Even when he couldn’t walk — his left foot and leg immobilized after a freak football accident — Kasen Williams competed with his dad Aaron.
It’s what they do. It’s how they’ve always communicated with each other.
“I’ve always wanted to do what my dad did and do it just a little bit better,” Kasen said. “He’s pushed me my entire life.”
The competition inspired Kasen to follow his father’s footsteps to Washington.
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Aaron played receiver for the Huskies from 1979 to 1982 and wore No. 2, so it’s hardly a surprise Kasen has starred as a big-play pass catcher at UW the past three years while wearing his dad’s old number. They both were also record-setting track athletes in high school.
“He’s really competitive like that,” Aaron said with a laugh during a telephone interview. “He gets it from his mom.”
Kasen’s mother Rhonda Williams may have given him his competitive drive, but Aaron has always been the target. Especially during recent months while Kasen recovered after breaking his left fibula and suffering a fracture in his left foot called a Lisfranc injury last year against California.
“My dad kind of fell short of hitting the league (NFL),” Kasen said. “He was right at that point, but he fell short. So when this happened to me, my initial thought was I’m not going to fall short. There’s some motivation behind me coming back and playing this year. It’s about finishing what my dad started.”
Ten months after being carted out of Husky Stadium, Kasen Williams is back on the field where his injury occurred. He’s running without a leg brace or limp, determined to resume a stellar football career, and he has been one of the bright spots during Washington’s football camp, which began Monday.
During a seven-on-seven passing drill Tuesday morning, the 6-foot-3, 217-pound receiver used his long strides to gallop past a defender and haul in a pass from quarterback Jeff Lindquist along the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown reception.
The play rekindled memories of the dynamic play-making receiver from Skyline High School in Sammamish who was Parade Magazine’s national player of the year. The three-time Class 4A state champion seemed destined for greatness with a rare combination of size, strength, speed and leaping ability.
“He’s getting back to where he was,” said UW junior cornerback Marcus Peters. “We’re going one-on-one together a lot in practice. Only he really knows when he’s all the way back, but he’s getting there.”
Williams estimates he’s 85 percent healthy and hopes to be 100 percent when the Huskies begin the season at Hawaii on Aug. 30.
Senior running back Deontae Cooper, who has recovered from three knee injuries at UW, has counseled Williams during his recovery.
“It’s definitely hard to overcome from a mental standpoint because it’s always going to be in the back of your head,” Cooper said. “But he’s had some success. … I’m excited to see what he does.”
So far, so good.
Williams complains about feeling sluggish at the end of routes. The sure-handed pass catcher bemoans a few dropped passes, and he’s eager to see how he’ll perform when the pads go on this week.
But his foot is pain-free, and mostly he’s thankful to be playing football again.
“The injury has made him stronger,” said Aaron, 54, a forklift driver at Safeway Distribution. “It has really made him look at the future. He was taking some things for granted, thinking that it was just going to come to him. He was slotted for the NFL, and now he’s got to work at it.
“He’s got to get himself back. He was a good team player, but he’s more into his teammates now than he was before.”
Kasen admits a fourth year at Washington wasn’t the original plan when he arrived in 2011. He had hoped to join Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who left UW with a year of eligibility remaining and were drafted by the NFL.
“Definitely those thoughts were in my head last year,” Kasen said. “I think that’s where I got sidetracked. I think I needed to learn something from (coach Chris Petersen) because he is such a good coach and there’s still things here that I haven’t accomplished yet.”
If Williams has a season like he did as a sophomore, when he caught 77 passes for 878 yards and six touchdowns, he would climb near the top of UW’s all-time receiving charts for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
He’s also projected as the No. 26 pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft by CBSsports.com.
Kasen, though, insists he’s not focusing on any of that.
“It’s getting better every single day,” he said. “There’s something you need to work on, whether it’s blocking or getting better in the film room or getting better on the field or leadership. … I’ve just been hit with more adversity than I’ve ever experienced, and I just know something good is right around the corner.”
In good hands
|A breakout year would place Kasen Williams among the elites on several all-time receiving lists at Washington|
|Receptions||6th||142||Reggie Williams (243)|
|Receiving TDs||T-12th||13||Mario Bailey (30)|
|Receiving yards||14th||1,726||Williams (3,598)|