Lawndale’s Makell Esteen is latest Southern California standout to commit to Washington

Lawndale's Makell Esteen tries to outrun the tackle attempt by a Crenshaw defensive back after making a catch during a game Sept. 14, 2018.
(Shotgun Spratling / For The Times)

Washington has built a Southern California secondary pipeline during Chris Petersen’s tenure as head coach.

The Huskies have signed 14 defensive backs from Southern California in Petersen’s six recruiting classes. They are expected to have three starters from the Southland in their secondary this season with three of the five likely backups also from the area.

The flow does not appear to be slowing down.

Washington picked up its second defensive back commitment from Southern California in the 2020 class Sunday when Lawndale’s Makell Esteen announced his intentions to join the Huskies on social media.

“It’s like the perfect fit,” Esteen said. “They send a lot of DBs to the [NFL], so I really just trust them more. With the coaches telling me where I’ll play at, I see myself playing there.”

Esteen plays both ways for Lawndale. He was the team’s second-leading receiver and finished second with six touchdown receptions last year. But his future is on the defensive side, where he’s one of the most dynamic defensive backs in Southern California.

He has a rare blend of skills. He can’t be classified as a ballhawk safety picking off deep passes or a downhill bruiser who punishes receivers or even just a simple, sure tackler as a last line of defense in the back end. He’s all of them in one. His junior year highlight tape shows the full breadth of his abilities. The first 2 minutes 15 seconds are just interceptions — eight of the 19 passes he has picked off in his career. There are nearly two minutes of bone-bruising collisions that highlight his willingness to hit. Add in two minutes of tackling in the open field, two minutes of locking up wide receivers at cornerback and 90 seconds of catching passes from recent Middle Tennessee State commit Jalon Daniels and you have one of the most complete highlight tapes of any 2020 Southland prospect.


The Washington coaching staff has seen Esteen as a versatile defender who can play at safety, cornerback or nickelback.

The coaches told Esteen he’s an “OKG,” short for “Our Kind of Guys.” He’s not ranked the highest — a three-star prospect rated the No. 38 safety in the nation and the No. 575 overall player, according to 247Sports Composite — but the Huskies see him fitting in seamlessly with the defensive back program they’ve built.

A look at some of the top high school football players at each position in the Southland for the upcoming 2019 season.

Aug. 15, 2019

“They said I’m a dog,” Esteen said. “I’m their type of guy. I really just fit into the program, and they’ve been saying that since Day 1 since I’ve been getting recruiting by them.”

Washington has been one of the nation’s top producers of defensive back talent since Petersen’s arrival. There have been six Huskies defensive backs selected in the top two rounds of the NFL draft since 2015. Four others from the time period are on NFL rosters.

Only three of the 10 were considered among the top 250 prospects of their high school recruiting class.

Getting away

As Esteen started picking up scholarship offers, of which he now has 20 according to Rivals, he knew he wanted to leave Southern California. USC and San Diego State offered, but Esteen wanted to move away from home and experience something new.

He took a trip to Seattle for his official visit to Washington during the summer and fell in love with the city and the area surrounding the campus.


“I’d never been there. It was my first time,” Esteen said. “It’s a beautiful city. It’s a great culture. I like the school. The school is very nice. The stadium is nice. Then the team, they’re cool. We were with them for the day, and they love it. They were telling me about their experience before I committed, and it really fits me.”

It was the final official visit Esteen plans to take. He said his recruitment is now shut down.