Entering the 2019 season, Washington had three established tailbacks: Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant.
Richard Newton was the wild card.
Of course, Newton — a 6-foot, 210-pound redshirt freshman — exploded onto the scene, tying the team lead with 11 total touchdowns (despite playing in just 10 of 13 games). He immediately earned short-yardage and goal-line carries and chiseled a reputation as a hard-charging runner.
A year later, UW enters the 2020 season … with three established tailbacks: Newton, McGrew and Pleasant.
Except, this time, Cameron Davis is the wild card.
Like Newton, Davis is a redshirt freshman from Southern California. And like Newton, he has the size (6-0, 205) and skill set to surprise unsuspecting opponents.
“He’s kind of like me size-wise. He’s fast. He has everything to his game,” Newton said of Davis last week. “He’s a smooth back, kind of shifty. He has some power to him. I like watching Cam play.”
So there you have it, from one wild card to another.
Granted, in an undeniably crowded running-back room, it’s unclear what kind of role Davis can carve. Both Newton and McGrew bring experience and proven production, and Pleasant’s 230 pounds could pay dividends in short-yardage situations.
But listen to his coaches, and something else is undeniable: one way or another, Cameron Davis is going to play.
“(He’s a) very smart, very tough player,” UW coach Jimmy Lake said. “He’s another big back that can catch out of the backfield, that knows our protections, runs hard. I’m really excited about Cam Davis and I’m really excited about (running-backs coach Keith) Bhonapha’s stable.
“We have some talented guys in that room. It’s a competitive room, and they’re all going to be fighting for some carries and some playing time. But Cam Davis, I’m extremely excited about him. He’s had some big-time days here back to back.”
So, sure, it’s fair to say that Jimmy Lake is excited. But he’s almost always excited.
Let’s find further excitement somewhere else.
“He’s explosive. He’s gotten a lot bigger. He’s really a tough kid and a conscientious kid,” Bhonapha said of Davis. “He’s an old-school guy who’s tough, and he wants to learn, and he wants to get his opportunity. I’m excited to see what he can do. Most of the stuff (he’s shown) is individuals and situational stuff, but he’s tough in pass protection. He has really good feet and speed. He’s really exciting.
“I think the University of Washington and its fans are going to be really excited with what Cam Davis brings to the football field. Just like the rest of these guys, he has to keep developing.”
When asked about Davis, Lake and Bhonapha used some form of “excited” or “exciting” six times. And for a staff that would rather run the Husky Stadium steps for eternity than divulge fall camp details, that certainly qualifies as a massive freaking clue.
And at that position, quality competition can only be considered a positive. Remember, Ahmed, Newton and McGrew each missed at least one game because of injury last season. And first-year offensive coordinator John Donovan’s pro-style scheme, it seems, will hinge heavily on the backs’ ability to run the ball — especially with a first-year starting quarterback handling snaps under center.
In the season opener at Cal on Nov. 7, expect Newton to trot onto the field with the starters. McGrew, too, should receive plenty of reps as a change-of-pace option at 5-7, 175.
But don’t be surprised if Davis makes a memorable first impression.
At Upland High School in Rancho Cucamonga, California, he rushed for 3,328 yards and 42 touchdowns in three seasons on varsity — earning a four-star recruiting ranking in the process. He chose the Huskies over scholarship offers from the likes of USC, Utah — and, yes, California. He had just two carries for 7 yards in two games last season.
But the opportunity is almost here for Washington’s next wild card.
And, like Lake and Bhonapha, it’s OK to be excited.