Father's football background in Texas helped shape Fuller from a young age.
The game came to Aaron Fuller at a young age. The Huskies’ junior wide receiver didn’t have much choice growing up in football-crazed Texas as the oldest son of a high school coach.
“Everywhere I went,” his father, Brad, said, “he was always there.”
Dad will be there Saturday in Atlanta, where Fuller and the No. 6 Huskies open the season against No. 9 Auburn at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (12:30 p.m. PT, ABC). It will be Fuller’s first game as Dante Pettis’ successor as the Huskies’ No. 1 receiving option and primary punt returner.
As the new leader of the wide receiving corps, Fuller is eager to show the passing game has improved after a subpar showing in 2017.
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“Obviously, production-wise we didn’t have the greatest year, and we’re using that as motivation to do better. Each and every one of us,” he said.
Coaches challenged Fuller this offseason to become the leader in the receivers’ room, to hold teammates accountable, and Jake Browning called Fuller the most valuable player of the player-run summer-training program.
“Guys really respect him because he’s definitely doing it the way we want everyone to do it,” co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Matt Lubick said.
UW coach Chris Petersen showed his trust and confidence in Fuller when this summer he awarded him jersey No. 2. The number had been retired to honor Chuck Carroll, an All-American running back in the late 1920s and a College Football Hall of Famer. UW asked Carroll’s family for permission for to use it, and Fuller said he understands the significance of the gesture.
“It’s a huge honor,” he said.
Fuller had worn No. 2 at Lovejoy High School in McKinney, Texas — part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex — where his father was the team’s defensive coordinator when Fuller played there.
From about the time he could run, Fuller had been a ballboy for his dad’s teams. On the sideline, he remembered being captivated by atmosphere for high-school playoff games.
“I loved it,” Fuller said. “I was a little rug rat. I would just go up and mess with people (on the sideline), kicking them and stuff like that.”
Early on, Brad tried to teach his son the nuances of the game through a coach’s eyes.
“He picked up things pretty quickly,” said Brad, who played safety at a small college in Oklahoma. “He did whatever it was I asked him to do … and that kind of developed a little bit of insight about the game relatively early.”
Said Aaron: “He coached me all the way up. He would teach me defenses and stuff like that, so having that to lean on, seeing the perspective of the other side of the ball, most people don’t get that.”
As a freshman at Lovejoy, Fuller got his first taste of varsity football as a defensive back, called up from junior varsity for the playoffs after a varsity player was injured. Brad liked the idea of coaching his son on defense and said there were later some college recruiters intrigued by Aaron’s potential as a cornerback.
But by the end of Aaron’s sophomore year, Brad could tell where his son’s future was. “He was a natural at receiver,” Brad said.
Aaron started to blossom on offense at the end of his sophomore year, and then had his big breakout as a junior in 2014, when he emerged as the team’s top receiver with 69 receptions for 1,396 yards and 22 touchdowns.
That, Brad pointed out, is much like the situation Aaron finds himself in now with the Huskies. Aaron closed out the 2017 season strong, posting 18 catches over the final five games, including a career-high six catches for 61 yards and a touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl.
“To me, this is almost like déjà vu,” Brad said.
Aaron, too, hopes his late-season surge is just the start of his breakthrough for the Huskies.
“It just shows the level I can be at,” he said. “Those last couple games, I finished pretty strong. Just knowing I can play at that high level, and I want to do more than that.
“That,” he added, “was a foundation more than anything.”