Jake Haener may be headed home.
Granted, the former Fresno State quarterback technically hails from Danville, California. But both his mother and grandfather attended Washington, and Haener signed with UW out of Monte Vista High School in 2017.
So, close enough.
Haener — who completed 66.5% of his passes and threw for 5,831 yards with 52 total touchdowns and 14 interceptions the past two seasons and 18 games at Fresno State — is expected to transfer back to Washington for his final season of college eligibility in 2022, barring any issues with the waiver process, according to a report by Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group.
But Haener, who entered the NCAA transfer portal Tuesday, said he has not settled on his next destination just yet.
“I haven’t committed anywhere yet,” Haener said in a text message to The Seattle Times on Wednesday night. “So you can squash all the speculation from all those people as of now.”
A 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior, Haener transferred out of UW exactly one week before the 2019 season opener — after losing a quarterback competition to former five-star recruit and Georgia transfer Jacob Eason. Following Jake Browning’s departure, Haener and Eason competed throughout the 2019 spring and summer, with the battle being so hotly contested that then-coach Chris Petersen said both quarterbacks would play in the season opener.
Haener opted to transfer instead.
“I worked the whole offseason with these guys and have been preparing like I was going to be the guy, and truly wanted that. But it didn’t work out, and that’s totally fine,” Haener said then in an interview on KJR-AM (950). “But yeah, there’s hard decisions that I made. My teammates ultimately backed me up with it 100% and didn’t want me to leave things to chance and wanted me to use my talents somewhere else and be able to get on the field somewhere.
“I think that’s the goal for kids in college football. They want to utilize the time they have to play the game that they love. I love the game and want to try to get on the field somewhere.”
Haener did more than get on the field at Fresno State. With coach Kalen DeBoer, who was named UW’s coach Monday, he helped instantly buoy the Bulldogs program — even upsetting No. 14 UCLA this fall.
Now Haener likely will follow DeBoer to a familiar place — where he’ll again compete with a Washington native and former five-star recruit in redshirt freshman Sam Huard, as well as two-year starter Dylan Morris and true freshman Jackson Stratton. In 11 starts last fall, Morris completed 60.6% of his passes and threw for 2,458 yards with 17 total touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Huard played in four games and lost his lone start against Washington State, completing 22 of 42 passes (52.4%) for 241 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.
The difference, in his hypothetical second stint in Seattle, is that Haener brings an understanding of DeBoer’s offense, as well as 18 games of proven success.
“I think, first of all, Jake is an amazing person, amazing player,” DeBoer said Tuesday of Haener’s possible transfer. “Man, what a special time we’ve had together. In the world of the transfer portal and all that I think it’s pretty clear he’d be able to be eligible. But I want what’s best for Jake, I really do. Being a mentor, that will never end, as far as what my hopes are for him. That’s really up to him as far as deciding what’s next for him. He’s got other directions he can take his career as well, so he’s got to figure that out.”
Haener is certainly a different player, and person, than the redshirt freshman who relieved Browning and immediately threw a 37-yard interception that was returned for a touchdown in a 12-10 upset loss at Cal in 2018.
That moment, and the response it coaxed, may have prepared him for a return to Pac-12 play.
“It was pretty tough,” he said of the public response to that play in 2019. “You get a lot of things after the game, and you try to not pay attention to it. Stuff is popping up on your phone — messages that aren’t the best mentally to deal with, because I was a 19-year-old kid at the time trying to deal with it and really experience college football for the first time.
“You’ve got to deal with it. It’s part of it, and it was a really good learning experience, and I think it’s going to help me for the rest of my career moving forward at the next school, because it’s valuable.”
Now, Haener could bring undeniable value to a UW team that went 4-8 in 2021. It’s unclear, in the wake of his hypothetical high-profile arrival, whether Morris or Huard would test the transfer portal. Regardless, the Huskies’ quarterback situation may get a whole lot more interesting.
Apparently, you can go home again.
And once you’re there, what’s left but to win?