Sawyer Racanelli’s rehab got off to a rocky start.
Washington’s freshman wide receiver tore his ACL while running a route before his high-school senior season in June 2019. He says he was jogging to the sideline when “all of a sudden my leg kind of gave out. I fell right to the ground and I was like, ‘OK, that was kind of weird.’ Then I started to run around a little bit, and I thought it felt fine.”
His leg, miraculously, also appeared stable. He went to a Brad Paisley concert that night and wore his cowboy boots (though he says, when he was dancing, he was “stepping kind of weird”). There was discomfort in the leg over the next few weeks, but Racanelli kept training and playing. He assumed it was a hamstring strain.
It took a month before tests revealed he’d actually torn his ACL. He’d have to miss his senior season.
And for Hockinson High School that was a brutal blow. In Racanelli’s junior year, the 6-foot-2, 208-pound athlete caught 101 passes for 1,764 yards and 21 touchdowns, while adding 207 rushing yards and 11 rushing scores as well. On the defensive side, he contributed 88 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions. He led the school near Vancouver, Washington, to a Class 2A state title for the second consecutive year.
Sitting on the sidelines, Racanelli said, “was definitely surreal.”
The good news for UW football fans is that his wait is almost over.
Racanelli — who reported to campus last weekend — said in a phone interview this month that he feels 95% to 100% healthy, depending on the day. His physical therapy concluded before the COVID-19 outbreak hit, allowing his recovery to remain on schedule. He’s running full speed straight ahead, and cutting on slants and outs. He’s hoping to participate fully in UW’s voluntary workouts.
But he won’t be totally back until he finally takes a hit.
“For me, I’ve always been a physical football player,” Racanelli said. “Once that first hit happens I feel like my adrenaline is going to kick in and I’m going to be back to my normal self. It’s going to kick-start my physicality. It’s all going to start flowing again and then it’s going to be off to the races from there.”
And Racanelli isn’t the only racehorse wide receivers coach Junior Adams recruited to Seattle this summer. He’ll be joined by consensus four-star prospects Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze in UW’s formidable 2020 freshman class.
“This is coach Adams’ first class (at UW), so I think he wanted to start it off with a bang by going to get Jalen and Rome and I,” Racanelli said. “I think with having three receivers that are all above 6-foot or 6-1 and run pretty consistent routes, are really athletic, it’s going to be fun just to see what we can do and contribute to what coach Adams has already built.”
So that brings up the question of contributions. It hasn’t always been easy for freshman wide receivers to play early in the past. While Washington must replace its top two pass-catchers in Aaron Fuller and Hunter Bryant, the freshmen will have plenty of company in the wide-receivers room. Terrell Bynum, Puka Nacua, Ty Jones, Marquis Spiker, Jordan Chin, Austin Osborne and Taj Davis all return.
But Racanelli is confident the freshmen can do more than compete.
“You’ve got to make an impact right away, and I feel like us three freshmen can do that,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to learn from those (older) guys, because they’re all really good receivers. It’s going to be fun to compete right away and hopefully get a chance to play and see how that goes.”
It’s hard to know how (or if?) anything will go this fall — with the uncertainty of the season and the Huskies’ new offense. First-year offensive coordinator John Donovan is set to implement a prostyle attack, and he must also decide on a starting quarterback during a modified fall camp. In fact, UW is settling on new starters at quarterback, running back, left tackle, right tackle, center, tight end and wide receiver.
But here’s a safe assumption: The end of Racanelli’s recovery will be better than the beginning.
“I think the offense is going to be fun,” said Racanelli, who added that he’ll primarily play in the slot. “A lot of people have said, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a run-heavy offense,’ which I don’t think it’s going to be. It’s a prostyle offense. Prostyle realistically is 60-40 pass-run. Having good running backs is going to help, but based what I’ve seen, it’s going to be a fun thing for the receivers. It’s not going to be the run-heavy offense that UW has recently seen in the last couple years.
“I think it’s going to be a new offense and a fun offense and I think the fans are going to be in for something special.”