Jack Westover’s essential elements are evident in a single play.
Westover — a 6-foot-3, 241-pound redshirt-freshman tight end — scored his first career touchdown in Washington’s 51-27 win over Arizona, hauling in a 3-yard grab off play-action early in the third quarter to put the Huskies ahead.
That’s not the one we’re talking about.
No, the play that best defines Washington’s previously anonymous walk-on occurred roughly eight minutes later, with Jacob Eason setting up under center from the Arizona 4-yard line. Four yards behind Eason, Westover crouched as a makeshift fullback, with his left hand planted in the Tucson turf. Three yards behind Westover, junior running back Salvon Ahmed stood upright, as still as a statue, like an arrow idling quietly on the bow.
Then the ball was snapped, Eason tossed to Ahmed and Westover got down to business.
Specifically, the Bellevue product sprinted to his right, engaged an Arizona linebacker and plowed a pathway for his teammate. Ahmed accelerated into traffic, before being momentarily stood up at the Wildcat 1-yard line. On his own, he would’ve surely been stopped short of the end zone.
But he wasn’t on his own.
With two Arizona defenders on the other side of Ahmed, Westover arrived and churned his legs through the resistance, willing his teammate over the goal line like an offensive lineman displacing a bulky blocking sled.
He didn’t record a single individual statistic on the play.
Yet the entire sequence spoke volumes.
Here’s what it said.
When Westover first arrived at Fulcrum Training Hall in Redmond in 2015, “he was tall and gangly,” according to owner and head coach Michael Street. His first recorded squat was 90 pounds.
Meanwhile, most of the gym’s regulars could have easily squatted him.
“Our background is in Olympic weightlifting,” Street explained. “Jack came to us because we prepare a lot of athletes for schools and the Olympics. At the time we had Jack we had a lot of Olympians training for Rio (in 2016). So Jack had a pretty hard crew to work around. Everyone was very driven.”
Westover was no exception. For three to four days a week, for weeks and months and years, he trained with stronger athletes — not by accident, but by design.
“We always would put him with people that were a little bit stronger than him, in the sense that he had to ‘play up,’ ” Street said. “He thrived in that. When you see people that are really trying to find greatness, it brings something out in you. You find your own greatness.”
In time, Westover found his greatness … and he also found his strength. His most recent recorded squat was 467 pounds. Should it be any surprise, then, that an arguably undersized Washington walk-on could essentially carry Ahmed across the goal line?
For years, Westover has been working with Olympic weightlifters.
He always played up, and last weekend, it paid off.
“Knowing that you’re going to put yourself head to head with another opponent in a contact sport, a lot of the (work he did) is building resiliency into the body,” Street said. “Jack’s basically preparing his whole structure to be in a collision. So Jack works a lot with heavy weights. A lot of the people he trains with are 700- or 800-pound lifters.
“So he kind of came up in this world where everybody’s strong, but they’re very humble. So for him, he doesn’t know any different.”
Mount Si head football coach Charlie Kinnune used two words to describe Westover’s athleticism:
Unbelievable, and undeniable.
Oh, and this is a kid Kinnune coached for a grand total of two games.
“He ended up getting hurt I think the second practice after the second game his senior year, broke his collarbone and was unable to come back,” Kinnune said of Westover, who spent his freshman season at Issaquah High School and the next two years at O’Dea. “But with just those two games and then some basketball games that UW watched on film, they offered him a (preferred) walk-on spot.”
So, what did UW’s coaches see in Westover’s (equally undeniably) limited tape? In two football games his senior season, the 6-3 athlete caught seven passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. On the basketball court, he averaged 7.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, while shooting 49 percent from the field.
His statistics, in this case, did not begin to tell the story.
“Growing up, everybody knew he was a Division I athlete,” said Mount Si head basketball coach Jason Griffith, who has known Westover since the fifth grade. “His change of direction, his ability to spin, his ability to explode, his ability to control his body in the air, those are all things that he did at a really high level at a young age.
“So you saw, in terms of athleticism, what he was capable of.”
At 6-2, in the summer before his junior season, Westover was unleashing windmill and 360 dunks. Griffith said that, “rebounding-wise, he could jump with anybody in the league.” UW head coach Chris Petersen added last weekend that “Jack’s a hard-working guy that’s very athletic. He really is. He’s got a tremendous vertical jump and good hands.”
So, should it be any surprise that, even against a Pac-12 opponent, Westover could compete?
“Like coach Petersen said, he’s kind of a specimen when it comes to lower-body strength, lateral movement, vertical leap,” Griffith said.
Added Kinnune: “On the football field he’s very unique. He can jump like crazy. He’s got really, really good hands. He’s comfortable with the ball in the air. For them to put him in at that fullback spot where he can also use his athleticism is great.”
Westover never cared if he scored.
And that’s regardless of the sport.
“Jack’s been an all-in, team-first kid from day one,” Griffith said. “On the basketball floor, he was never about scoring the most points. He was about trying to make the right play to help the team win. That could be taking a charge; that could be getting an offensive rebound; that could be getting a put-back; that could be setting his teammates up. He has never been about himself.”
Maybe that’s why Westover has found early success as a makeshift fullback. According to Griffith, “his best ability when he played basketball was his ability to pass.”
Even now, two years and one sport later, Westover continues to pile up assists.
“You’ve got a 6-3, 241-pound athlete that will do anything for the team,” Griffith said. “He’s really more of a tight end, but he’s lining up in the fullback spot, right? He’s making blocks. He laid his guy out, and then he immediately released off that guy and helped push the pile forward into the end zone. So, to me, I’d say he’s a selfless kid.”
Added Kinnune: “I thought, ‘Gosh, that is so indicative of the kind of kid that he is.’ He just wants to help. He wants to be a part of the success and a part of the plan. They’re going to find more and more ways to do that. I really believe that.”
Westover has encountered, and overcome, more resistance than he found on the goal line in Arizona.
Or, indeed, on the squat racks at Fulcrum Training Hall.
“There’s been times there at the gym where Jack left completely defeated, and this guy would show up the next day ready to go to work again,” Street said. “That work ethic is something that’s huge, and football requires that a little bit differently than every other sport.”
A broken collarbone ended Westover’s senior football season at Mount Si; he missed a portion of the subsequent basketball season with an ankle injury as well.
But when his body faltered — and doesn’t this sound familiar? — Westover pushed the pile.
“If he ever had an injury, he found wisdom in it,” Street said. “He would just come back from it in a way that you’re like, ‘Man, this guy is profound.’ There was no sitting around, trying to think, ‘Man, I just can’t get better.’ It just didn’t work like that with Jack.
“This guy would go out and roll his ankle, and he’d come in and push another exercise.”
He kept pushing, pushing, pushing — all the way to his father’s alma mater. All the way into the lineup. All the way onto the field. All the way into the end zone (twice) in a late game in Arizona.
“Injuries have played a role in his early development, so I think UW is just scratching the surface on this kid,” Kinnune said. “He was offered (scholarship) money by Montana State, Eastern Washington. They all wanted him, and those are good programs.
“I think they’re going to find more and more ways to include him in a lot of different things. He’s just getting started. He really is.”
In the most literal sense, that’s true. In his age, and his ability, Westover’s best football may be ahead. He caught the first two passes of his career last weekend for 7 yards and a touchdown. He has played in all seven games this season, often as the aforementioned goal-line fullback.
Around midnight on Saturday, Street texted Westover to congratulate him on the win.
Washington’s walk-on tight end responded with five words:
“This is just the beginning.”