The former Marysville-Pilchuck High School star — he was The Seattle Times’ 2014 state player of the year — says he’s more focused, more confident now.
Pain and patience defined Austin Joyner’s first two seasons at Washington.
As a true freshman in 2015, Joyner tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while covering the opening kickoff in the Huskies’ first home game of the season.
His knee healed, he was a little-used reserve defensive back as a redshirt freshman in 2016, playing mostly on special teams while biding his time behind one of the nation’s top secondaries.
Season opener, UW @ Rutgers, 5 p.m., FS1
Joyner came into his third fall camp with the Huskies this month determined to put past frustrations behind him.
“This is the best I’ve ever been as far as my mentality,” he said. “My health is up there with the best I’ve ever been. I’m in the best condition of my life, so you throw that in the mix and I’ve got a pretty good shot out here. I’ve been making plays and I’m going to try keep making plays day in and day out.”
At the deepest, most competitive position on the roster, Joyner is tied for the team lead — in a crowded field — with four interceptions through the first 12 practices of camp.
The former Marysville-Pilchuck High School star running back — he was The Seattle Times’ 2014 state player of the year after rushing for 1,768 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior — says he’s more focused, more confident now.
“All football focused. That’s been the biggest thing — not having my mind elsewhere,” he said. “Focusing on being here, being here now. … Our defense is very complicated, so it takes a lot of mental focus and physical exertion. So I’m here both mentally and physically.”
Coaches have noticed.
“I definitely see an urgency from him,” co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said, adding: “I can really see the maturity level has increased with him.”
Said Chris Petersen: “Austin’s doing a nice job. He’s one of those guys that shows up every day. I think what everybody really sees is how hard a guy works. I think that’s what you see in Austin. He’s not perfect by any stretch: He just competes and works so hard that he makes up for things that he’s still improving on the front part of his game.”
Joyner, 5 feet 10 and 182 pounds, made his mark all over on special teams last season, playing on both coverage units and serving as an upback on kick returns (returning eight kicks for 98 yards).
“We were so happy with him last year on special teams,” Lake said. “I mean, he was a monster on kickoff (coverage), on punt return — he made a ton of plays for us.”
With Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King off to the NFL, Joyner sees three starting jobs up for grabs in the secondary. Joyner has been running mostly with the second-team defense during camp, though he has been the third safety in the first-team dime package (six defensive backs).
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Joyner’s versatility gives him an edge. He can play on the outside as a traditional cornerback, but he’s also been used as a nickelback and safety. Lake says Joyner can — and will — play all over the secondary.
“I’ve been waiting for my opportunity, especially with those three guys (Baker, Jones and King) who left,” Joyner said. “They’re very talented, but I feel I’m very talented too and I finally am getting an opportunity to show that. I’m trying to take advantage of it.”
• Henry Bainivalu, a 6-foot-5, 298-pound freshman out of Skyline High, has taken over as the No. 2 left tackle. Depth on the offensive line might be the most pressing issue for this team right now — particularly with redshirt freshman Luke Wattenberg sidelined with an unspecified arm injury — and Bainivalu could be counted on soon enough. He would be just the third true-freshman offensive lineman to play for Petersen in 12 years (following Trey Adams and Harris the past two seasons).
• Another true freshman, CB Elijah Molden, also earned a promotion to the second team. Freshman safety Brandon McKinney and freshman CB Keith Taylor have also been getting regular reps with the No. 2 defense.