A true freshman starter last season, Harris gained 23 pounds of weight this offseason. "I feel like an offensive lineman now," he says.

Share story

“I think when you step back and look at the big picture, the bar’s been moved up, been moved forward. Kids know it. … Hopefully they’ve gained good confidence from this season, but I think there’s also some lessons to be learned in this game, you know, what we have to do to truly compete on this elite level.” — Chris Petersen, moments after the Huskies’ Dec. 31 loss to Alabama in the national semifinals

Here’s one lesson Nick Harris learned after playing Alabama: At some point, food becomes tasteless.

“At first, I loved eating,” he said. “But after putting on 20 pounds I was tired of eating. … It became a chore after a while.”

Harris was the Huskies’ starting right guard in their first College Football Playoff appearance. Six weeks before that game, Harris turned 18. When he lined up against Alabama, he stood 6 feet 1 inches tall and weighed about 270 pounds, rather small for a major-college offensive lineman.

Washington lost to Alabama, 24-7, ending their breakthrough season in Chris Petersen’s third year at UW. Before and after the game, Petersen has repeatedly called that Alabama defense the best he’s ever seen in college.

“I was still a kid,” Harris said. “Those guys were like 22. They’re men.”

While at JSerra Catholic in Southern California, Harris wasn’t considered much of a prospect. His only other scholarship offers were from lower-level programs New Hampshire and Cal Poly before the Huskies’ came in with a surprising offer.

“Nobody knew who I was,” he said.

Harris then became just the second true freshman offensive lineman to ever play for Petersen, and suddenly there he was — starting against Alabama.

“I learned a lot about myself,” he said. “I learned that once I started playing with confidence, I’m a lot better. When I’m hesitant, I don’t play as well. So I learned, toward the middle of that game, I learned, ‘You know what, let’s just fire off. I don’t care who these guys are. They’re college athletes just like me. They eat the same food as me. They lift the same weights as me. They play the same sports as me.’ So once I put that through my head, I was like, ‘Let’s roll.’”

That mentality continued throughout an important offseason for Harris, for UW’s offensive line and for the program as a whole. They don’t speak about it much publicly, but the Huskies’ goal, of course, is to get back to the playoffs, to prove they have staying power among college football’s upper crust.

The No. 8 Huskies open the 2017 season Friday against Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J. That night, Harris is expected to start again at right guard, and he’ll be carrying with him the lessons learned against Alabama — and about 23 extra pounds.

Gaining confidence was only half of the equation. For Harris and the rest of the Huskies’ linemen, gaining strength and weight became paramount.

“We hit the weights hard in the offseason. Eating right, sitting with nutritionists, trying to get good weight on my body,” Harris said. “Once I got to spring ball I was around 287. And I felt good. I was like, ‘This is what it feels like to have some weight behind me.’

“Getting up to 293 I was like ‘OK, I feel like an offensive lineman now.’”

Across the board, 10 of UW’s top returning linemen combined to gain 161 pounds since last season. Notably, junior left tackle Trey Adams gained 18 pounds, up to 327, and junior right tackle Kaleb McGary added 10 pounds, up to 318.

New offensive line coach Scott Huff joined the UW staff on March 1. As important as the weight gains have been, Huff says he has emphasized tough-minded cohesiveness with the group.

“I think they’ve grown together,” he said. “I think we’re on the right track here mentality-wise. It’s like, ‘Hey, if there’s anything we can take away from that (Alabama) game, if we’re right mentally we can play and we can beat anybody.’ And not to say they weren’t (fully prepared), but I think another year of going through it together … that’s huge. That’s huge.

“You get a little bit more swagger and your confidence comes through in your preparation.”