It’s natural to search for salvation in the transfer portal, or in the undying allure of a five-star freshman. New is better. Acquisition is fun.
Development is boring, patience painstaking.
But like it or not, most production takes time.
So, for the sake of this exercise, let’s disregard UW’s parade of transfer portal arrivals — the Cam Brights and Lonyatta Alexanders and Will Nixons and Aaron Dumases and Wayne Taulapapas. Let’s also set aside the incoming freshman class, featuring a pair of four-star locals in tight end Ryan Otton and safety Tristan Dunn.
From the pool of returning players who started less than half of the Huskies’ games in 2021, who is most primed for a breakout season?
Here are 10 Huskies who could flourish this fall.
WR Ja’Lynn Polk | rs. fr. | 6-2, 193 | Lufkin, Texas (Texas Tech)
WR Giles Jackson | jr. | 5-9, 177 | Antioch, Calif. (Michigan)
Analysis: Polk and Jackson both arrived last offseason with legitimate Power Five production, but they didn’t make the impact Husky fans hoped. Polk’s debut was commandeered by a dislocated clavicle suffered on the first offensive play of UW’s season, but he did return to produce four catches for 101 yards and a touchdown against Colorado and Washington State. Perhaps the most beloved player on UW’s roster, Polk started alongside Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze throughout much of the spring and seems set for a significant role this fall.
As for Jackson, the Michigan transfer handled kickoff and punt returns last season but never found his offensive footing, contributing 132 rushing/receiving yards without a score. But he earned repeated praise from UW’s new staff last spring and could serve as an X-factor this fall.
“Giles is one guy who has really impressed me through workouts with some of his versatility and his ability to change direction,” UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. “I came in thinking maybe he was more of a kick-returner guy, but I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen with him so far. So I think there’s a lot of ways you can use a guy like that.”
Husky Dominique Hampton | jr. | 6-3, 216 | Glendale, Ariz.
Analysis: Hampton’s breakout has been long foretold.
It didn’t come at cornerback. It didn’t come at safety.
But for an athlete with a rare combination of explosiveness and physicality, the hybrid “husky” role — which requires nickelback coverage skills and linebacker toughness — could unlock Hampton’s untapped potential.
First, he’ll have to best sophomore Kamren Fabiculanan for a starting role. But in Hampton’s fifth season in Seattle, the path to playing time couldn’t be clearer.
For this player, in this program, it’s likely now or never.
Edge Bralen Trice | soph. | 6-4, 256 | Phoenix
Analysis: The spotlight has understandably centered on Zion Tupuola-Fetui.
But is the former All-American from Pearl City, Hawaii, UW’s premier edge rusher?
The answer isn’t obvious. Last spring — a year after co-defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe said Bralen Trice “will probably be better than Joe Tryon” — edge coach Eric Schmidt doubled down, saying Trice might be the hardest Husky to block. Head coach Kalen DeBoer added: “He brings it all. He’s just a well-rounded football player. So I like his energy. I like who he is. He’s been fun to watch, and he’s certainly a guy you can hang your hat on. I know that.”
That’s a lot of tall talk. But after delivering five tackles for loss and two sacks last fall, it’s time for Trice to take another step in his redshirt sophomore season.
OL Troy Fautanu | soph. | 6-4, 307 | Henderson, Nev.
Analysis: Last spring, DeBoer called Fautanu “a phenomenal player.”
Phenomenal players need to start.
The only question is where.
The 6-foot-4, 307-pounder operated at left tackle throughout much of April, but sixth-year senior Jaxson Kirkland will almost certainly return to that spot this fall. Senior Corey Luciano seems to have solidified himself at center, but Fautanu has the positional versatility to excel at right tackle or either guard spot.
In his fourth season on campus, Fautanu’s time has come. All that’s left to decide are the details.
DL Voi Tunuufi | soph. | 6-1, 275 | South Jordan, Utah
DL Kuao Peihopa | rs. fr. | 6-3, 304 | Makakilo, Hawaii
Analysis: You know the statistics, but to set the scene: UW finished 10th in the Pac-12 in opponent yards per carry (4.76) and 11th in rushing defense (194 yards per game) in 2021.
That won’t win many football games.
On UW’s defensive line, Tuli Letuligasenoa is a proven commodity, and Faatui Tuitele and Jacob Bandes bring some experience as well. But Tunuufi and Peihopa — a pair of second-year players — are the future up front. Tunuufi shared the team lead with three sacks last season, and Peihopa served as a starter for much of the spring (given Tuitele’s injury and Sam Taimani’s transfer).
This fall and beyond, much might depend on the size of Tunuufi and Peihopa’s symbolic strides.
CB Mishael Powell | soph. | 6-1, 203 | Seattle
Analysis: It’s not hard to discern how Powell ascended from anonymous walk-on to assumed starter (opposite UC Davis transfer Jordan Perryman) at cornerback.
According to his teammates and coaches, he outworked everyone.
So much so, perhaps, that former prized recruit Jacobe Covington transferred to USC this offseason. In his stead, Powell and Perryman seem primed to succeed draft picks Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon on the outside at UW. But should they stumble, redshirt freshmen Davon Banks and Elijah Jackson are intriguing options as well.
S Asa Turner | jr. | 6-3, 200 | Carlsbad, Calif.
Analysis: Turner has started 13 games in his three seasons in Seattle. He has had ample opportunities, and has made some plays, but has yet to deliver consistent results. Still, UW’s new staff seems to trust Turner, as he operated as a starting safety beside Alex Cook throughout much of the spring.
It’s easy to understand why.
“Man, Asa’s been on a mission ever since the end of the season,” Cook said in April. “Asa was the [top] lifter of the entire winter competition. I hate to admit this, but he’s the first one here and the last one out. I usually try to do that, but Asa usually beats me here, and he’s usually the last one here. If you come back here in seven hours, he’ll still be here, working. That just says a lot about him. Everybody notices it.”
TE Devin Culp | jr. | 6-4, 244 | Spokane
Analysis: Culp’s long-awaited breakout began last fall, when he recorded 20 catches for 222 yards and a score (including five catches for 81 yards against Cal and six catches for 83 yards against Colorado).
With Cade Otton moving on to the NFL, Culp and Jack Westover should run the show at tight end.
In Culp’s case, the concern has always been a lack of pass-catching consistency. If he eliminates drops, UW’s new offensive system should put him in positions to succeed.
Honorable mention: LB Alphonzo Tuputala, CB Davon Banks, C Corey Luciano, CB Elijah Jackson, OL Nate Kalepo, OL Matteo Mele, edge Jeremiah Martin and edge Sav’ell Smalls.