Every great Richard Newton run comes with casualties.
Take Saturday’s Purple vs. Gold game, for example.
With 8:18 left in the third quarter, graduate transfer quarterback Patrick O’Brien took a snap and handed it to his 215-pound sledgehammer. Newton — a 6-foot junior from Lancaster, California — ran right, cut back left and stepped through an attempted tackle of Purple squad safety Cameron Williams. He hurdled diving cornerback Elijah Jackson, and soared — with his shoulder pad popping out, and safety Makell Esteen hanging like a cape off his back — into the end zone for a 15-yard score.
For UW football fans, this was a familiarly violent symphony — with Newton acting as the swiveling, spinning, fire-spitting conductor. In 2019, it’s how the redshirt freshman running back burst onto the scene, leading the Huskies with 11 total touchdowns in just 10 games.
But, according to UW coach Jimmy Lake, Newton’s best work is still ahead.
“Rich came in in fantastic shape for spring football, and I believe Rich is on his way to do big things. He’s done big things for us, but this could be his biggest year yet,” Lake said. “That was an excellent run. I had a really good close-up look at it. That’s the Rich Newton we know and love. He still has room for improvement, and he knows that, and I can’t wait to watch this improvement over the next three months as we enter into training camp. But he is on track to have a huge year for us.”
In Husky Nation, that comment may be met with relief — considering a healthy Newton did not play the final two games last season for unspecified reasons. He was forced to miss two practices this spring with false-positive COVID-19 tests as well.
Even without him, Washington has a crowded running back room featuring scholarship tailbacks Sean McGrew, Kamari Pleasant, Cameron Davis, Jay’Veon Sunday, Sam Adams and Caleb Berry. And of that group, McGrew and Davis figure to factor into the Huskies’ offensive plans this fall.
But Newton — who led Washington runners with 49 rushing yards, 6.1 yards per carry and a touchdown on Saturday — brings a balletic brutality his contemporaries can’t match.
“All I know is now, where he’s at is the best version of Richard Newton I’ve seen,” Lake said. “He’s in shape. He’s dialed in. He knows protections. He knows where to run the football. He’s running hard. I am extremely excited for him. He’s already had a breakout year, but I’m really excited for him to have his best season yet as a Husky here coming up in the fall of 2021.”
The opt-outs impress
Following Saturday’s spring game, inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio and left tackle Jaxson Kirkland were asked who impressed them this spring from the opposite side of the ball.
And, interestingly enough, they provided a pair of sophomores who returned to the team after opting out in 2020 — wide receiver Taj Davis and outside linebacker Bralen Trice.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Davis caught fire in the last two weeks, and he caught a team-high five passes for 39 yards Saturday. Though senior Terrell Bynum and redshirt freshmen Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan worked with the starters throughout most of the spring, Davis (as well as sophomore Ja’Lynn Polk and redshirt freshman Sawyer Racanelli) figure to push for playing time.
“He’s just grown a lot,” Ulofoshio said of Davis. “He’s just been making so many big plays in these past couple weeks. I’m just so proud of him. Seeing him grow as a freshman to who he is, he deserves it. I’m really excited about what he’s going to do in the future.”
As for Trice, the 6-4, 255-pound outside linebacker’s emergence is even more important now — after All-American Zion Tupuola-Fetui tore his Achilles tendon in April. The sophomore from Phoenix is a prime candidate to start opposite sixth-year senior Ryan Bowman this fall.
And that’s not something anyone would have said 15 practices ago.
“I think he’s definitely put it together on the outside and he’s going to be a great player for us,” Kirkland said of Trice, who had three tackles and a sack Saturday. “I know he was giving me fits sometimes. It was great to go against him. He was just a quick dude coming off the edge.”
Added Lake: “I’m so proud of Bralen. For him opting out for personal reasons, and then to come back here with a completely different mindset, he took a huge step in the weight room. That was the first thing. He had to get some weight on, some strength on his frame. He did that, and now you can see him playing with way more confidence, way more ferocity. It’s awesome to watch.
“He’s one guy I went up to right after this spring game was over and gave him a big hug. I’m very proud of him. He’s come a long way.”
Next in line at cornerback?
Let’s get this out of the way:
Elijah Jackson is not Sidney Jones.
That’s not what Jimmy Lake is saying. But Jackson — a 6-1, 190-pound redshirt freshman corner — certainly impressed this spring, culminating in an interception of O’Brien on Saturday.
Of course, juniors Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon have rightfully solidified themselves as cornerback starters — so much so that both could conceivably declare early for the 2022 NFL draft.
And, if that were to happen, Jackson may slide right into the spotlight.
“I’m very proud of Elijah,” Lake said. “He’s an extremely hard worker. He’s very intuitive and wants to always learn the next thing. He reminds me a lot of Sidney Jones, how Sidney Jones was as a freshman. I’m very excited about his speed, his agility, the way he’s playing faster now. He still has to play faster, but I really believe he’ll end up being one of our next corners after those two starters — Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon — (leave).
“You’ll see him mixing in there in that battle to be the third corner, as well when we get into our special packages when we have three, four corners on the field (this season). He’s right on track, and another young man I’m excited about.”
- The following players did not participate on Saturday with apparent injuries — cornerback Trent McDuffie, safeties Asa Turner and Alex Cook, inside linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala, right tackle Victor Curne, wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk, and tight ends Mason West and Jack Westover. Of that group, Turner and Tuputala used scooters on the sideline, with a foot protected in a cast or a walking boot. Following the scrimmage, Lake, who typically does not comment on injuries, said none of those players face long-term injury concerns.
- Former UW defensive tackle Josiah Bronson signed as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints, he announced on Twitter. The 6-3, 300-pound Kentwood product compiled 42 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 29 career games for UW.