Forty-four has to show up.
Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles did just that at Bishop Gorman High School, then IMG Academy, then as a three-year starter for the Oklahoma Sooners — where he produced 115 tackles, 14 passes defended, nine tackles for loss and three interceptions in 35 career games (and 32 starts).
In March, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound defensive back arrived in Seattle as a graduate transfer with two seasons of eligibility, a playoff pedigree — and plenty still to prove.
“To be completely honest with you, I have to earn my right to speak,” Radley-Hiles said after Washington’s 52-3 win over Arkansas State. “I’m not a person who’s going to come in here and act like I know things in this defense more than this team.
“So to be fully honest with you, my first week or two weeks here, I didn’t want to say too much. I wanted to find my role on this team and rise to the occasion. Younger guys, they would come and ask me questions about things, and I would have one-on-one talks. But as far as over-speaking and things of that nature, no. I had to grow into that role.”
Added sophomore cornerback Trent McDuffie: “He’s very humble, and he’s there to just work. One of the first conversations we had, he came in and said, ‘You know, I’m here to just develop and learn the culture.’ He’s not here to flaunt. He’s not here coming in, thinking he’s this big-time player. He’s here to just develop his game so that when he goes to the NFL, he’s going to be good.”
Through three games, Radley-Hiles is getting there. Last Saturday, he led the Huskies with nine tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery and a pass breakup in the 52-3 win over Arkansas State.
And he did it at perhaps UW’s most demanding defensive position, where Elijah Molden and Myles Bryant both previously starred.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Radley-Hiles said of the nickelback role. “But when you put the hours in, you’re ready for it. So anybody that plays the nickel position at the University of Washington, you have to put real hours in. Your preparation, your film study, your communication … a lot of things run through you. So you can’t have any errors. There’s no room for errors.”
In his first three games — in a defense that ranks second nationally in opponent pass efficiency rating (80.45), second in opponent yards per pass attempt (4.2), third in opponent completion percentage (47.1%) and fourth in pass defense (123 yards per game) — the errors have been increasingly few.
“He has played better (each game) from Game 1 to Game 3, and I’m guessing he’s going to play his best football this Saturday, because he’s hungry,” said UW head coach Jimmy Lake. “He wants it. He’s really smart. He’s got a good (football) savvy. He’s got great football awareness.
“And it’s funny watching his eyes just open when we tell him another detail. ‘Well, if you see this, you can do this.’ It’s cool, the interaction. He’s just like, ‘Coach, I’ve never heard these types of coaching points before.’ And then you have film to back it up. And then he gets to watch the film and how it’s supposed to be done. So his game is just going to continue to rise as long as he keeps working at it, which I know he’s going to work at it. This guy loves football and I’m glad he’s a Dawg.”
But is “Bookie” — who departed an Oklahoma program that’s 3-0 and ranked No. 4 nationally, with four College Football Playoff appearances since 2015 — equally satisfied, considering the Huskies’ 1-2 start?
On Saturday, he folded his hands — with each finger individually taped — to demonstrate his new team’s togetherness.
“You have to stay together, regardless,” Radley-Hiles said. “Things happen. Life happens. But stay together, period. This team stayed together. This team proves week after week, day after day in practice that we know how to stay together — regardless of outside noise, regardless of anything internal that’s trying to weed anything out of us. This group stays together, and I love that.”
He added: “I think every goal that we made in the preseason — before the season — is still in front of us. I think this group is coming together by the day. I think we’re growing as men. I think we’re growing as football players. I’m very excited for the future with this team.”
That future includes a primetime Pac-12 opener against Cal on Saturday night. It includes showdowns with conference contenders UCLA, Oregon and Arizona State inside Husky Stadium. It includes road games at Stanford and Colorado, two teams that topped Washington in 2019. It includes Radley-Hiles’ first Apple Cup on Nov. 26.
It includes ample opportunities, even despite UW’s 1-2 start.
“Now it’s about results,” Radley-Hiles said. “You have to show up. Forty-four has to show up, and if he’s not showing up, then he doesn’t deserve to talk like that. Period. I have to make sure I’m doing what I’m saying I’m doing. The results have to be there first.”
The results have to be there — for his team, and for his brother.
In 1995, Brandon Webb — Bookie’s older brother — was shot and killed in a drug dispute in which he wasn’t involved, less than two months before his college football career at Grambling State was set to begin.
Bookie — who called that nickname “a mom and son thing,” with his mother assigning it while she was still pregnant — was born four years after Brandon died, with their birthdays being four days apart.
Which is why Bookie wears 44.
“If you ever see a picture of my brother, he looks just like me,” Radley-Hiles said last Saturday. “Our mannerisms are the same. We kind of talk the same. Our mentality is the same. So I kind of feel like I am my brother, in a sense. I feel like I live as him. That’s 44 for me.”