Friday’s mosh pit was eight years in the making.
On Sept. 10, 2011, Washington defeated Hawaii 40-32 inside Husky Stadium. Sav’ell Smalls was there with his father, Joseph Butler. It was sunny and 72 degrees, the kind of September Saturday a college football fan dreams of. They sat on the banks of Lake Washington, with more than 63,000 neighbors, and watched Keith Price throw for 315 yards and four touchdowns. The water sparkled and the sun shined off the Huskies’ golden helmets.
“One day, you’ll play here,” Butler told an 8-year-old Sav’ell, like Mufasa in “The Lion King” showing Simba his kingdom.
“I don’t remember (that game),” Smalls, now a five-star Kennedy Catholic outside linebacker, said in a room filled with reporters and family Friday. “But he told me that, and he doesn’t lie to me.”
The proof was hidden behind a yellow-and-black striped shirt. On Friday afternoon, during an all-school assembly, Smalls officially accepted his Under Armour All-American Game jersey. Then he turned to his teammates, who were draped in identical red polos and beige khakis at his back.
“Where’s my boy at? Where’s my boy at?” Smalls repeated.
That’s when he spotted him — Kennedy Catholic junior quarterback Sam Huard, a five-star 2021 UW commit, whose smile essentially spoiled the imminent announcement. Smalls threw his massive right arm around his current (and future) quarterback.
“Me and my boy Sam, we’re going to bring Montlake its first national championship since 1991,” Smalls said into a microphone, before ditching the bulky yellow-and-black disguise to reveal a T-shirt with a purple UW logo across the front. He added a purple “Dawgs” hat, which sat atop his skull for a fraction of a second, before being forcibly ejected in the ensuing mosh pit. But no matter.
Eight years ago, Butler spoke something into existence.
Did his son just do the same?
“Literally, since I was a little kid, I always had big dreams for myself,” Smalls said in the news conference that followed. “That’s one thing about me: I’m not afraid to dream big and say some things where other people would be like, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t do that,’ or ‘That’s not possible.’”
Butler always knew that this was possible — that his son had “the size and intelligence to play at the next level.” But where exactly would that be? The 6-foot-3, 230-pound outside linebacker earned scholarship offers from more than 30 different schools, including Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Florida State. On May 1, he publicly eliminated Washington from contention. On Aug. 18, he announced his top six — and the Huskies were back in the mix.
Aside from Butler’s foreshadowing, Friday’s mosh pit was hardly a foregone conclusion.
“I went through a whole bunch of emotions,” Smalls admitted. “I eliminated them. I went from, ‘Oh, I want to go to UW,’ to, ‘I don’t want to go to UW.’ ‘I want to stay at home.’ ‘I don’t want to stay at home.’ So it was definitely a long process.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie (and say) that I knew all along, that the recruitment was easy. It was definitely hard. But we’re here. It was an obvious decision. They’ve got football. They’ve got the business program. They’ve got connections to take your life to another level. They have connections all around the world. So to me, it was really a no-brainer.”
It may have been an “obvious decision,” but Smalls didn’t make it alone. His parents helped, as did Kennedy Catholic coach Sheldon Cross. Huard “was nudging me every single day,” Smalls said with a smile. “He did not let off. Hearing ‘UW’ every day definitely helps a little bit.”
But a meeting with UW coach Chris Petersen on Sept. 1 — exactly four months after Smalls momentarily eliminated the Huskies — ultimately sealed the deal.
“I was asking him questions, and he was talking to me about the plan he had for me if I came there,” Smalls said. “I was sitting in the meeting and … there’s no question what I could do with my life there. Nothing else beats it.”
Added Cross: “When you sit with Chris Petersen and hear about what it’s going to be (like) for life, it’s a real big deal.”
Smalls’ commitment, too, is a real big deal for the hometown Huskies. Regarded by the 247Sports Composite rankings as a five-star prospect, the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country and the No. 9 overall prospect in the 2020 class, Smalls’ pledge raised UW’s overall class ranking from 17th to 12th nationally. It also catapulted the Huskies over rival Oregon and into the Pac-12’s top spot. Smalls said he plans to inform his other suitors of his decision soon and officially sign with the Huskies in December.
Then it’s down to business.
“I definitely want to get on the field right away,” Smalls said. “I’m going to work hard. I’m going to handle business here with coach Cross and the rest of our team. We’re going to win the state championship like I said up there in the gym and work hard all offseason and hopefully (I’ll) be able to play right away as a freshman.
“I never want to sit on the bench. I’ve never really sat on the bench in any part of my life. So going to college, I don’t want anything to change. So I hope to play right away and I hope to make a big impact on the city.”
On social media, at least, Smalls’ impact was immediate. While his teammates moshed, Husky fans on Montlake likely did the same. Meanwhile, Butler sat in the first row of bleachers inside Kennedy Catholic’s gymnasium with his wife, Sophia, and his sons, Savion and Sincere, and cried. It was, quite literally, a dream come true. It was everything he imagined.
“We’re just so grateful right now,” Butler said.