What really separates this roster is the combination of talent and experience. These Huskies have played a lot of football together. “We’re the closest team we’ve probably ever had,” Trey Adams says.

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The private social-media message arrived in Myles Gaskin’s inbox on Feb. 4, 2015, soon after the running back from Lynnwood officially signed on to play for the Washington Huskies.

“Hey, man,” Jake Browning wrote. “Let’s change this culture. Let’s change this program.”

It was the first time Browning and Gaskin had interacted; the Huskies’ future star quarterback and future star running back had never crossed paths while being recruited by the UW, Gaskin recalled.

At the time, Gaskin thought little of the message. Neither could have realized just how prescient Browning’s words would be — or just how close the two backfield mates would become over the next four years.

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“I will always remember that,” Gaskin said, “and I will say we’ve changed this program. We’re not done yet — absolutely not — but he spoke something into existence.”

By mid-August 2015, in the middle of their first fall camp, it was becoming clear that Browning and Gaskin — along with left tackle Trey Adams and slot receiver Chico McClatcher, two other key players in the 2015 class — would be cornerstone pieces of the UW offense.

Browning, Gaskin and Adams now enter their fourth seasons as starters — something that’s never happened before in UW history at those three vital positions — with designs on a second Pac-12 Conference championship together.

“It’s obviously been some of the best years of my life, playing with some great people and for some great coaches,” Browning said. “And I feel like I’ve been doing it the right way and making a lot of friends throughout the process. My thing is I’m always going to prepare as best I can and work as hard as I can so I don’t have a ton of regret. You’ll always wish you had some throws back or some games back, but the overall process with where we’re at now — we’ve built those expectations and that’s something I’m proud of.

“It’s really cool to be part of one of probably four classes that really brought back Husky football and all these expectations.”

• • •

Talent + experience

This is how inexact the recruiting-ranking process is: On National Signing Day 2015, the Huskies’ recruiting class was ranked by one scouting service as the 30th-best in the nation and the seventh-best in the Pac-12.

All the class has done is turned into one of the best in program history, perhaps second behind only the 1988 class that featured the likes of Steve Emtman, Lincoln Kennedy, Mario Bailey, Mark Brunell and Dave Hoffmann, among other starters, on UW’s 1991 national-championship team.

Of the 24 recruits to sign with UW in the 2015 class, at least 16 are expected to be regular contributors, if not full-time starters, this season, a fairly remarkable success rate for one class. There’s Browning, Gaskin, Adams and McClatcher, of course, plus Andre Baccellia, Quinten Pounds, Henry Roberts and Jusstis Warren on offense.

On defense, there’s Ben Burr-Kirven, Tevis Bartlett, Jordan Miller, Austin Joyner and Benning Potoa’e, DJ Beavers and Myles Rice, plus long snapper A.J. Carty returns for his full-time job on special teams. (Three players from the 2015 class transferred to other programs; another, junior-college safety Ezekiel Turner, was a key figure on the 2017 defense and is now in his first NFL camp with the Arizona Cardinals.)

“We’re the closest team we’ve probably ever had,” Adams said. “I talk to people I used to never talk to. … It’s just a different vibe and I think everyone feels that. And whether that helps you win or lose, it’s just good to have that. Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing you get to go through and you might as well have your best friends here.”

In all, the UW roster features 21 seniors, including 12 fifth-year seniors from Chris Petersen’s first class at UW in 2014. The Huskies have talent, sure, and that talent is a big reason why so many believe this team can make another run at a College Football Playoff berth.

What really separates this roster is the combination of talent and experience. These guys have played a lot of football together.

When the No. 6 Huskies open the season against No. 9 Auburn on Sept. 1, UW is projected to have 12 senior starters, including four-year starters at quarterback, running back, left tackle and right tackle in Kaleb McGary. By comparison, the Huskies had just four senior starters for their 2017 opener, and five for the 2016 opener.

“One, probably what I appreciate is they were such good players at young ages and they’ve really stayed the course in terms of just being who we want to be and what we’re trying to be,” Petersen said. “They have not flinched. They’re great kids to coach and be around. I think that. I think we’re blessed because a lot of things can happen, whether guys leave early (for the NFL) or guys get injured and medically retire or just aren’t good enough — just a lot of things go into it. And the fact that they’re all here is awesome. And I’m anxious to see these guys play.”

UW running back Myles Gaskin poses at Husky Stadium Tuesday, August 14, 2018. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
UW running back Myles Gaskin poses at Husky Stadium Tuesday, August 14, 2018. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Many fans this time of year are most curious about the newcomers on a team — a common question: Which freshman looks the best in camp? — but for a team to reach its full potential Petersen often says it’s the seniors who must improve their game.

“I say it over and over: They’ve got to take that next step,” Petersen said. “If they can take that next step, which is hard as heck. Myles Gaskin taking a next step? Yeah, Myles — that’s what I’m asking.”

• • •

A backfield bond

After a tremendous junior season, Gaskin gave strong consideration to making the jump to the NFL. One of the primary reasons he decided to return for his senior season?

“I couldn’t leave Jake hanging like that,” he said in January. “We want to finish strong — finish what we started.”

Browning and Gaskin have changed the program, all right, and they’ve done it together. Their success on the football field is an important part of that, of course. But it’s more than football, and Gaskin said Browning will be in his wedding someday, and Browning called Gaskin a lifelong friend.

“Me and Jake, I can’t put words around it,” Gaskin said of his relationship with the QB.

Said Browning: “It’s pretty special. Myles and I have a common understanding and we’re both pretty straight-forward and will voice our opinions about whatever.”

Browning is known to be demanding of himself — he’s a perfectionist — and Gaskin said the QB is just as tough on those around him.

“Jake has been a real good dude to me … pushing me to be the best me I possibly could. And I always appreciate that from Jake,” Gaskin said. “He’s a winner at heart and he’s a competitor at heart. You can see in that dude, he’s going to push you to where you damn near hate him, but he’s still going to push you. He’s done that to me and then I started to do that to him. And I think that’s what made our bond, friendship, family, whatever you want to call it, made it stronger. I definitely call Jake my family now.

“I’m thankful for Jake. It’s a blessing to have him back there with me — or for me to be back there with him.”

Petersen has pushed both to be greater leaders, and they’ve responded.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without Jake Browning,” Petersen said. “Jake is a true leader of this team. … Those guys set the vision for these young guys. The greatest thing for our young quarterbacks has been just to watch Jake, how he prepares. We don’t have to coach. It’s like: ‘Just do that. Pay attention.’ There’s no secret to it.”

By the end of the 2015 season, as Browning and Gaskin helped the Huskies close out a 7-6 season with three consecutive victories, it was no secret that the young nucleus had the potential to lead the program back to prominence. Three years later, they’ve done that — and they insist they’re not done yet.

“We all knew that we could be something special,” Gaskin said. “I don’t think we’re all the way there yet, but we’re getting close.”