Sav’ell Smalls last tweeted on Sept. 16, 2020.
In the 567 days since, the former five-star edge rusher hasn’t seen tweets questioning whether his recruiting ranking was inordinately embellished; or impatiently waiting for his first career sack; or doubting the development of Smalls and Kennedy Catholic teammate (and fellow five-star recruit) Sam Huard; or wondering when (or if) the metaphorical switch will finally flip.
He hasn’t seen — or heard, or felt — the weight of an increasingly frustrated fan base.
Yet, understandably, Smalls still assumes.
“I feel like I’m a pretty smart guy, so I come to assumptions pretty well,” the sophomore Seattleite said Monday, following UW’s third practice of the spring. “I would assume people would be mad that (Huard and I) haven’t come and started blowing things out of the water.
“But for me and Sam, it’s a process. It’s a journey. It’s our journey, and we enjoy being on that journey together. Sam is my guy, and I have complete faith and trust in him that he’s going to be a great quarterback at this level and the next level, and he would say the same about me.”
Indeed, much has been said (and tweeted) since Smalls — a 6-foot-3, 265-pounder from Seattle — chose the hometown Huskies over Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC and many more in the 2020 class. In 16 career games and one start since, he has posted 18 tackles and zero sacks.
But it’s also important to consider the circumstances. Smalls was sitting in history class on Dec. 2, 2019, when an Oregon reporter messaged him with the news of Chris Petersen’s resignation. Since that day, Jimmy Lake was hired and fired; Smalls’ freshman season was canceled, uncanceled and condensed; the Lake Era was waylaid by a sideline shove, a 4-8 season and endless unrealized expectations; and Kalen DeBoer was hired to pick up the pieces.
On Monday, Smalls joked that “it’s been a journey, for sure.”
Not one he’s running from.
“I’m a grinder, always been a dude who puts his head down and works and doesn’t worry about the outside noise,” Smalls said, when asked if he’s considered transferring. “I’m a firm individual. I just like to do me and I hope I can rub off on people around me the right way, and that’s what I try to do with my guys in the locker room every day.
“So I’ve been here. I’m from Seattle. I can go home and see my mom, see my dad, see my little brothers whenever I want to. And I feel I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to and any of the dreams I still have. I’ve been here the whole time. I never wavered.”
But can he win?
With a new system and coaching staff, Smalls has an opportunity to prove himself this offseason. He started by adding 15 pounds of muscle, and said — while holding a dairy-free spinach smoothie — that “I feel pretty good about where my body is at right now.”
But outside of junior Zion Tupuola-Fetui, the Huskies have five scholarship EDGE players with precious little production — Smalls, senior Jeremiah Martin, sophomores Bralen Trice and Jordan Lolohea, and redshirt freshman Maurice Heims. (Three-star freshman Lance Holtzclaw will also join the fray this summer.)
“ZTF,” of course, has racked up eight sacks and three forced fumbles in his last nine games.
Smalls, Martin, Trice, Lolohea and Heims, meanwhile, have combined for a grand total of three career sacks.
For a defense that finished sixth in the Pac-12 in tackles for loss per game (5.17) and seventh in sacks per game (1.67) in 2021, improvement is required this fall.
Stylistically, UW co-defensive coordinator Chuck Morrell said last week that “we’ll be very driven in terms of being a pressure-oriented defense and really being in attack mode. I think that’ll be one of the primary differences that will be out there.”
It’ll be up to Smalls and Co. to apply that pressure.
“It’s going to come. I’ve always known it’s going to come,” Smalls said of that elusive first career sack. “I don’t worry about that stuff. I’m a firm believer in what’s meant to happen, will happen. Whenever that first sack is meant to happen, it’ll happen. We’ll go from there.”
Whether it happens or not, UW football fans will undoubtedly voice their opinions.
Just don’t expect Smalls to see the tweets.
“I haven’t gotten a sack yet. I have a lot to show. I know that,” said Smalls, who’s majoring in communications and minoring in business. “But you asked about the pressure: That doesn’t really worry me. Because at the end of the day, I do this for me.
“I never had to be forced to play football. I wanted to play when I was 3, honestly. We went riding down Martin Luther King (Jr. Way), riding past Genessee (Park and Playfield) and riding past Franklin High School and seeing people practicing out there. I was like, ‘What are they doing out there?’ Ever since then I’ve been attached to the game. I’ve got a lot to show, and I plan on showing it.”