Signing day contained a few surprises for the Washington Huskies, and among them was the early letter turned in by DE Pio Vatuvei of Patterson, Calif. — his was the third announced by UW last Wednesday.
Recruiting analysts knew UW was in the hunt for Vatuvei, who had long been listed as a soft commit to USC but had taken trips in the fall, including to Washington the weekend of the Oregon game. But no one knew he had switched commitments.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian said later that day that the Huskies had been on the phone with Vatuvei until 12:30 a.m. Wednesday before Washington “knocked him into the boat.”
When they did, it gave UW a player rated three stars by Scout.com and four stars by Rivals.com at a position of need for the Huskies. Sarkisian hinted Vatuvei could be one of the members of the Class 2012 most likely to play next year, saying that he “can come in and do some things right off the bat.”
For more on what kind of player UW is getting in Vatuvei, I talked to Patterson coach Nick Marchy, who said the 6-3, 272-pounder “has always been a fast kid for his positon. A strong kid. Very intense on the football field. He puts his time in in the weight room and works hard at it.”
Marchy said Vatuvei was a three-year starter at Patterson, a school of about 1,500 in a town of about 20,000 located about an hour south of Sacramento.
Marchy said Vatuvei came to Patterson from Hayward as a freshman and became a key part of the team as a sophomore, playing defensive end and nose tackle on defense and fullback on offense. As a junior, he scored a touchdown in the final minute of a critical game against Los Banos from four yards out to win it for Patterson.
“We had one play left and we gave him the ball on a fullback dive,” Marchy said. “Usually you’d run a rollout pass or something crazy, but we just ran a dive because we knew he would push the pile five yards and we ended up winning the game. He’s a beast in the backfield or coming around the corner at a cornerback or a linebacker or something.”
Vatuvei’s parents are from New Zealand and he also has participated in a sport popular in that country, rugby.
Vatuvei’s college stock rose markedly his junior year and he initially committed to USC last summer.
“I think when USC offered him last summer he jumped on it like ‘that’s the school I want to attend,”’ Marchy said. “It was his dream-school type of thing. But the other schools continued recruiting him and when coach (Tosh) Lupoi went from Cal to Washington, that really triggered Washington a little more.”
Marchy said Vatuvei had always maintained interested in Washington, saying UW and Utah had always been in his top three along with USC. He had gotten to know Lupoi by attending some summer camps at Cal saying “he had learned a lot from him the past couple of years.”
Marchy, though, said Vatuvei simply didn’t like Cal as much as a school and area as he did USC, UW and Utah and had them on his secondary list despite the presence of Lupoi.
After Lupoi was hired at UW in January, Vatuvei was among his first recruiting visits.
“He (Vatuvei) really liked coach Sarkisian and the way he handled himself and then coach Lupoi being his D-line coach — he always had Washington in in his mind and I think coach Lupoi put it over the top that that’s where he wanted to go,” Marchy said.
Vatuvei has played basketball and participated in track in the past but isn’t playing basketball this year so he can concentrate on academics and making sure he gets qualified, Marchy said.
Here’s the ESPN.com scouting report on Vatuvei:
“Vatuvei moves around the defensive line in high school and could likely do the same some in college. He is a kid with good size and a thickly built lower body. A bit of a ‘tweener at this stage, but with further physical development he will likely grow into and better fit we feel as more of a defensive tackle. He gets off the ball well. He is able to fire out low and play with leverage and maximize power from his thickly built lower body. He is able to get into the gap and stay square and fight pressure and hold his ground. He shows flashes with his hands, but does need to work on being more active with them and doing a better job of shooting them and keeping blockers off him. Displays solid lateral movement and range for his size. Will wrap-up as a tackler. As a pass rusher he will do a good job of attacking half-a-man. You see flashes of him trying to be active with his weapons, but needs to keep developing his pass rush arsenal. Vatuvei is an active defender with some good ability and tools to work with. We feel he will grow into and fit better as more of a tackle, but he can offer some versatility in how he is used along the defensive line.”