Recruiting Column: Interview with Washington football coach Chris Petersen

Photo: UW Athletics

Recruiting Column: Interview with Washington football coach Chris Petersen

Recruiting Column

Recruiting Column: Interview with Washington football coach Chris Petersen


USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student-athletes of all talent levels and ages.

Chris Petersen coaches football for The University of Washington. He wears a W everywhere he goes. Sometimes it’s a gold W, sometimes it’s a purple W, but no matter the color, it’s always a W. This week, I asked Coach Petersen to tell me the key to his program’s recent resurrection. His answer: “It would be so short-sighted for us to make this just about football. That’s not how it works. Our lives mean so much more than what we can accomplish on a field every Saturday afternoon. This is about figuring out what it’s going to take to be successful for a lifetime, not just game time.”

Well, with an overall coaching record of 125-26, maybe that’s why Chris Petersen wins everywhere he goes. He did it at Boise State and fresh off the school’s first Pac-12 Championship since 2000, he’s doing it now at Washington. Yes indeed, I’d say Coach Peterson was born to wear that Washington W every day!

From getting an objective evaluation, to the role academics play in the recruiting process, here is what Coach Petersen had to say.

Q: Talk to me about your “Built for Life” philosophy.

A: The over-arching theme for our program is “Built for Life” because we believe football should be a platform that connects our players to all the amazing things that exist beyond the sport. From all the wonderful resources we have within the community of our university, to all the wonderful people outside of football, we know what we’re doing is not just about the here-and-now. It’s about the future of these young men.

The beautiful thing about football is that it’s a microcosm of life. It’s so emotional. Adversity hits, times get tough and we have to figure out a way to push through it. And, those lessons we learn on the field for the next four years, well, we can apply those to the rest of our lives.

Q: What advice do you have for a high school player not getting much attention from college coaches?

A: First of all, you’re in the majority! You always see and hear about the guys getting all the attention with the signing parties, the big to-do’s and you’re sitting at home wondering why’s that not happening for you. Well just understand, that’s not the reality of college recruiting. Whether you’re being heavily recruited, lightly-recruited or not recruited at all, the fact of the matter is that you’ve got to be proactive with this process. Like anything in life, you should be your own advocate. Take it upon yourself to figure out how where you belong. Think about it; that’s what most students, who aren’t playing football, have to do anyway. For you, football is just an additional component to factor in the mix. So, what?

Get to a decision on the schools that fit you academically, then get to the football program and get the accurate information we discussed earlier, and find a school that makes sense. Don’t let somebody else tell you what the best fit is for you. Figure that out for yourself.

Q: So much of the recruiting process is about understanding your ability-levels. How can a high school athlete go about getting an objective evaluation?

A: Getting that objective evaluation is probably one of the most important things for any recruit. Without it, you have no idea where you even need to start the recruiting process. I think getting that evaluation is all about communication. As a recruit, you need to get with people that will give you honest information about what level is right for you and that probably starts with your high school coach.

Listen, just because you want to play Division I football, doesn’t mean you can play Division I football. Heck, I was one of those guys when I was in high school! Fortunately for me, my dad was a coach. He could give me that honest information and help me understand what level was a better fit for me.

You can also get feedback directly from the programs you’re interested in. There’s so much football being played at the various levels, so the opportunity is there. Reach out to a few FBS schools. Reach out to some FCS and Division II schools. Ask them for genuine feedback on where they feel you fit, as a player. Because If you start talking to enough people, you’re going to discover the options that actually exist for you.

Photo: UW Athletics

Q: How important is a high school coach to an athlete’s recruiting process?

A: They can, and for the most part should, play a big role in directing a player to the right level. The vast majority of high school coaches would love to see any of their guys go on and play at the next level; key word being “play” at the next level. So, they want to help and get the player somewhere he belongs, somewhere he fits and somewhere he’ll play. It’s a sense of accomplishment and it’s why many, many coaches are in the business.

A lot of the time, the kid and the parents don’t agree with what that high school coach thinks, though. And, that’s unfortunate. Here’s why: college coaches are pretty good at recognizing talent and the film doesn’t lie. Your high school coach isn’t going to convince any college coach to give you a scholarship, if that college coach doesn’t see talent. But, what your high school coach is going to do is fill in the gaps for us. He’s going to talk to us about your intangibles, what kind of a teammate you are and the impact you’ve had on his team. Your high school coach isn’t going to get you a scholarship. What’s going to get you a scholarship is how you show up on film, how good your grades are and what kind of a person you are.

Q: What role do academics play in the recruiting process?

A: We work so hard to get this part right at the beginning of the recruiting process because you can waste so much valuable time on someone who just isn’t qualified. In fact, I don’t even ask the kids what they’re looking for out of a university, anymore. Because everybody is going to answer that question the same way. They’re going to say academics are number one. Well, all we have to do is look at your transcript to see if you’re really telling the truth.

Do you think you can just decide to become a good student once you get on campus? The reality is that college is going to be tougher than high school. To be successful at Washington, you need to be a good student when you get here. Or at the very least, show that you’re trending up and making progress in the classroom. Pac-12 football is tough. Being a student at Washington is just as tough. If you’re not qualified and motivated, you won’t fit in well here.


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