They have 15 practices to make a first impression.
Such is the opportunity that awaits Washington’s 10 newcomers — six early enrollees and four transfers — this spring, beginning with UW’s first practice at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Of course, nine more freshmen will also join the fray this summer.
But, for now, let’s focus on the present — and do so by addressing the following question:
Which spring newcomers are most likely to make an immediate impact this fall?
Cue the countdown.
10. TE Caden Jumper — freshman — 6-3, 250
Jumper is listed as a tight end, but he’s more likely to fill the glorified H-back role currently employed by junior Jack Westover. At 6-3, 250, Jumper and Westover have identical measurables — but Westover brings two seasons of significant experience. Unless Westover suffers an injury, don’t expect Jumper to see the field much as a freshman.
9. RB Caleb Berry — freshman — 6-2, 210
The 6-2, 210-pound Berry packs the physical punch UW head coach Jimmy Lake covets in his tailbacks.
But in Seattle, he’ll be starting at the back of the line.
UW’s six scholarship running backs from last season — seniors Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant, junior Richard Newton, sophomore Cameron Davis, and redshirt freshmen Jay’Veon Sunday and Sam Adams II — are all back this spring. Specifically, McGrew (227 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per carry, 4 TD), Pleasant (144, 4.2, 3), Newton (122, 5.2, 2) and Davis (67, 4.5, 0) all produced at times in 2020.
It’s true, UW running-backs coach Keith Bhonapha has shown a willingness to employ a heavy rotation. But, beside the fact that he suffered a broken leg in his senior season at Lufkin (Texas) High School, Berry would have to blow the coaching staff away to scale a depth chart that is simultaneously impressive and steep.
8. DT Kuao Peihopa — freshman — 6-3, 320
Peihopa — a graduate of Kamehameha High School in Makakilo, Hawaii — is an undeniably impressive athlete.
But let’s consider the track record of UW’s dominant defensive linemen.
Danny Shelton produced 11 tackles with zero tackles for loss or sacks in his true freshman season.
Vita Vea redshirted.
Greg Gaines redshirted.
Levi Onwuzurike redshirted.
From a physicality and technique standpoint, it’s difficult for interior defensive linemen to make an immediate impression. That’s the challenge Peihopa will face this spring and fall.
7. DL Voi Tunuufi — freshman — 6-2, 270
The question surrounding Tunuufi is where he’ll line up. Is he an undersized, pass-rushing interior defensive lineman, a la Aaron Donald? Or is he an outside linebacker with the physical characteristics to shift inside, like Ryan Bowman?
At Salt Lake East High School, Tunuufi showcased an explosive first step — piling up 126 tackles and 14 sacks in 13 games in his senior season. But he might need a season in the weight room before he’s capable of enforcing his will at Washington.
6. OLB Jeremiah Martin — senior — 6-5, 262
In his senior season at Cajon High School in San Bernardino, California, Martin recorded 47 tackles for loss and 30.5 sacks in 16 games.
In the three seasons since, the former four-star pass-rusher — who signed with Texas A&M in 2018 — has managed just 11 tackles with three tackles for loss and zero sacks in 32 games.
If UW outside-linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe can unlock his potential, Martin could earn a role in the rotation in 2021. But with established starters Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Bowman (plus Laiatu Latu, Sav’ell Smalls and Cooper McDonald) already in place, there is not a dire need at this particular position.
5. QB Sam Huard — freshman — 6-1, 190
4. QB Patrick O’Brien — graduate student — 6-5, 235
We might as well tackle these two together. Though sophomore Dylan Morris returns this season, he’ll have to win another quarterback competition to maintain his starting spot. And, despite the departure of graduate student Kevin Thomson and transfers of Jacob Sirmon and Ethan Garbers, the competition remains exceedingly stiff.
O’Brien — who completed 60.8% of his passes and threw for 3,394 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his last two seasons at Colorado State — gets the initial nod over Huard, simply due to his experience. The sixth-year senior doesn’t lack for arm strength and could provide a steady hand under center.
But in Huard, the Huskies get the most prolific passer in the history of the state. The five-star early enrollee threw for 13,214 career yards in three-plus seasons at Kennedy Catholic High School and arrives as one of the most coveted quarterback recruits in program history. But, after running the air raid on the prep level, he’ll have to adapt to a new offensive system as well as drastically improved defenses.
So, with all that said: Let the quarterback competition commence.
3. TE Quentin Moore — sophomore — 6-5, 245
If we know anything in life, it’s this:
Jimmy Lake loves to use tight ends.
Oh, and senior Cade Otton might just be the best in the country. In 2020, he led the Huskies in catches (18), receiving yards (258) and receiving touchdowns (3), while averaging 14.3 yards per reception.
But more than one tight end will make his way onto the field this fall. Alongside Otton, sophomore Devin Culp and true freshman Mark Redman both worked into the rotation — but combined for a total of one catch for 15 yards.
If Moore can prove himself as a pass-catcher, UW could tout a tight-end combination similar to that of Otton and Hunter Bryant in 2019.
2. DB Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles — senior — 5-9, 180
Radley-Hiles — a three-year starter in the Oklahoma secondary — didn’t transfer to UW to sit.
But the question remains where he’ll ultimately make his mark on Montlake. With the Sooners, “Bookie” played primarily nickelback — and he could conceivably grab the baton from Elijah Molden at UW as well. But, considering the program’s recent inconsistency at safety, Radley-Hiles is also a candidate to provide some stability on the back end as well.
Technically, Radley-Hiles has two seasons of remaining eligibility. But don’t expect him to turn 2021 into a redshirt year.
1. WR Ja’Lynn Polk — sophomore — 6-2, 190
It’s simple, really: Washington had five wide receivers transfer this offseason, leaving the program with just six scholarship wideouts this spring.
Polk has to play.
And he has the skill set to make an immediate impact.
As a true freshman at Texas Tech in 2020, the 6-2, 190-pound wideout posted 28 catches, 264 receiving yards and two touchdowns — recording at least one reception in all 10 games. He arrives in Seattle with proven production and a full four seasons of eligibility.
For UW, the loss of Puka Nacua in particular might be difficult to overcome. But Polk — as well as senior Terrell Bynum, sophomore Taj Davis and redshirt freshmen Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Sawyer Racanelli — still combine to form a talented wide-receiver room at Washington this spring.