These compliments come with a caveat.
Every year, in every program, players rise through the ranks over the course of 15 spring practices. And every year, in every program, some inevitably fizzle once spring turns to fall.
Which of Washington’s spring risers will make a tangible impact against Michigan, Oregon and Washington State? Which will be exposed as little more than a Montlake mirage?
In April, of course, it’s too soon to tell. But that won’t stop us from speculating. Here are five ascending Huskies through six spring football practices.
Dominique Hampton, junior safety
After three seasons toiling behind established talents Byron Murphy, Keith Taylor and Trent McDuffie at cornerback, the 6-foot-2 Hampton bulked up to 225 pounds and slid back to safety this spring.
The move has paid immediate dividends.
The Glendale, Arizona, product and former three-star recruit has seemingly settled with the starters through six spring practices, while a slew of safeties — Cameron Williams, Asa Turner, Brendan Radley-Hiles, Julius Irvin, etc. — have taken turns alongside him. According to UW coach Jimmy Lake, Hampton has the speed to succeed in coverage and the physical frame to do consistent damage in run support.
“There’s a lot to like about Dom Hampton,” Lake said this week. “The light has finally clicked on for him. He’s really immersed himself in the playbook, in the details. But his size, his speed, his strength, his physicality we really like at safety. The scary thing is he is so fast and athletic that he could still play corner, and we will still bounce him out to corner if need be.
“I’m excited about where he’s at right now. We’re still only in spring ball practice No. 5. We’ve got a ways to go, but he’s off to a tremendous start.”
Ja’Lynn Polk, sophomore wide receiver
Washington’s starting wide receivers this spring have been a trio of returners: senior Terrell Bynum and redshirt freshmen Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan.
But come September, you can bet that the 6-2, 200-pound Polk will play.
He did that as a freshman at Texas Tech, recording 28 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games. And though it will understandably take some time to adjust to UW’s offense, Polk has displayed a pair of trustworthy hands the past two weeks.
“Today hopefully you watched Ja’Lynn Polk,” Lake told the media Wednesday. “That was a guy out there making some tough catches, and he made some big-time plays today. He’s been making plays every day. I actually showed the whole team this morning a couple plays he made on Monday. And then today he had his best day by far of spring football.
“So I can see the light bulb definitely coming on for him — just learning the splits, the formations, the techniques. Everything’s different that he’s learning here than at his past place. But it’s fun watching him go out there and make some plays.”
With Michigan transfer Giles Jackson and four-star freshman Jabez Tinae joining the mix this summer, it will be interesting to see who settles into Washington’s wide receiver rotation. Expect Odunze, Bynum and Polk to be involved in some fashion. And though he didn’t play in UW’s four games last fall, redshirt freshman Sawyer Racanelli could also make a compelling case for playing time.
Bralen Trice, sophomore outside linebacker
UW co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe made some waves last week when he said Bralen Trice — who has been buried on the bench in his first two seasons in Seattle — “will be probably better than Joe Tryon.”
Tryon (6-5, 262) and Trice (6-4, 255) have similar size, both were relatively modest three-star recruits, and Tryon needed most of two seasons to make an impact as well. But those are some lofty expectations nevertheless.
And yet, in the practices that followed, Trice began working with the starters as an extra rusher on passing downs. And though Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Ryan Bowman have solidified their starting spots at outside linebacker, Trice could help provide valuable depth — especially in the wake of Laiatu Latu’s medical retirement. Senior Texas A&M transfer Jeremiah Martin and redshirt freshmen Sav’ell Smalls, Cooper McDonald and Jordan Lolohea are competing for game reps as well.
“He’s definitely coming on,” Lake said of Trice. “He’s gotten stronger in the weight room. That was the first thing that we needed to see when he came in here from high school (at 236 pounds). He’s definitely playing with more confidence now. He’s showing more versatility in his pass-rush moves, and he’s showing toughness in stopping the run.
“So I’m really excited about that room. That room played really well last year, and we’re adding Bralen Trice and Jeremiah and (three-star freshman) Maurice Heims coming up in the summer. So we don’t lose anybody who actually played in 2020. So as long as those guys keep that edge about them and that grind to try to get better every single day, which Bralen has, that room’s going to be in really good shape.”
Mark Redman, redshirt freshman tight end
Cade Otton may be the country’s most complete tight end.
But the Huskies need more than one.
UW’s other scholarship tight ends — junior Devin Culp, sophomore transfer Quentin Moore and redshirt freshmen Mark Redman and Mason West — tout a combined one career catch. But Culp (6-4, 265), Moore (6-5, 245) and Redman (6-6, 250) in particular offer intriguing targets for UW QBs.
Of that group, Redman may ultimately separate himself with a run-blocking frame and a soft set of hands.
And the good news is, he’s only getting better.
“(He’s) very long. Really soft hands. He’s smart,” Lake said. “We have a lot in (the playbook) very early here on offense for practice five, and for a guy that’s only been here for a little over a year he’s been able to absorb it extremely well.
“Mark’s got a bright future. He’s just got to keep grinding and keep working. He made a bunch of really good catches out there today, as I’m sure you saw. I’m excited about his future.”
Brendan ‘Bookie’ Radley-Hiles, senior nickel/safety
In three seasons at Oklahoma, Radley-Hiles started 32 games and contributed 112 tackles with three interceptions. He arrived at UW with a proven Power Five pedigree. But when spring practice began, “Bookie” lined up at nickelback with the second-team defense.
The lesson: regardless of his résumé, Radley-Hiles will have to earn reps.
Which is exactly what he’s doing.
The 5-9, 175-pounder has come on strong this week, picking off a Dylan Morris pass Monday before adding a sack and a pass breakup in scrimmage drills Wednesday. He’s been rotating with sophomore Kamren Fabiculanan at the starting nickelback spot, and even slid back to safety for a few plays Wednesday (after playing nickel and safety at Oklahoma).
If Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon lay claim to the starting cornerback spots, Radley-Hiles could find a home at the nickelback position vacated by draft-bound Elijah Molden. But wherever he lands, expect “Bookie” to provide a physical presence.