Washington's sophomore wide receiver hopes to take next step with quarterback Keith Price.
Kasen Williams’ electrifying hop over Washington State’s Nolan Washington served as the highlight play of the Huskies’ Apple Cup victory, if not the entire 2011 season.
Now Washington coach Steve Sarkisian wonders if Williams can take a more metaphorical leap.
During his news conference last week previewing spring football, Sarkisian listed several questions facing the Huskies this year. Among them was this: “Can Kasen take the next step?”
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It’s an answer that will prove critical to Washington’s football fortunes in 2012.
Along with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Williams was one of the marquee recruits of UW’s Class of 2011. Williams was named the Parade Magazine All-American Player of the Year, among numerous other honors.
Williams hardly disappointed in 2011, putting up numbers rivaled by few freshmen receivers in UW history. He finished with 36 receptions for 427 yards and six touchdowns.
And his production might have been greater had he not suffered an ankle injury at Utah in the fifth game of the season that slowed him for a few weeks. He also played in the shadow of seniors Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar.
Still, the season ended with the feeling there’s a lot of room for Williams to grow, a maturation that is more urgent now that Kearse and Aguilar have finished at UW.
Those two combined for 88 receptions for 1,310 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011, each finishing among the top seven career receivers in school history.
Throwing departed running back Chris Polk into the group as well, Sarkisian noted that “those guys have scored a lot of touchdowns for us the last three years. Now who are going to be those guys?”
Williams, a graduate of Skyline High School in Sammamish, is the obvious choice to take over as the go-to receiver, and Sarkisian recently met with Williams to let him know what’s expected in 2012.
“He said my freshman year I looked good but that I can do better,” Williams said. “He thought I can do better and he wanted to see more out of me, so this season I need to fulfill what he’s looking for. And I think I could have done a lot better last season, too. To go with all this hard work, I need more film studying and being in the weight room more and just showing more dedication to the program.”
That dedication includes deciding not to participate in track this spring. Williams won the Class 4A state high-school titles in 2011 in the triple jump, long jump and high jump.
“He’s just going to focus on football,” Sarkisian said. “I think he realizes the opportunity that’s ahead of him and where he can fit in at the wide receiver position, and I think he wants to seize the opportunity.”
That decision has already helped Williams bulk up to 215 pounds from the 200 he played at last season.
“We want him to be strong and physical,” Sarkisian said. “The difference for Kasen is that when he was in high school, he was (playing) football, basketball and track so he was constantly doing things. Now with just football and offseason conditioning, he’s been able to build his body up but still stay explosive. It will be interesting to see how he can carry that weight.”
Williams noticed the difference immediately during the first spring practice.
“And the best thing about it is I feel faster to go with that weight,” he said.
Washington quarterback Keith Price also noticed the difference.
“You can tell he’s been in the weight room,” Price said. “He’s going to be a beast this year.”
Playing faster, though, could also be from feeling more at ease on the field. Coaches generally believe players take their biggest step in improvement after their first year of playing.
“Last season, I was still trying to learn the playbook through the whole season,” Williams said. “And now I feel a lot better with the playbook and I’m just going off the feel now. I’m running and playing comfortable.”
That comfort should allow Williams to concentrate on the finer points of the position this spring, such as getting out of jams from defenders.
“That’s something that I really struggled with this season,” he said. “And just being better at route running in general.”
Williams continues to develop his on-field relationship with Price.
“That’s definitely a connection you’re going to see a lot this year,” Williams said. “We have to make sure we’re 100 percent with our steps and our routes and all that type of stuff. Timing has got to be perfect for us to be on that next level.”
• The Huskies will wear full pads for the first time this spring Monday morning. Practices are closed to the public other than a workout April 21 at Memorial Stadium at 11 a.m. and the Spring Game on April 28 at CenturyLink Field at 1 p.m.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.