Washington football fans (eventually) got some good news on Thursday.
No, that did not include redshirt junior quarterback Jacob Eason’s decision to enter the 2020 NFL draft.
A few hours later, though, the reinforcements arrived. After UW assistant defensive backs coach Will Harris congratulated Elijah Molden for being named the program’s defensive player of the week, the junior defensive back responded by saying, “Senior season begins NOW”.
Barely an hour later, junior defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike simply tweeted, “I’m Staying”.
It appears Molden and Onwuzurike — Washington’s only All-Pac-12 first team defensive selections in 2019 — will return for their senior seasons.
And, despite Eason’s departure, Molden and Onwuzurike’s returns shouldn’t be overshadowed. In 13 games last fall, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Molden led the Huskies in tackles (79), pass breakups (13), interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (3), while adding 5.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery as well.
“This guy’s, like, everything you want in a college football player — in terms of the type of student he is, how he treats people and certainly how he plays,” former UW head coach Chris Petersen said of Molden last week.
The first-team All-Pac-12 performer capped his junior campaign by making a team-best nine tackles with an interception and a forced fumble in last week’s 38-7 Las Vegas Bowl win over Boise State, earning MVP honors in the process.
After it was over, though, Molden didn’t seem satisfied.
“I feel pretty good, but I can always get better,” the nickelback said following the win. “I’ve always been sort of a perfectionist. So I’m looking forward to the offseason, where I can get better.”
UW’s defense — which could return as many as nine starters from the Las Vegas Bowl win — should certainly be better in 2020, especially if cornerback Keith Taylor makes a similar decision.
As for Onwuzurike, the 6-3, 293-pound soon-to-be senior contributed 45 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks and a blocked punt in 13 games last fall. He’ll lead a Husky defensive line featuring returning contributors Tuli Letuligasenoa, Josiah Bronson and Sam Taimani, as well as redshirt freshmen Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes, Sama Paama and Noa Ngalu.
“Our D-line, when they want to go, that’s another group I think that’s been getting better all season long,” Petersen said last week. “Those guys have been coming on strong. We’ve got some young guys in there. That’s going to be a good line next year.”
The Huskies’ secondary has a chance to be excellent as well. Still, UW currently ranks 17th nationally in yards per attempt (6.3), 20th in interceptions (13), 31st in opponent pass efficiency rating (120.09), 57th in passing defense (222.2 yards per game) and 99th in opponent completion percentage (63.2%).
There’s room for improvement — even for Molden and Onwuzurike. That’s what their senior seasons are for.