College football players release social-media statements for a multitude of reasons.
Maybe they’re transferring, or medically retiring. Maybe, after perusing the transfer portal, they’re committing to a college. Maybe they’re announcing an endorsement deal, organizing an offseason camp or — best-case scenario — declaring for the NFL draft.
Now, add another to the list:
They’re not going anywhere.
Until recently, that wasn’t something an underclassman necessarily needed to say. Unless it was announced he was leaving the team, fans could assume they’d see him for the upcoming season.
In the transfer portal era, that’s no longer the case.
Especially when you consider what’s happened at Washington.
In the last two-plus years, Husky football players have withstood the following unforeseen adversities:
- The abrupt resignation of coach Chris Petersen, who recruited them to the program and served for many as a mentor
- The arrival of a global pandemic that comprehensively altered campus life, emptied stadiums and wiped out eight scheduled football games
- The departure of prized defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who accepted the same title at Texas
- The disappointment of an unexpected 4-8 season, comprising embarrassing bookend losses to Montana and Washington State, for a team ranked No. 20 in the AP’s preseason poll
- The one-week suspension of coach Jimmy Lake, following forcible contact to a player during a home loss to rival Oregon
- The midseason firing of Lake and his staff, and subsequent hire of Kalen DeBoer — a coach with zero prior relationships among Husky players
- The departure of wide-receivers coach Junior Adams, who was retained by DeBoer only to accept a similar position at Oregon — the program’s primary rival
Given the onslaught of deflating dominoes, departures were inevitable. And since DeBoer arrived in late November, six Huskies have opted for the transfer portal: linebacker Jackson Sirmon (Cal), wide receiver Terrell Bynum (USC), defensive lineman Sam “Taki” Taimani (Oregon), outside linebacker Cooper McDonald (San Diego State), tight end Mark Redman (San Diego State) and wide receiver Sawyer Racanelli (Montana). Of that group, the first four were starters in 2021.
And despite those departures, it could have been worse. One contributing defensive player notified the staff of his intention to transfer and even organized a recruiting trip to USC before finally being convinced to reconsider, a source confirmed to The Times last month.
Another prominent defensive player, former All-American Edge Zion Tupuola-Fetui, acknowledged in an interview with 950 AM KJR last month that he “was thinking of leaving, because it’s just kind of the state of college athletics at this point. It’s an option.”
Meanwhile, UW added six incoming transfers as well: Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., UC Davis cornerback Jordan Perryman, Pittsburgh linebacker Cam Bright, Arizona State wide receiver Lonyatta Alexander Jr., New Mexico running back Aaron Dumas and Idaho State punter Kevin Ryan.
But, while tasked with assembling a serviceable 2022 class, DeBoer’s more significant challenge may have been re-recruiting his own roster.
“I think that was something that probably was a little tougher than what I imagined, just because of how much these guys have gone through over the course of the last two years,” DeBoer said during a signing-day news conference last week. “I’ve gone to different programs, but I can’t say that it’s been something where the turnover has happened within two years at this rate. And then you add COVID and you add when guys feel like it’s kind of stable and all of a sudden you have another change on the coaching staff … those things are hard.
“But having gone through it now, I told the guys this when we were meeting hours upon hours and just getting to know each other and building those relationships: We’re going to be even better because of it, now that we had to really get together and talk through that.”
Those talks — along with strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery’s winter workouts, and the hire of associate head coach and wide-receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard — seem to have done the trick.
And ushered in the social-media statements.
Throughout the month of January, four key contributors — wide receivers Jalen McMillan, Ja’Lynn Polk and Rome Odunze, plus Tupuola-Fetui — posted releases that followed a familiar formula:
DEAR HUSKY NATION,
[Statement of reassurance, acknowledging recent adversity while emphasizing a continued commitment to the program and coaching staff]
Some combination of “Go Dawgs!”, “Let’s go to work!” or “Let’s ride!”,
In 2022, saying essentially nothing is necessary.
But DeBoer also knows actions speak louder than words.
“Just walking in the weight room on any given day and seeing the smiles and the energy and how they hustle … There hasn’t been one thing we’ve asked, especially in the strength and conditioning area, where they have flinched at all,” DeBoer said. “It’s picking up steam and it’s a huge tribute to these guys, and what I really ask them to do is just pull down the walls and let us touch their hearts and minds and get to ’em. They’re allowing us to do that, and I really appreciate it.”
And yet, heart/mind metaphors aside, there are more social-media statements — commitments, transfers, random reassurances, etc. — to come. In the current era of college football, roster construction (or destruction) never really stops.
Which is why, In the days and months and years ahead, DeBoer will win (or lose) based on his ability to attract and develop top talent … as well as his ability to then keep that talent in town.