Joe Tryon grants wishes.
But Washington’s suddenly unstoppable redshirt sophomore is no genie. After all, that frame — 6-foot-5, 262 punishing pounds, an improbable marriage of fast-twitch muscles and frizzy curls — could never fit inside a lamp.
So, again: not a genie. Not a myth. Not a Disney cartoon. But what is he, exactly?
“He was probably the most athletic kid I’ve ever coached in high school in 20 years. Just a freak of nature, so to speak,” said Hazen High School football coach Chris Bennett, who joined the program before Tryon’s senior season in 2016. “When we first got here I was like, ‘He’s going to make a great offensive tackle for us.’
“Then he ran down the field a couple times and I’m like, ‘Oh my God. We can’t play him on the offensive line. He’s just too special.’”
So they played him just about everywhere else. As a tight end, Tryon — who hadn’t previously played the position — produced 33 catches and 11 touchdowns in 10 games. He was named North Puget Sound League Defensive Lineman of the Year as well, and cracked the first team on both sides of the ball. He participated in football, basketball and baseball at Hazen. He “ran like a deer,” according to Bennett (assuming said deer also went to work in the weight room).
And, back to the beginning: He granted wishes.
“I can remember playing Kennedy (Catholic) in a close game in the third quarter, and when he was on the sideline for a breather for a second, (our d-line coach) just kind of got into him and said, ‘You need to make a play right here when you get in.’ He was like, ‘OK, coach.’
“He went in. Next play, all of a sudden he’s running the ball down the field. He basically just took it away from the running back and was going the other way. (Find the play at the 2:18 mark of the video below.) He just had the ability to make plays.”
But where would he make them in college? Bennett said that “we knew Utah and TCU and Oregon and all those schools that came in and offered him, they were kind of torn. ‘Where are we going to play him? Is he a d-end? Is he a tight end?’
“We all thought he was going to be a pretty good tight end, because he’s quick, he can block, he can run and he has good hands.”
Unsurprisingly, Oregon thought the same — though the Ducks also needed to see it for themselves.
“He would flash on film. He had the quick twitch,” Bennett said. “Oregon came in and (an assistant coach) stopped by practice one day and they were like, ‘Is he really 6-5?’ I said, ‘He’s 6-5. He’s all of 6-5.’
“We were watching film that day and the coach walked into the room and kind of called Joe out. He kind of gave him the up-down look and was like, ‘Oh my God. You are 6-5.’ Within 24 hours they called back and offered him.”
But back to the question: Where would Tryon make plays in college?
Turns out, the answer was a program, not a specific position.
“To be honest, I don’t think it really mattered where he played — whether it was offense or defense,” Bennett said. “I think he just really wanted to be a Husky.”
So Tryon de-committed from Washington State — which, along with Eastern Washington, were the first schools to offer him. He disregarded the Ducks as well as TCU. He granted Washington’s wish.
But success hasn’t been easy or instant.
A former three-star recruit, Tryon redshirted in 2017. He made 20 tackles with two for a loss and one sack in 12 games last season. As a first-time starter this fall, he produced 18 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack in his first six games. He struggled with gap discipline in a 20-19 loss to Cal in early September. He was a fountain of athletic potential with a burst pipe, spraying in all directions.
Then, without warning, it clicked. Tryon has exploded for 13 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in his last two games. He was named the Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week following Washington’s 19-7 road win over Oregon State. He leads the Huskies with 10 tackles for loss and six sacks.
The difference, per Tryon: “Not thinking as much. Just go out there and know you can dominate and be ready to make plays.”
With two seasons of eligibility still remaining, the plays are piling up. Wishes are being fulfilled. Washington — which ranked 100th nationally in sacks per game (1.71) and 118th in tackles for loss per game (4.57) in 2018 — may have finally found its next great pass-rusher.
The frame and fast-twitch muscles were always there. The results are starting to follow.
“With his frame and his athleticism, that’s hard to match. You don’t see that every day,” Bennett said. “It comes down to just kind of the mental aspect of things. He has all the physical tools. Can he mentally keep getting better and understand the game and get in that right program and get in the right fit?
“They’ve done a great job out there of giving him a chance to be successful and putting him in the right places.”
Added UW coach Chris Petersen: “I think he’s gaining confidence. This game is such a game of confidence, right? Joe Tryon’s leading the way, and you just feel him picking up steam. Joe is coming on. He’s a long guy that can really bend the edge.”
The tape will tell you that. So will Petersen. But Tryon won’t.
“We’re just all playing good team defense,” Tryon said after the Oregon State win, when asked about his individual development. “It feels good to be out there with my brothers, just smacking people.”
Turns out, Tryon is not a genie, nor is he a tight end. He’s not a finished product, either.
He’s a Husky, which is all he wanted to be. And Washington’s coaches have a few more wishes.
“This is his first season where he’s really the guy, as in being a starter,” UW defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said from Corvallis, Ore. “Obviously, you guys all know we’re very young. But now we’re at game 10, so now these guys are starting to feel like, ‘OK, I know what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve heard these calls over and over. My techniques are getting fine-tuned.’ Our coaches, we always go back to fundamentals, no matter what happens — whether we win or we lose.
“Hopefully we can just continue to see our fundamentals continue to grow, and hopefully you’ll see some more efforts like that.”