This may have gone underreported, but the Washington Huskies football program held a quarterback competition this offseason. Jacob Eason won it. Jake Haener lost it, then opted to transfer a week before the start of the regular season.
That was Saturday. Two days later, Haener spoke about his decision with Dave Mahler and Dick Fain on KJR-AM.
And, no, he holds no ill will toward Washington.
“At the end of the day, I think the coaching staff really cares about me and knows how hard I worked for the program and everything I did,” Haener said. “So, yeah, I think it was a fair competition. I think it was, like Coach (Chris Petersen) said, coming down to splitting hairs. I do think it was a very close race at the end of the day.
“They felt in their heart of hearts that they could have a rare talent with Eason, and I don’t disagree with them. He’s a big guy, 6-foot-6, has a very strong arm and is a prototype for what the NFL looks for. I wish him nothing but the best moving forward. It’s just a tough situation. You put so much work into it and you want it to go your way, but it’s college football.
“I obviously want to get into the profession myself after and see if I could get into coaching, and I’m sure there’s going to be hard decisions and hard things I have to go through with that as well. It’s just a game and stuff like that happens, and it is what it is.”
It is what it is — but it didn’t have to be. Haener — a 6-foot, 194-pound redshirt sophomore — emphasized that he could have left the program immediately upon Eason’s arrival. After all, Eason was once a five-star prospect out of Lake Stevens High School, as well as the starter as a freshman at Georgia. The widespread assumption was that, following Jake Browning’s departure, Eason would instantly inherit the starting role.
But Haener stuck it out — for a season, at least.
“I didn’t want to be that kid that shies away from the competition,” he said. “I wanted to go at it and give this kid a battle, and I think a lot of people in the Seattle area and across the country thought this kid was just going to be handed the job. That wasn’t the case.
“I fought him down to the last week, and I truly think that they had a very hard decision to make, because I don’t think anybody in that building really had an idea of who the starter was going to be until Coach Pete and Coach Hamdan (offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan) made the final decision. Because it was very close.”
So close, it seems, that Petersen told the media Friday that both Eason and Haener would play in the Aug. 31 season opener against Eastern Washington. According to Haener, the plan was for the former Monte Vista High School standout to earn “a quarter or two” of action. He also said that Petersen and Co. pushed for him to stay, and told him that if he still wanted to transfer following the 2019 season, they would approve any waiver endorsing immediate eligibility at his next institution.
Still, Haener was ultimately unwilling to leave his future to chance. He said that he “wanted to guarantee myself a fresh start somewhere and two years of eligibility.”
And, yes, the timing of his departure was “awkward,” to use Petersen’s word from Monday’s news conference. The sixth-year Huskies coach added, “Was it surprising? Yeah, the timing was surprising.”
Considering that redshirt freshman Colson Yankoff also transferred to UCLA this offseason, Washington will enter Saturday’s opener with just three scholarship quarterbacks. That’s certainly surprising, and perhaps more than a little unsettling.
But to ensure two seasons of eligibility at his next institution, Haener couldn’t afford to wait.
“I worked the whole offseason with these guys and have been preparing like I was going to be the guy, and truly wanted that. But it didn’t work out, and that’s totally fine,” Haener said. “But yeah, there’s hard decisions that I made. My teammates ultimately backed me up with it 100 percent and didn’t want me to leave things to chance and wanted me to use my talents somewhere else and be able to get on the field somewhere.
“I think that’s the goal for kids in college football. They want to utilize the time they have to play the game that they love. I love the game and want to try to get on the field somewhere.”
But where will that somewhere be? Haener said Monday that “six to eight schools” had been in contact since he entered the transfer portal at 3 p.m. the day before. And, while a few Pac-12 programs reportedly have interest, he added that “I think ultimately the Mountain West is probably going to be my spot,” and Fresno State is “a very high possibility.” He expects to make a decision in the next 24 hours.
So ends, incredibly abruptly, the Jake Haener era at Washington. It included four appearances in his redshirt freshman season, in which he completed 9 of 13 passes for 107 yards with a touchdown and an interception. It included an eye-opening debut, wherein Haener completed all seven of his pass attempts and threw for 110 yards and a touchdown in relief during a win over North Dakota.
It also included a 37-yard pick-six in a 12-10 loss at Cal — and the unfortunate fallout that followed.
“It was pretty tough,” he said of the public response following that play. “You get a lot of things after the game and you try to not pay attention to it. Stuff is popping up on your phone — messages that aren’t the best mentally to deal with, because I was a 19-year-old kid at the time trying to deal with it and really experience college football for the first time.
“You’ve got to deal with it. It’s part of it, and it was a really good learning experience, and I think it’s going to help me for the rest of my career moving forward at the next school, because it’s valuable.”
That was the underlying theme of Haener’s radio appearance Monday — not the vitriol, scorn or bitterness that some may have expected.
Even amid the uncertainty, there was gratitude, appreciation and excitement.
Haener lost a quarterback competition, and gained some perspective along the way.
“I feel like I battled and did everything I could, and I worked my tail off, man,” Haener said. “I have no regrets with the whole situation at all, whatsoever. I’m proud of it. It’s going to live on, and I’m going to be able to tell my kids about it.
“It doesn’t have to be a sour moment. It can be something that I’m proud of, and I did my very best. Because people have to understand that I could have left last year. I could have just said, ‘You know what, I have no chance.’ But I didn’t. I did everything I could, and did my best to be a leader on the team and do everything like that. Stuff just had to happen, and I’m here now.”