For many of Southwest Washington’s top football players, Central Washington University has long been a viable landing spot.
The NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference program in Ellensburg had 11 players with Clark County roots on its roster during the 2022 season.
In the latest recruiting cycle, culminating with Wednesday’s National Signing Day, the Wildcats added two more local recruits in quarterback Mitch Johnson (Mountain View) and lineman Ty Evans (Skyview). A third, Union lineman Joe Merlino, made a verbal commitment to Central Washington last month, but chose to delay making his signing official.
“They’ve done a really good job recruiting the area and they understand the different pockets,” Mountain View football coach and athletic director Adam Mathieson said. “… Central’s roster is pretty true to the northwest. They’ve done well with Washington kids, they have good relationships with Washington kids. They communicate with us super well.
“They always come through whether we have a player or not. With the staff at Central and a lot of Washington coaches, especially Southwest Washington, there’s a comfort there. When our kids go there, they’re taken care of.”
For Johnson, who compiled 3,782 passing yards, 988 rushing yards and 54 total touchdowns in two seasons as the Thunder’s starting quarterback, Central felt like the right fit when he went on his official visit to the school.
“Everybody was so welcoming to me, they had a great brotherhood, that’s kind of their motto there,” Johnson said. “The coaches were all great to me. I felt wanted and I felt like I kind of belonged there.”
Evans, a two-way starter for Skyview who is slated to be a defensive tackle at Central, got a similar impression when he visited the program.
“I just really liked the culture up there and the way the players interact with one another too,” Evans said. “That’s what ultimately brought me to my decision.”
While most positions on the field offer multiple avenues for playing time, the recruiting model for a quarterback is somewhat unique, Mathieson said. The head coach was impressed with Central’s transparency during their evaluation of his senior quarterback by keeping them in the loop on where Johnson stood on their board.
Toward the end of the process, Central’s offensive staff asked Mathieson to send them three full game films of Johnson. He chose Mountain View’s wins over Union and Richland, as well as the playoff loss to Rainier Beach from this season. After that, Johnson received an offer.
“As a coach, selfishly, you’re like, it makes me feel good that my evaluation of him was correct. We’re all biased to our kids, but I’m like, he’s a good player, a really good player,” Mathieson said. “… He’s got a great transcript, great film, but I appreciate the process they went through to get to that point.”
Johnson was also excited by the fit in the Wildcats’ offensive scheme, which has some similarities to the one he orchestrated at Mountain View.
“Their offense is very dynamic, very multiple. It’s actually a lot like what we run here at Mountain View, so that was a big part for me,” Johnson said. “As far as checks, plays, reading coverages, progressions, all of that was very similar when I went on my official visit.
“They told me straight up, they said, ‘this is an NFL-style offense. This isn’t like a high school spread offense.’ I was like, ‘perfect, that’s what I want to be part of.’ ”
Johnson and Evans, by the way, are planning to be roommates at Central. They’ve known each other since middle school, but have spent more time together in the last year working out at New Athlete, a specialty training facility in Vancouver.
“It all worked out,” Johnson said.
Central’s roster from last season featured plenty of familiar names in Southwest Washington: Tyler Flanagan (Woodland), Kai Gamble (Camas), Demonte Horton (Skyview), Jude Mullette (Mountain View), Dylan Dean (Columbia River), Vinny Lenzi (Ridgefield), Jairus Phillips (Camas), Titan Phillips (Camas), Josiah Cochran (Skyview), Isaiah Carbajal (Mountain View) and Ty Snider (Ridgefield).