Name, image and likeness has never been so Pacific Northwest.
That was apparent at the Port of Everett at 1 p.m. on Saturday, as a fleet of 20 fishing boats gradually descended on the dock — each hauling Huskies and salmon alike. The event, organized by UW quarterback Sam Huard and NIL collective Montlake Futures, was designed to pair fans and Husky football players for an unforgettable fishing tournament on Puget Sound.
It was dubbed “Dawg Derby.”
And the experience didn’t disappoint.
“Obviously being in the Northwest and having this unique feature available for us, we took advantage of it,” Huard said Saturday, before posing for photos with each of the boat captains. “It turned out exactly how we expected and better for the first time, and hopefully we’ll continue to grow this event every year and really make this a big thing. But for the first year, I’m really excited about this. It was a really fun thing to put on.”
It may have been most fun for junior defensive lineman Tuli Letuligasenoa, who reeled in an 18.1-pound salmon — by far the biggest catch of the day. The 6-foot-1, 313-pound lineman acknowledged afterwards that “it was a team effort, for sure.”
Which figures, considering he had never fished before.
But not all Husky football players felt like a fish out of water. After setting off at 6 a.m., senior center Corey Luciano returned roughly seven hours later — with a salmon cradled like a football under his arm and a purple bucket hat hiding his scraggly brown mullet. Sophomore wide receiver Rome Odunze — who grew up fishing with his grandfather in Utah — struck out on salmon, but caught a combination of dogfish, rockfish and flounder instead.
(The salmon haul, by the way, was filleted and brought home by the fans and football players.)
Transfer linebacker Cam Bright, meanwhile, dressed more for function than fashion — donning a purple Adidas UW vest over a long sleeve camouflage hunting shirt.
It was a makeshift marriage between football and fishing.
And yet, can Montlake Futures be doing more? On Monday, the Matador Club — an NIL donor collective supporting Texas Tech — announced it had signed 100 Red Raider football players to renewable one-year deals worth $25,000 apiece. Likewise, 1Oklahoma — a collective tied to the University of Oklahoma — touted in a release this spring that “every OU football player will have an opportunity to earn between $40,000-$50,000 a year while positively impacting the community.”
Other collectives, of course, are openly flaunting NCAA rules by offering lucrative deals to prospective recruits — a practice Montlake Futures has declined to follow.
Montlake Futures, meanwhile, has focused more on fan and community involvement — including recent camps and events partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Puget Sound.
And even without five-figure contracts or recruiting inducements, Washington football players applauded Montlake Futures’ ongoing efforts on Saturday.
“I’m sure this is the only thing like this in NIL so far. I doubt there’s been fishing derbies going on anywhere else,” Odunze said with a laugh. “(Montlake Futures) is doing all they can to help us out. Cameron Foster (the agent who represents UW football players Odunze, Huard, Sav’ell Smalls, Carson Bruener and Devin Culp) is doing everything he can to help us out. People in the area are doing all they can to help us out, and it’s been a blessing for sure.”
Huard, in turn, hopes to redistribute those blessings — which is why the Sam Huard Foundation was born. While the 20 UW football players who took part in the Dawg Derby were paid separately by Montlake Futures, the event also raised roughly $18,000 via participating fans and corporate sponsors — which Huard’s new non-profit foundation will use to aid “children and families in Washington State with financial and respite needs.” (Huard said Saturday they have yet to decide which specific charities or organizations will be beneficiaries.)
“When I first heard about the NIL thing, of course wanting to make money is a big part of it. But a big part of it for me is also being able to give back,” said UW’s redshirt freshman quarterback and former five-star recruit, who also hosted a kids camp at Kennedy Catholic High School last month. “Because this place means so much to me. I’ve grown up here and been here my whole entire life, and it’s a special place.
“So for me to be able to use my name, image and likeness, and my teammates to do the same, and be able to give back to this community that means so much to me, it means a lot.”
While fans, fishermen and UW football players ate grilled hot dogs on the dock on Saturday afternoon, Huard stood on an elevated stage and thanked those who helped organize the event — including his famous father.
“What’s your dad’s name?!” a fan jokingly yelled, as Damon Huard — another former UW and NFL quarterback — smiled from a few feet away.
Indeed, this was both a family and a Husky football affair — and not just for the Huards.
“My dad got a boat, so I was with my dad, my grandpa and both my brothers,” said sophomore linebacker Carson Bruener, the son of former Husky tight end Mark Bruener. “But I also got to meet the skippers and all of that, and they were all great guys.
“It was fun getting to learn more about fishing and the techniques that come with it, especially with salmon fishing, because that’s something I haven’t really done before. Just learning from them and building that connection was awesome.”
Bruener should know about building connections. The sophomore linebacker, as well as his Husky teammates, have spent the offseason familiarizing themselves with yet another new coaching staff and system.
And, with Kalen DeBoer’s debut season on deck, the Huskies are hoping to catch some bigger fish this fall.
“The energy around the team is good. It’s better than it’s ever been since I’ve been here, I’ll be honest,” Bruener said. “We have such a tight knit group — offense, defense, special teams. Everyone is just close. It’s a good group to be around, especially with the coaching staff coming in. They’ve done a great job of bringing us together and helping us trust them and their ability.
“We’re excited for camp to start up, and especially for the season.”