Running back Jesse Callier was not highly recruited out of high school, but the true freshman is proving to be a little ram on offense for Washington.
Before football players get a chance to prove themselves to the public, they have to prove themselves to their teammates. In the case of Jesse Callier, that didn’t take very long.
The UW true freshman running back from Downey, Calif., enrolled at Washington in time for spring practice, and quickly made believers out of those he practiced against every day.
“During spring ball, I remember one play that still sticks in my head where he had a run and juked about three kids and made two straight-up fall down,” said middle linebacker Cort Dennison. “When I saw that, I knew he was a real big-time football player.”
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So when Callier took the first handoff of his college football career 39 yards against BYU, there was no surprise on the UW sideline.
“He’s the kind of kid that is going to put his head down and try to run over you, but he also has the speed and moves that he can get around you,” Dennison said of Callier, who is UW’s second-leading rusher with 143 yards in the first three games.
The only people who might have been caught off guard to see Callier sprinting down the sideline were all the college recruiters who weren’t sure he was worthy of a scholarship.
A year ago today, in fact, Callier had yet to receive his first Pac-10 offer despite the fact he was on his way to leading the state of California in rushing. He would finish with 3,010 yards, which was also seventh in the nation.
UW running-backs coach Joel Thomas says Callier is from a high school (Warren High) that is “kind of an underrecruited area.” Thomas credits UW assistant Johnny Nansen, who is responsible for that area, for noticing Callier. “He really uncovered that one,” Thomas said. “He was hidden in the rough.”
Callier also says he didn’t hit the summer camp and combine circuit, going to one as a freshman and then never again.
“I felt like if I was going to get recruited, it was going to happen anyway,” said Callier, who will return to his home area this weekend as the Huskies play in Los Angeles against USC at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The 5-10, 205-pound Callier might really have been off the radar had the Warren High coaches gotten their way and had Callier play quarterback as a senior.
“He’s got a great arm,” then Warren High coach Chris Benadom said last winter.
Callier, though, said he wanted to stay at running back, saying he knew by that point he needed to have a good senior year to get noticed by Pac-10-level recruiters. Eventually, he said, it became a moot point when another QB transferred in.
“But if I had played QB, I don’t believe I would have been here,” he said. He actually got put into some emergency QB duty last year and completed 4 of 9 passes for a touchdown.
But mostly he ran, getting 447 yards against Whittier and 292 yards on 45 carries against Gahr.
The Huskies offered him in October and Callier quickly accepted, at the time having offers only from non-Pac-10 schools such as San Jose State (where two brothers played) and Nevada.
Shortly before signing day, however, Oregon called and offered a scholarship.
Callier, though, didn’t bat an eye, saying he told Oregon, “Naw, I’m UW all the way.”
After some good practices in the spring, he suffered a minor knee injury at the midway point, and Thomas said he wondered a little bit about Callier’s durability as fall camp began.
But when fellow freshman Deonte Cooper suffered a season-ending knee injury early in camp, Callier became one of the main backups to Chris Polk, along with Johri Fogerson. And with Fogerson now battling a hip injury that will sideline him again this week, Callier is the unquestioned No. 2. He had a season-high 10 carries for 57 yards against Nebraska and has a team-high 7.2-yard per-carry average for the year.
“He does things pretty fast and I don’t think all of this stuff around it (big stadiums, TV, etc.) fazes him,” Thomas said. “He’s just having fun, playing ball.”
• Fogerson sat out most of practice Wednesday; UW coach Steve Sarkisian then declared him out.
• Senior starting LB Victor Aiyewa suffered an apparent dislocated finger early in practice and sat out the rest of the way. But Sarkisian said he should play Saturday.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org