I went into the /wp-includes/ directory and copied the Recent Posts default widget and changed things around a pit so I can only get the featured image from the most recent posts. The following is the way I set it up in the functions.php file in my theme. I'm thinking this would be better off in a plugin, any thoughts?
fyi: i tested this out on the latest beta version of wp and a production network install, works fine, but i think it can be improved upon big time. Thanks for any thoughts in advance!