Ja’Lynn Polk put in the work in preseason camp.
He was paid last Saturday.
A 6-foot-2, 199-pound wide receiver, Polk starred against Michigan State — catching six passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns, en route to being named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. Through three games, the Texas Tech transfer has recorded 12 catches for 245 yards (20.4 yards per reception) and four scores.
6 a.m. study sessions have yielded September success.
“We were in the meeting today and talked about his leadership and his ability to galvanize the guys,” UW associate head coach and wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard said on Aug. 12. “Everybody just has a tremendous amount of respect for the guy in our room. He puts in the work. He puts in the time, and he puts pressure on other guys to put in the time. He had guys coming in early, 6 a.m., to his own credit — not because I asked him to do it, not because it was forced on him — so they could study the playbook. He didn’t make them. He just said, ‘Hey, this is available. I’ll be here to help you guys study.’ And a lot of guys showed up for that.
“So I appreciate him just as a human being and who he is. Sometimes people get so caught up in how many catches, touchdowns, yards people have, and don’t have an appreciation for the young men that these guys are. Of all things, I appreciate the man that he is.”
That man was molded, in part, by adversity. After recording 28 catches, 264 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman at Texas Tech in 2020, Polk transferred to Washington. He admitted that “I knew a little bit about (UW), not too much. I didn’t even take a visit here before I committed. But I just kept my faith and trust and knew that everything was going to be OK, and here I am.”
Everything was OK.
The Lufkin, Texas, native dislocated his clavicle on the first offensive play of the 2021 season, requiring emergency surgery. After missing the next nine games, he returned for a road loss at Colorado — posting a 55-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
He came back before many thought he could, in part because of his preparation.
“I learned that once I had my injury,” Polk said of the 6 a.m. study sessions, “just preparing every day and being ready for that moment and that opportunity when it comes. If you want to be a pro, you have to do pro things. I want to help my team and my receiver room do that.”
It should be no surprise, then, that the wide-eceiver room has starred in No. 18 Washington’s 3-0 start — with Polk, Jalen McMillan (16 catches, 308 yards, 3 TD), Rome Odunze (10, 132, 1), Giles Jackson (9, 136, 0) and Taj Davis (4, 77, 1) all excelling. Or that Polk exploded for touchdowns of 8, 17 and 53 yards last Saturday — counting them out on his fingers after the final score.
“Money in the air,” he said with a smile, when asked what went through his head while waiting for the last deep ball to come down. “It’s a position you want to be in. Because in practice you rep it so many times, and then you finally get it in the game and it’s just like butter on bread.”
It makes sense, then, that Polk (and by extension, quarterback Michael Penix Jr.) have feasted on opposing secondaries.
They practice like they play.
“He’s a guy that’s the same person every day,” Penix said Tuesday. “He’s always going to come here and work extremely hard. He’s going to run each and every route full speed. He shows it each and every day. He makes big catches, big plays all the time at practice. When you do that each and every day and always come out with that mindset that you’re going to take the ball out of the air, those things will happen on Saturday.”
Added Odunze: “JP’s a straight dawg. He’s going to get dirty on the field and do what needs to be done in the blocking game. He’s a physical guy. He just brings that dawg mentality, that he’s going to get the job done no matter what.”
Polk’s work day starts at 6 a.m. each day, if not earlier.
Less than two years after committing without ever visiting, the third-year freshman is making an impact on Montlake.
There’s money to be made.
“This is just a great place to be,” Polk said. “When you come to a great place like this and you have a great environment of coaches and teammates and people around you that are willing to do everything for you and push you to be the best that you can be, I feel like you have no choice but to be great.”
- UW had a large contingent of recruits on campus for the win over Michigan State, and received commitments from a pair of 2024 prospects — athlete Landon Bell and edge Jaxson Jones — less than 24 hours later. “It’s huge,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said of the opportunity to sell their program. “We can talk about it and what the feel is (in the stadium), talk about the family and just making this such a great experience for our guys, and winning is a huge part of that. It was a great advertisement for our program. Whether it be across the country, with our recruits that were here, committed, uncommitted, those guys just really experiencing it, there was some (things) I guess that were eye-opening. Like ‘wow, this place is special. This place is different.’ And they got a chance to see it firsthand.”
- During his weekly news conference Monday, DeBoer complimented cornerback Davon Banks and linebacker Carson Bruener for their high-impact hits on kickoff coverage in the win over Michigan State. “You don’t know which way the ball carrier is going to be, and all of a sudden he’s in your lap and you’ve got a chance to make that big hit,” he said. “Davon and Bruener and those guys all just being ready for the moment, it was pretty sweet seeing that.”
- UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb spoke Monday about the tangible impact an electric home crowd had in the win over Michigan State. “I thought it was just phenomenal, what the crowd and the environment was for our kids — specifically on third downs for our defense,” he said. “There’s no way to say that doesn’t impact the football game. We saw it from the Seahawks the week before. You know you have an advantage playing at home that you’ll be able to count on a little bit and the energy our guys will have offensively. … I think sometimes people are excited about it and they talk about it, and then there’s the reality of when you see it from my point of view, somebody misfiring on the field because of what’s going on out there. The whole sideline feeding off of it is exciting. So that was really good to see.”