specifically Tosh Lupoi and Steve Sarkisian - will win out in the end. And Washington has one other big thing going for them…
A Commitment to UW AND Seattle - It's been a while since a prospect has been so vocal about the Emerald City when it comes to what they love about Washington, but there's a bit of a romance going on between Seattle and Elijah Qualls. It started during his first unofficial trip north and continues to this day. When he was on Sports Radio KJR with the Dawgman guys the day after the group commitment, Qualls spoke eloquently about his childhood and his mother's insistence that he get out of the cycle of gangs and violence that swept him up. Qualls found sanctuary in Petaluma, and as he started to visit universities and their communities, there was something about Seattle that struck a chord with him. As the cliche goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression - and Seattle knocked Qualls out from the start.
"When I got here, the energy level was so far up…it was crazy," he said the day of his commitment. "You just get excited hanging around the people here. They make you feel like you want to play football. When I got here and was hanging out with coach Sark, coach Lupoi, coach Wilcox, all those guys - I was ready to play for them that day. The vibe they give you…they are all great people. They are all great coaches, everybody knows that. But they are all really great people. The coaches are, the players are awesome guys, real fun to hang out with, and the people of Seattle - they are all amazing people. It's a beautiful place, the people are nice, it's a clean place, it's not…every place has their little bad neighborhoods, but for the most part this is an extremely nice place. I'm trying to get out of the hood; that's why I moved to Petaluma. I'm not trying to move back in it. This is the perfect place."
Ambassador Extraordinaire - Nike's recent camp 'The Opening' has turned into a massive national event. It's part combine, part 7-on-7 tournament, part lineman challenge. And although Qualls didn't go into The Opening as the biggest name when talking about defensive linemen, he came out of the camp as one of the consensus top-five pass rushers there. It was not only a validation of his abilities, but also of Washington's evaluation. When ESPN covered the camp for television and the internet, they used Qualls because of his energetic nature and eloquence in answering questions. Between him, Darrell Daniels and Demorea Stringfellow, Washington was well-represented at The Opening, and word leaked out during the camp that Qualls had been working behind the scenes to help push some other top prospects toward the Huskies. Whether they eventually sign with UW is obviously to be determined, but it wouldn't surprise anyone to find out that Qualls had something to do with promoting the Huskies. It's simply an extension of the same qualities that drew other recruits to Qualls when he put together the group announcement.
"Some are really not sure where they want to go, so I'm not going to force anything on them," said Qualls to FoxSportsNEXT.com's Brandon Huffman. "But I'm more than happy to let them know what Washington is all about. And I know that we will be competing for a championship in a couple of years."
Analysis - "Elijah Qualls was great. He was a guy I was worried about because he's not a D-tackle. He's going to be, but he doesn't know how to play yet. Qualls is a defensive end /outside linebacker that's going to play D-tackle, and the most extensive amount of time that he's played D-tackle was at the Oakland Nike Camp. He looked pretty good, but now he's going up against guys that are 300-pound monsters from all over the country and he's still learning the position. But he was great. He was dominant. He was a top-5 D-lineman there at worst, maybe a top-3 guy. Just so quick, probably the quickest D-tackle there - which shouldn't be too surprising because he was probably the lightest D-tackle there. He's very, very powerful, strong. He's exactly what you're looking for; a strong, powerful, quick kid that doesn't know a lot of technique but still womps about every single rep he took." - Scout.com National Recruiting Analyst Greg Biggins, of Qualls' play during The Opening.
A Commitment of Need - It goes without saying that quality defensive linemen are very hard to come by. Players like Alameda Ta'amu and Danny Shelton just don't stay on the recruiting shelf for long. So to nab a player of Qualls' quality and potential is an exciting turn for UW. It also gives a glimpse into the kind of lineman Washington is going to recruit in Justin Wilcox's defensive system. It may be a 3-4 base, but with multiple fronts, odd and even looks and disguises depending on down and distance, Wilcox is going to ask a lot of his defensive linemen. They may have to play 3, 5, 7, 9-techniques, or even the nose, so his guys are not only going to have to be versatile, but they are going to have to have the athleticism to handle the versatile nature of their roles. One of the reasons Qualls committed to Washington was because he knew his athleticism wasn't going to go to waste just playing one spot. The same could also be said for Pio Vatuvei, who is also very similar to Qualls in build at 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds - an end who could very well move inside at times to wreak havoc against guards and centers with his quickness and explosion off the ball.
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