Washington’s past, present and future coexisted inside Husky Stadium on Saturday.
Six minutes before the start of the Purple vs. Gold game, former UW cornerback Keith Taylor was drafted by Carolina in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL draft. Outside linebacker Joe Tryon — who was taken by the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the final pick of the first round on Thursday — did an interview with Pac-12 Network from the sideline during the scrimmage, and second-year Browns center Nick Harris hung around the field as well.
UW’s draft class — which also comprised defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike (No. 41 to Detroit) and nickelback Elijah Molden (No. 100 to Tennessee) — could have included tight end Cade Otton and left tackle Jaxson Kirkland as well.
Instead, both players decided to return to UW — and served as team captains in Saturday’s spring game. Fittingly, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Otton hauled in the first touchdown of the day — extending his gloveless left hand to snare a diving 7-yard score.
And, in a weekend largely defined by transition, Washington’s remaining elder statesmen still led the way.
“I’m so proud of those two young men,” UW coach Jimmy Lake said following the Purple squad’s 22-13 win. “With Cade and Jaxson, of course they could have went on. They could have got their name called these last three days in the NFL draft. But I know they felt there was unfinished business with what happened this last fall. They know we had a budding team that was just ready to break out, only playing four games. They’re energized and enthusiastic to come back here and finish off what we didn’t get to finish last year.”
The same can be said of redshirt sophomore quarterback Dylan Morris, who started four games in his first season under center before the plug was abruptly pulled. The 6-foot, 200-pounder from Puyallup completed 18 of 28 passes and threw for 125 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions on Saturday, side-arming a pass around charging defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele to find Otton for the aforementioned score.
Graduate transfer Patrick O’Brien — a sixth-year senior and Morris’ primary competition at quarterback — completed 11 of 18 passes for 107 yards and an interception.
But Morris’ work ethic may prove too much to overcome.
“He’s doing a great job. He’s a grinder. He’s always in the facility,” Kirkland said. “The thing about Dylan is, what he’s doing now is great. He’s trying to learn our O-line calls, so when we see something that’s messed up and need to change the protection or a run play, he’s on it, too. He gets our terminology. Which, when the quarterback knows what the O-line is doing at the same time, that’s huge.”
Added Lake: “He’s a gym rat. He’s in here all the time. I see him probably most often going by my office, going to meet with (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Donovan). Him going into our offense for a second consecutive year now, and it was obviously a short year last year, is just going to benefit his game — as it is for our offense.”
Still, for many fans, the biggest draw on offense was likely a true freshman early enrollee.
In his first spring game at his father’s and uncle’s alma mater, Sam Huard completed 7 of 12 passes for 74 yards, while losing a fumble and being sacked three times. Same as in the spring’s previous 14 practices, perfect plays were followed by inexperienced mistakes.
But the highs — like a 16-yard strike to wide receiver Terrell Bynum up the seam, or a 22-yard dart to tight end Devin Culp on fourth-and-6 — make the state-record-breaking passer’s potential apparent.
“It probably is exactly what we thought would happen,” Lake said of Huard’s up-and-down spring. “Here’s a quarterback that’s coming from a system that does not go under center, doesn’t have multiple checks. He’s facing a defense that is throwing a lot at him, that he’s never seen in high school. So I think his progression is right where it needs to be.
“… But he is right on track. I know this: He was better today than he was on Day One of spring football, and he’s going to be better when we enter training camp than he was the last day of spring football.”
Speaking of the last day of spring football, junior running back Richard Newton also made his presence felt — gashing up the gut for a 15-yard score. Redshirt freshman cornerback Elijah Jackson dropped off his man to undercut a pass from O’Brien and snag an interception, and senior running back Kamari Pleasant took a hand off three yards up the middle for a touchdown of his own. The two teams combined for eight total sacks, and Peyton Henry and Tim Horn each converted both of their field-goal attempts.
In the end, the final score is all but irrelevant.
What matters is that the present continues pushing to improve on the past.
“It’s definitely motivating (to see UW guys get drafted), just because you see how hard they worked when they were here,” said junior inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio, who finished with four tackles. “Joe (Tryon), KT (Keith Taylor), E3 (Elijah Molden), Levi (Onwuzurike), all those guys were the first guys in, last guys out. And they were always working, doing extra stuff, bringing along the young guys.
“So for them to get drafted, and get drafted as high as they did, it didn’t surprise me. It was just like … this is what they get for working so hard. I’m excited about what they’re going to do in the league.”