High School Football

The News Tribune’s 2019 class of Northwest Nuggets – the region’s top football recruits

Sheldon’s Patrick Hebert fights off Graham-Kapowsin defender Seth Olmos (14) during the first quarter on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at Sheldon High School.
Sheldon’s Patrick Hebert fights off Graham-Kapowsin defender Seth Olmos (14) during the first quarter on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at Sheldon High School. The Register-Guard

The News Tribune’s annual presentation of the Northwest Nuggets features the top high school football recruits from the region, who are projected to make big impacts in college, and perhaps eventually the NFL.

The 32nd class includes seven seniors from Washington and Oregon. Each of them signed their National Letters of Intent during the early NCAA signing period in December, and several have already enrolled, and plan to participate in spring practices.

TNT has been producing the Northwest Nuggets — which is the longest-running recruiting package on the West Coast — since 1988, when 24 players were named to the inaugural class. Including the 2019 class, there have been 355 players honored, including 226 from Washington, 97 from Oregon, 26 from Idaho, five from Alaska and one from British Columbia.

THE NEWS TRIBUNE’S 2019 CLASS OF NORTHWEST NUGGETS

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Union’s Darien Chase (3) is tackled after a catch in the second quarter. Union played Lake Stevens in the WIAA 4A football state championship game at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

DARIEN CHASE

Union (Vancouver, Wash.)

Athlete, 6-2, 185

Signed to: Nebraska

There were few players in Washington last season who were as dynamic and versatile as Chase. And some think he could end up having the most productive college career of any of the state’s 2019 recruits. He attracted schools on both sides of the ball — some wanted him as a defensive back, others as a wide receiver — but he’s projected to join Nebraska on offense. Union coach Rory Rosenbach, who was a Northwest Nugget in 1994, says Chase has two qualities many players only have one of — he’s quick laterally, and fast running up the field. That’s how he compiled 1,004 receiving yards and scored 16 total touchdowns during Union’s Class 4A state title run in 2018. “He goes up and gets the ball as well as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Rosenbach said. “But, I think something that is overlooked about him is his run-after-catch ability. That’s something Nebraska really liked about him. He’s a guy who could catch a screen and run for 50 yards.” Chase chose the Cornhuskers over Boise State, Nevada, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Utah.

What a recruiting analyst says: “They told him he’d be at wide receiver. ... He isn’t a guy who will take the top off (of coverage), but he will move the chains. He reminds me of Jordan Payton from UCLA.”

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Sheldon’s Patrick Herbert pulls down a reception to keep the Irish alive on 3rd down against Lake Oswego during the fourth quarter of the State Football Championship game at Hillsboro Stadium. [Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard] - registerguard.com Chris Pietsch The Register-Guard

PATRICK HERBERT

Sheldon (Eugene, Ore.)

Tight end, 6-5, 225

Signed to: Oregon

Sheldon coach Josh Line, who played fullback for the Ducks from 1999-2001, thinks Herbert has an opportunity to compete for a starting job as a freshman — mostly because of the improvement he’s shown as a blocker in the past year alone. “I think that’s going to be the difference to whether he plays right away or not,” Line said. Becoming a better blocker added to an impressive skill. He has soft hands — and led Sheldon in receiving his senior season with 43 catches for 797 yards and 11 TDs — speed, and ability to run after the catch. “That can make him a pretty difficult weapon to defend,” Line said. Herbert was a two-time all-state pick, the consensus top recruit in Oregon in this class, and helped pace Sheldon to a runner-up finish in Class 6A. He chose the Ducks over offers from California, Florida, Nebraska, Oregon State and Penn State. At Oregon, he will join his older brother Justin, the Ducks’ veteran quarterback, who opted to return to for his senior season instead of declaring for the NFL Draft, though he was projected as an early first-round pick.

What a recruiting analyst says: “(He and his brother) are different — Patrick is a little bit bigger and thicker. But, he is a really good pass catcher, and like his brother, a natural athlete.”

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Micheal Johnson Jr. scrambles against Lake Oswego during the second quarter at Hillsboro Stadium. [Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard] - registerguard.com Chris Pietsch The Register-Guard

MICHAEL JOHNSON JR.

Sheldon (Eugene, Ore.)

Quarterback, 6-4, 205

Enrolled at: Penn State

Johnson had the most offers of any quarterback on the West Coast in the 2019 class, collecting 29 — including 26 from Power 5 programs — before signing with Penn State and enrolling this semester. A true dual threat, he racked up more than 3,100 yards of offense during his final season at Sheldon, averaged more than 150 passing yards and 100 rushing yards per game, and scored 37 total TDs. “Michael has worked really hard,” Sheldon coach Josh Line said. “He’s very blessed with athletic ability, and he’s put a lot of work to that, which is why he has gotten the attention he has. ... The guy has all kinds of potential.” Line says Johnson has all of the tools needed to be a great quarterback — arm strength, accuracy and a leadership ability that can captivate teammates. He passed up eight offers from the SEC, seven from the Pac-12, four from the ACC, three from the Big 12 and three more from the Big Ten to join the Nittany Lions.

What a recruiting analyst says: “His best skill set is as a runner. ... He has gotten better as a passer, but mechanically he has some things to iron out. Physically, his tools are pretty impressive.”

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Rainier Beach High School lineman Nathaniel Kalepo photographed on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. Bettina Hansen The Seattle Times

NATHANIEL KALEPO

Rainier Beach (Seattle, Wash.)

Offensive lineman, 6-7, 315

Signed to: Washington

Kalepo already has the size of a veteran Pac-12 offensive lineman, and he hasn’t even finished high school yet. He’s taller than the bulk of lineman the Huskies had on their roster in 2018, and already matches some of the outgoing seniors in weight. “He looks like an NFL player already,” Rainier Beach coach Corey Sampson said. “He’ll walk in and shed some weight and pick up some muscle and come out a grown man. ... (Recruiters) see the size, the NFL size — 6-7 and (more than) 300 pounds already, and he’s only 17 years old.” But, Kalepo has more than size, Sampson says. He’s athletic and agile, and has strength to match. Kalepo, who has long been considered the state’s top offensive lineman in this class, collected 19 offers — including 14 from Power 5 schools — but decided to stay home in Seattle, committed the summer before his junior season, and hasn’t wavered. He is a two-time all-state selection by the Associated Press, competed at Nike’s The Opening Finals last summer, and helped Rainier Beach to a runner-up finish in Class 3A his junior season.

What a recruiting analyst says: “He will be an offensive guard — 1,000 percent. He has the size, but I don’t think he has the feet to be a tackle.”

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Mount Si’s Cale Millen (10) warms up before a football game. Puyallup played Mount Si in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, Wash., on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

CALE MILLEN

Mount Si (Snoqualmie, Wash.)

Quarterback, 6-4, 200

Enrolled at: Oregon

The athleticism Millen has displayed is what has been most prominent. His final season with the Wildcats, he completed 75.9 percent of his passes — and became the fourth quarterback in state history to complete 300 passes in a season — threw for 3,807 yards and 51 touchdowns, and ran for another 453 yards and 10 scores. As a junior, he even shattered a backboard during a dunking contest. “His athleticism is undeniable,” Mount Si coach Charlie Kinnune said. “That’s what jumps out at people. ... He’s got all of the tangible things. He’s 6-4, he’s over 200 pounds and growing. His potential is as strong as anybody in the country, probably. Everybody sees that tangible stuff, but I think what separates the great ones is intangible things, like competitiveness, leadership ability, and likability with his teammates.” Millen originally committed to Northwestern right after his junior season, but eventually flipped to the Ducks. He also had offers from Arizona State and UCLA. Millen is the son of former Washington Huskies quarterback Hugh Millen, who went on to play for seven NFL teams from 1987-1996.

What a recruiting analyst says: “His best football is ahead of him. He has gotten better every year, and he is ready to make that next jump.”

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Graham-Kapowsin’s Dylan Morris (5) scrambles in the third quarter. Graham-Kapowsin played Puyallup in a football game at Art Crate Field in Spanaway, Wash., on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

DYLAN MORRIS

Graham-Kapowsin (Graham, Wash.)

Quarterback, 6-1, 195

Enrolled at: Washington

He has been called “the optimal Chris Petersen quarterback.” Since he was a freshman, Morris has been appealing to college programs because of his arm strength, quick release, accuracy and perhaps most importantly, his intelligence as a passer. He was also a finalist in the Elite 11 quarterbacks competition, and joined fellow UW signee Nathaniel Kalepo as the only other player from Washington to be invited to Nike’s The Opening Finals last summer. Just how big of a national prospect Morris — who is the consensus No. 5 pro-style quarterback in the country — could have been will remain an unknown, as he shut down his recruitment after his sophomore season, choosing the hometown Huskies over early offers from California, Notre Dame, Oregon and Oregon State. “I think it fits,” Graham-Kapowsin coach Eric Kurle said. “He’s a program kid, and they want a program quarterback who will get it done.” Morris will join a deep quarterbacks room at UW, but has said he expects to compete for the job in the coming years, and has already enrolled in school. Before leaving high school, he passed Jacob Eason — the former Lake Stevens star who is widely expected to be the Huskies’ starter next season — for seventh on the state’s all-time passing list, finishing with 9,815 yards. He completed 62.3 percent of his passes during his career, threw for 99 TDs and led the Eagles to the Class 4A state playoffs each of his four seasons.

What a recruiting analyst says: “(The Huskies) are high on him. Dylan will be a better college quarterback than in high school because, for the first time in his career, he will have good weapons around him.”

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Linebacker Orin Patu is a senior at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle. Photographed at Rainier Beach on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. Bettina Hansen The Seattle Times

ORIN PATU

Rainier Beach (Seattle, Wash.)

Linebacker, 6-4, 210

Signed to: California

Patu has good football genes. His father Saul, a Rainier Beach graduate, was a defensive end at Oregon from 1997-2000, and still leads the Ducks in career tackles for loss (53), while leading the program in sacks for three consecutive seasons. He spent time with three NFL franchises. Much like his father, Orin Patu is known for his motor on the football field. “He has stuff you can’t teach kids,” Rainier Beach coach Corey Sampson said. “His dad played in the NFL, so he has technique and he’s fundamentally sound. He’s going to have to gain some weight in college, but he has a motor that is unreal. Play after play, he just runs around, and he’s relentless.” He’s projected to play outside linebacker for the Bears, and was a dominant presence in his one season playing at Rainier Beach, helping the Vikings to the Class 3A state quarterfinals after transferring from Sheldon (Ore.). He was also an all-state pick by the Associated Press. Patu chose Cal over offers from Boise State, UCLA, Utah, Virginia and Washington State.

What a recruiting analyst says: “His upside is insane. Right now, he will probably have the quickest impact of anybody in the state in college. When he puts on 20 pounds, he will be quite a problem.”

BEST OF THE REST

POSITION

NAME

SCHOOL

COLLEGE

DB

Trey Davis

Federal Way (Federal Way, Wash.)

Signed to: USC

RB

Keegan Duncan

Declo (Declo, Idaho)

Signed to: Boise State

LB

Drew Fowler

Bellevue (Bellevue, Wash.)

Uncommitted

DL

Kelsen Hennessy

Clackamas (Clackamas, Ore.)

Signed to: Oregon State

TE

Luke Musgrave

Bend (Bend, Ore.)

Signed to: Oregon State

QB

Ethan Long

West Linn (West Linn, Ore.)

Signed to: Arizona State

LB

Omar Speights

Crescent Valley (Corvallis, Ore.)

Signed to: Oregon State

DL

Cory Stover

Marshfield (Coos Bay, Ore.)

Signed to: Oregon State

LB

Alphonzo Tuputala

Federal Way (Federal Way, Wash.)

Signed to: Washington

OL

Patrick Utchinski

Walla Walla (Walla Walla, Wash.)

Signed to: Washington State

ATH

Lincoln Victor

Union (Vancouver, Wash.)

Uncommitted

LB

Jaymason Willingham

Steilacoom (Steilacoom, Wash.)

Signed to: Utah State

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Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.


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