For Dante Pettis, Aaron Fuller’s punt return touchdown felt oddly familiar.
Pettis — now a second-year wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers — scored the first of an NCAA record nine punt return touchdowns in a 38-23 win at Colorado on Nov. 1, 2014. Early in the fourth quarter, the UW freshman caught a punt at his 13-yard line, cut right along the edge, followed a cavalcade of blockers and coasted into the end zone for an 87-yard score.
Fuller, meanwhile, scored his first career punt return touchdown in a 45-19 win at BYU on Sept. 21. Early in the third quarter, the UW senior caught a punt at his 11-yard line, cut left along the edge, followed a cavalcade of blockers and coasted into the end zone for an 89-yard score.
Besides the direction, the details were nearly identical.
“It was kind of how my first touchdown happened,” Pettis said in a phone interview prior to last weekend’s win over USC. “It was just a sideline return and he pretty much just followed the blocks. That’s pretty much exactly how my first one was. It was cool to see it happen to him the same way.”
Now, that’s not to say Fuller has had — or will have — anything close to the same prolific punt return production as Pettis, who notched four punt return scores in his senior season alone. But once the first one comes, another may quickly follow.
“He’s a good playmaker,” Pettis said. “He honestly knows how to run with the ball and all that. He had been close a few times. I always told him once he got the first one and saw what it felt like I thought things would get rolling a little bit.”
The 5-foot-11, 188-pound Fuller waited 17 games for that feeling — and he wasn’t the only one. Husky head coach Chris Petersen said after the game that “I can’t tell you how frustrated I’ve been for Aaron. Because I think he’s really good; I think he’s super courageous. He’s very sure handed. He’s everything we want in a punt returner. We just got to give the guy a little room. We’ve been waiting for that. He’s been waiting for that.”
It’s never easy to follow the best — even if that person also happens to be your best friend.
“After a year and a half, I was praying for it. More than a receiving touchdown, that’s what I wanted — a punt return touchdown,” Fuller said after the BYU win. “Coming after Dante and the things he’s done and how good of a buddy he is of mine, I’ve studied his tape endlessly. For it to finally come, I’m pretty happy.”
Petersen, too, must be happy with Fuller’s punt return progress. Through five games, the senior wide receiver ranks 10th nationally in punt return yardage (14.89 yards, after managing just 5.55 yards per return a season ago). He also leads the Huskies in catches (27) and receiving touchdowns (4).
As for Pettis, the 6-1, 195-pound receiver and 2018 second round pick caught 27 passes for 467 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games in his rookie season. He has recorded five catches for 27 yards and a score in three games in 2019.
With the 49ers idle last weekend, the San Clemente, Calif., product flew to Seattle for UW’s 28-14 win over USC. And, given that San Francisco hosts the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football this week, he also planned to attend Washington’s Pac-12 game at nearby Stanford on Saturday night.
In the most technical terms, Pettis left the program. But he never really left the program.
“It’s dope,” he said of the culture surrounding Washington football. “It speaks volumes to what we built there and the relationships we had, just because we were all so close. We always want to go back and see everybody, see how they’re all doing and really see the progress that they’ve made.”
That applies, of course, to Fuller, who Pettis hosted on an official visit before he ever attended UW. Even then, Pettis says “I told everybody I thought he was going to be really special.”
Against BYU, at least, he looked at Fuller and saw himself.
“I was just really happy for him,” Pettis said. “It was about time. I just kept telling him he was going to get one. So it was good to finally see him make something happen.”