The seniors were celebrated for being awarded the Morris Trophy as the outstanding linemen in the Pac-12 and talked about the foundation they helped build for the Husky program as well as hunting trips to Idaho.
On a day in which their virtues were extolled to great length, Husky linemen Kaleb McGary and Greg Gaines good-naturedly copped to a shortcoming in their sporting ledger.
For the last two springs, they’ve gone turkey hunting together on the property of Gaines’ parents in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Asked who performed better, McGary replied, “I can’t say he’s any worse than me, because we still haven’t gotten a frickin’ turkey yet. One of these days, we’ll get one.”
Gaines confirmed the shutout. “It’s frustrating,” he frowned, “to say the least.”
But that was about the only down note on an uplifting afternoon in which McGary and Gaines were awarded the Morris Trophy at the Washington Athletic Club. The honor is emblematic of being voted the top offensive and defensive lineman in the Pac-12, with the voting done by the league’s linemen themselves.
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“It means an incredible amount to me, and I know it does to Greg, too, because it’s a sign of respect and appreciation that other players who are supposed to hate you have for you,’’ McGary said. “It just means the world, man.”
Only four sets of teammates have shared the award in the same year. The only other Huskies to do so were Lincoln Kennedy and Steve Emtman back in 1990. Gaines is the second straight UW defensive tackle honored, following Vita Vea, while McGary is the first Husky offensive lineman to receive the Morris since Chad Ward in 2000.
Contrasting the 6-foot-8, 324-pound McGary with the 6-2, 316-pound Gaines during the ceremony, draft analyst Rob Rang referred to the former as “this majestic oak on a mountainside somewhere. He blocks out the sunlight almost. He protects everything around him.”
Gaines, on the other hand, Rang likened to a stubborn stump in your yard.
“That may not sound complimentary, I understand that,’’ he said. “But from a football perspective, we love stumps. That’s good stuff. You can try to dig it out, try to rip it out, try to drive over it. But after a few hours, that stump is going to be sitting there kind of smiling at you.”
Rang said he expects both to have productive NFL careers. Accordingly, Gaines and McGary will be headed to Mobile, Ala., later this month for the Senior Bowl, followed by the NFL combine in early March, with the draft scheduled for April.
It’s a whirlwind, but for Gaines, a more important date looms March 28. That’s when his wife, Sheyeann, is due to deliver their first child, a boy.
As they prepared to leave Washington, the two fifth-year seniors reflected on their journeys. Gaines was mostly ignored by Pac-12 schools out of La Habra, Calif., High School, opting to go to Boise State. But when Chris Petersen took the Husky job, Gaines went with him.
“That was one of things we were scratching our head when he was coming with us to Boise,’’ said Petersen, who attended the ceremony. “Are you kidding me? This guy should be recruited by the world. He’s going to be big-time, we knew.”
McGary, meanwhile, arrived at Washington as a defensive lineman, but went along with Petersen, a bit reluctantly at first, when he suggested that the O-line was a better fit.
“He was willing to let me stay at D-line,’’ McGary recalled. “He wasn’t going to force me. I thought, ‘What the heck? What’s the worst that can happen? I suck, and they move me back to defense.’ I think it’s turned out pretty well so far.”
It wasn’t until his second year, though, that McGary truly felt at home on offense.
“That first year, it was very evident I was very raw at the position,’’ he said. “It was a miracle if I got out of my stance in time, as many of my friends teased me about incessantly. Affectionately, though.”
In a question-and-answer session with emcee Mike Gastineau, McGary said his greatest pride was his role in elevating the Husky program.
“We switched the culture,’’ he said. “For a lot of years, the culture wasn’t right, within the team and in the locker room ….We corrected that in the right way, and that’s really what led us to be where we are.”
Earlier, McGary had just one lament about his tenure.
“I wish dearly that I was here for maybe the pinnacle like if we had won the Rose Bowl and stuff like that,’’ he said. “But you’ve got to start somewhere and I think as seniors, this class has given the guys coming up after us a good foundation to stand on.”
Gaines listed off the program’s accomplishments under their watch — two Pac-12 championships, three straight New Year’s Six bowls, and a berth in the national playoffs.
“It’s cool to help establish it and be a part of it, I guess,’’ he said. “I didn’t really think of it like that. I was just playing ball. It’s been the best five years of my life so far.”
And Petersen was properly grateful for the five years they gave to him and the staff.
“I have the most unbelievable stories about those guys, and I’m not even talking about as football players,’’ he said. “I think that speaks for itself. I remember like it was yesterday when I was recruiting those guys, and the things we went through, as young guys to where they are now, to be team leaders.
“This is why you coach — to see these two guys up here. I think of their playing ability, sure. But I think of a lot of other things. They were two of our team leaders. When things get rocky — and it always gets rocky — do you have those guys that can steady the ship? And we did.”
Now about those turkeys …