The big story in the NCAA college football offseason is the refurbishing of Pac-12 weakling Washington Huskies' defense. In fact, refurbishing might be an understatement. Steve Sarkisian's program has received a complete overhaul, starting with coaching and finishing with recruiting.
UW hired a new defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, who spent the early part of his career bouncing around.
After graduating from Oregon, he spent some time in Boise working on his post-grad credentials where he landed a position as a linebackers coach. After a short stint, he moved to Berkeley to become Cal's linebacker coach, where he “was credited with turning his linebackers into a unit that epitomized the Cal defense’s swarm-to-the-ball philosophy” (via UTsports.com). His big break came in 2006 where he rejoined Boise as their defensive coordinator.
While with the Broncos, Wilcox made a name for himself when the highly disregarded Mountain West Team defeated his alma mater Oregon and shutout TCU in the Fiesta Bowl in 2009. Also in that season, the team finished with an overall 14th rank in defense and a No. 3 rank in turnover margin.
Then Wilcox was promptly picked up by Tennessee where after two more years, he returned to the Pac 12 with Washington. Wilcox will help shape the young Husky defense, starting with sound strategy, lots of film and whiteboard studies and plenty of drills. He implements hustle and chaos into his heavy doses of preparation to make for a well suited defense.
Sarkasian also hired Wlicox's former roommate at Oregon and assistant at Tennessee, Peter Sirmon, who will handle the linebackers, and without being said, has a good relationship with Wilcox.
Also a good fit and new to the mix is Oregon State's ex-defensive back coach Keith Heyward. “Keith is a bright, young coach and a terrific recruiter,” Sarkisian told the News Tribune. “I think he’ll be a great fit with our new defensive staff, in particular Justin Wilcox, our new coordinator."
The Husky's final coaching addition, and the real difference maker, was Cal's former defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi. ESPN describes it as "no ordinary assistant-coaching move."
The Bay Area native and ex-Cal football player ditched his roots for Seattle. Besides rallying an aggressive fury of a D-line, Lupoi is a master recruiter and had no shame in stealing Cal's eighth ranked overall incoming commits. Safety Shaq Thompson and Jordan Peyton followed Lupoi.
Washington has a bright new future, while Cal was left with a terrible taste in its mouth and perhaps a new conference rival. Lupoi certainly tops Berkeley's Most Wanted List after a season of shifty moves.
Here are the five promising players that will reshape Washington's defense, and perhaps their chances at a Pac-12 title.