Senior Neel Salukhe says he has had a dream role as a UW walk-on. He mainly helps on the scout team as a receiver. “You’re going against players that are potentially going to make it to the NFL,” he says.

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His ambitions on the football field are narrow in scope, limited by a lack of size and speed, and limited to anonymous scout-team grunt work during the week.

When it comes to his ambitions outside of football, he is not yielding to any limitations.

Chances are, you don’t know much about Neel Salukhe. Maybe you’ve never heard of Washington’s walk-on wide receiver. He came to UW to pursue microbiology; he will leave with his name flashed on the big screen at Husky Stadium before Friday’s Apple Cup, a recognition for his behind-the-scenes contributions to the Huskies over the past three seasons.

30 years ago …

Washington State scored first and never trailed, but victory was not assured until Chris Chandler’s 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete to give the Cougars a 21-20 victory in the 1985 Apple Cup. Mark Rypien threw three touchdown passes for WSU, while Chandler tried to rally the Huskies in the fourth quarter with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Lonzell Hill.

Seattle Times staff

“It’s just been such a great opportunity and an amazing experience the way things have gone,” Salukhe said.

Most days, Salukhe spends his mornings at Husky Stadium, often starting with a 6 a.m. weightlifting session, followed by a team meeting and then practice until about 10:30. From there, Salukhe trades his No. 83 jersey for a lab coat across the street at the UW Medical Center, where he is an undergraduate research assistant. He does that until about 5 o’clock, then returns to Husky Stadium for another team meeting before dinner.

Salukhe is on track to earn his degree next quarter. He has one more season of eligibility for football, but he will walk away from a dream role as UW walk-on to begin his career in immunology. He has already been offered a job to stick around the lab for another year, so he will continue his research while applying for graduate school and, beyond that, probably medical school. He has big dreams.

His football playbook must look elementary compared lab-room work. The experiments he assists with include purifying proteins “for use in gel shifts to better understand its interactions” and “cloning proteins into the system’s vectors.”

“I’m trying to keep things open. My mom would love for me to be a doctor,” he said, smiling, “but I’m looking into research mainly right now, either in the academic sector or for a biotech firm.

“I’ve been getting a ton of great experience in microbiology in this lab that I’m working in right now. I would love to find a cure for something. That would be ideal, to contribute to the world and help people in some way like that.”

His contributions to the Huskies don’t get much publicity, but Salukhe takes pride in trying to give UW’s starting defense as many quality reps as possible during practices. When Salukhe arrived at UW in 2012, he was a regular fan, attending games that season at CenturyLink Field and rushing the field to celebrate the Huskies’ upsets that season.

“I idolized these guys,” he said.

A 5-foot-11, 175-pound native of San Jose, Calif., Salukhe said a couple small schools, including the University of Puget Sound, had recruited him in high school, but academics were his priority. Still, he couldn’t let football go entirely, so in the spring of 2013 he attended a walk-on tryout.

Senior send-off

The Huskies will honor 15 players during a senior ceremony before the Apple Cup.

Offense: Dexter Charles, Cory Fuavai, Marvin Hall, Jaydon Mickens, Joshua Perkins, Neel Salukhe, Siosifa Tufunga, Taniela Tupou.

Defense: Brian Clay, Travis Feeney, Jarett Finau, Scott Lawyer, Cory Littleton.

Specialists: Korey Durkee, Ryan Masel.

“Regardless of what people said about my size or my speed or my strength, I was going to try,” he said.

He earned a spot, and he’s been an important piece of the scout-team offense since.

In all likelihood, Salukhe won’t see any time on the field against Washington State on Friday, when he will be one of 15 Huskies honored during a pregame senior ceremony. He has appeared in just two games in three seasons, and his career highlights are those rare occasions when he says he caught passes in practice while going head-to-head against former UW cornerback Marcus Peters, a future first-round NFL draft pick. “An amazing feeling,” he said.

“It’s definitely hard, because the (Huskies’ No. 1) defense kind of knows what’s coming and you’re going up against the best defense in the league this year, and you’re going against players that are potentially going to make it to the NFL,” he added. “Regardless of what kind of work you do, for me it’s been about trying to make the team better, especially this week.

“All we want to do this week is win.”


• Coach Chris Petersen said Wednesday that senior linebacker Travis Feeney (shoulder) and junior running back Dwayne Washington (leg) are “day to day” as the Apple Cup approaches.