He wasn’t baited, goaded or coerced into saying it. In fact, he went out of his way to change it from a wish to a declaration.
Speaking to the media after a training-camp practice Monday, Huskies running back Sean McGrew answered a question about team expectations that might make a few bulletin boards — assuming teams still use those things.
“I just want to win a championship, whatever it takes. Expectations are to win a championship. So, I think we’re on a path to do that. So hopefully, not hopefully, we will end the season with some roses in our mouth,” McGrew said.
This might not have required the same audacity as Joe Namath guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory, but it’s a confident statement from a player about to play his fifth college season. Positive COVID tests prevented the Huskies from playing in the Pac-12 title game last year despite having won the North Division. But if they do capture another conference championship — something they’ve done twice in the past five seasons — it could have a lot to do with McGrew’s position group. As fellow RB Kamari Pleasant said of the running backs: “This is the best room I’ve been in the whole time I’ve been at Washington.”
Best? That’s to be seen. But it’s likely the most loaded.
There are probably seven running backs who will compete for playing time this season. And assuming they remain healthy, there will likely be four who see a significant number of snaps. There’s McGrew, the senior who had 227 yards on 43 attempts last year, good for 5.3 yards per carry. There’s Richard Newton, the sophomore who also averaged 5.3 yards per run and logged a long of 54 yards. There’s Pleasant, the senior who netted 144 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries. And there’s redshirt freshman Cameron Davis, who saw limited time last season but has impressed throughout the spring and fall.
This program has seen its share of standout tailbacks the past few years. Perhaps most noteworthy is Myles Gaskin — the Dolphins’ lead ball-carrier last year — whose 5,323 yards at Washington are the most in school history and third most in Pac-12 history. Other names such as Salvon Ahmed and Lavon Coleman complemented Gaskin and helped the Huskies win the two aforementioned Pac-12 titles.
So for Pleasant (and McGrew) to say this is the best group of running backs they’ve seen yet? It sounds almost make-believe.
Granted, no one is ever going to say “I’d say this is probably the third- or fourth-best group I’ve seen in my six years here.” Especially during training camp. But they could have couched it by saying “this one is right up there with the best” without declaring it the clear No. 1. Pleasant and McGrew did no such thing.
That’s Beethoven’s Fifth to Huskies fans gearing themselves up for next season — particularly when Washington is returning the bulk of its players from an offensive line ranked No. 1 in the country last year by Football Outsiders. In fact, a lights-out running game might be essential for a team whose quarterback is relatively unproven. Confident as the coaching staff might be on Dylan Morris, he’s still a second-year player who has completed just over 60% of his 110 passes in four games.
Considering there were just a handful of games to go off last year, the future abounds with unknowns for Washington and the rest of the Pac-12. The running-backs room might be a microcosm of such uncertainty, as a collection of talented teammates duke it out for their share of snaps.
Offensive-line coach Scott Huff was referring to his unit’s daily battles with the D-line when he said “iron sharpens iron” during a news conference Monday, but that same logic applies to the UW tailbacks.
What seems certain is that the team goals are unequivocal. Both Pleasant and McGrew said the aspiration is win the conference and the subsequent bowl game. Asked if players talked about the Rose Bowl specifically, McGrew said, “We know the College Football Playoff isn’t something that we’re in control of.” So the Granddaddy of Them All is the more tangible target.
UW seems ready to go through anybody to get there. Actually, run through might be the better way to put it.