Austin Seferian-Jenkins was angry all week. ASJ didn’t become the most identifiable initials in Seattle sports because of subpar performance. He played an awful game last Saturday against Illinois, and there was no excuse — first-game rust, broken pinkie had just healed, heaped too much pressure on himself — that could abate his humiliation.
“I was embarrassed last week with the way I played football,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I was embarrassed for my team, embarrassed for my coaches, embarrassed for myself.”
When Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian met with ASJ on Tuesday to challenge his preseason All-American tight end, the coach didn’t light a fire as much as he threw more wood on it. Seferian-Jenkins had something to prove, even though the next opponent was Idaho State. It was a pride thing.
From the first snap Saturday, the tight end was more aggressive, more physical and more precise. He caught an 8-yard pass from Keith Price on the game’s first play from scrimmage, maintained his energy level throughout and looked dominant at times in the Huskies’ 56-0 victory over the Bengals before 67,093 at Husky Stadium.
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Against Illinois, ASJ had as many catches (three) as penalties, and he accounted for just 8 yards of offense.
Against Idaho State, he caught five balls for 62 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown reception and a 34-yarder in which he almost reached the end zone. He blocked well to support a Washington run game that produced 370 rushing yards. He wasn’t whistled for a penalty, which was a miracle considering the Huskies committed 16 of them. And best of all, he never looked gassed playing at the Huskies’ new fast pace.
“I think I brought it today,” Seferian-Jenkins said.
He was happier, but he wasn’t satisfied.
“It wasn’t my best performance,” he said. “I think I can get a lot better. That’s OK for right now, but I need to improve every single week. I think I answered the call, and now I have to build on it.”
For the first time this season, Seferian-Jenkins is free, and it showed Saturday. He doesn’t have to recover from an injury. He doesn’t have to atone for a drunk-driving conviction and await punishment. He doesn’t even have to get back into the flow of the game.
Finally, there’s nothing holding him back. He’s not under scrutiny. He’s just a football star again, and he can go about finishing off his legacy as the best tight end in the Huskies’ long tradition of great tight ends.
ASJ reflected briefly on all that he has been through the past half year.
“It feels fine,” he said. “It’s not about people talking about me off the field or injuries or any type of adversity. You know how the saying goes: ‘Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.’ I want to be the record-breaking type.”
Now, as No. 17 Washington (3-0) enters Pac-12 play next week, the Huskies will do so almost at full strength. They have gotten through the nonconference slate with only one significant injury, middle linebacker John Timu’s bruised shoulder, and it isn’t a long-term issue. As solid as this football team has looked to start the season, there’s plenty of reason to expect more, and Seferian-Jenkins’ possible re-emergence is atop the list.
“We had one of those player-coach moments on Tuesday,” Sarkisian said. “I challenged him, and Austin responded and finished off the week in nice fashion, and in turn, it showed on the field.”
This was the first game in which the Huskies’ top two receiving targets, ASJ and Kasen Williams, led the passing game. A year ago, the Huskies were too dependent on those two, but in the first two games, they had performed surprisingly well with diminished numbers from ASJ and Williams. Saturday provided the perfect mix.
The two stars combined for nine of the Huskies’ 21 receptions and 140 of their 310 receiving yards. They got theirs, but there was plenty more for an offense that had 10 players catch at least one pass. Balance won the day. In the run game, 10 players had at least one carry. And the Huskies scored 56 points by having eight different players score a touchdown.
“When so many people are playing well, I think it just opens up the entire offense for everybody,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “It just makes it a lot easier.”
Seferian-Jenkins isn’t embarrassed anymore. He sees the possibilities again. Amid all the drama, his season wasn’t lost. In fact, it has barely begun, and now the Huskies need him to have the biggest impact of his career to help the program follow up the first undefeated nonconference run of the Sark era with their best conference showing of the coach’s tenure.
“This week, I played better,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I think we can agree on that.”
And then he smiled, wide and long.
It’s hard to remember the last time he smiled like that.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org