Heading into last Saturday night's game at Arizona State, about
the only thing Washington's receivers had caught was a lot of
flak. Dismissed by reporters and dissed by opponents, they were
a motley crew with a checkered past. There was the tight end
trying to learn his sixth position (not including left out), the
frustrated basketball player who was cajoled back onto the
gridiron by his old junior high school quarterback, the
world-class sprinter killing time until the Olympics, the 5'7"
longhaired former walk-on and the knee-injury poster boy. These
bits of biographical minutiae were all there was to talk about
because there were no statistics to speak of--the Huskies'
leading returning receiver caught eight balls last year, and he
was their backup tailback.
"They're a real mysterious bunch," Arizona State's standout free
safety Mitchell (Fright Night) Freedman said before the game.
"I've been looking at some film, but I still can't figure out
who's going to catch the ball for them."
Just about everybody, Fright Night. Throughout Washington's wild
42-38 victory at Sun Devils Stadium, the Huskies receiving corps
bedeviled Arizona State. In the game's final minute, on a
nerve-jangling fourth-and-17, senior tight end Reggie Davis beat
two defenders--including a late-arriving Freedman--on a 63-yard
touchdown that killed the eighth-ranked Sun Devils. That brought
his touchdown total for the game to two, which was the number of
career receptions he had coming in. Amazingly, Davis didn't even
rate as Washington's biggest surprise. That would be junior Dane
Looker, who in the first game of his college career tied a
32-year-old school record with 11 catches, including two for
touchdowns. Looker has been Washington quarterback Brock Huard's
favorite target since they were junior high teammates in
Puyallup, Wash., and it was Huard who persuaded Looker to give
up his basketball career at Western Washington.
What made this coming-out party even more delicious was that
Arizona State's receiving corps had been ranked third best in
the nation by The Sporting News. Washington, meanwhile, was
bemoaning the loss of star wideouts Jerome Pathon and Fred
Coleman, who combined for 111 catches and 15 touchdowns last
season, to the pros. But it was the loss of All-Pac-10 tailback
Rashaan Shehee, another of the 10 Huskies taken in last year's
NFL draft, that forced Washington to build its offense around
Huard and his unheralded receivers. Lacking explosive backs,
offensive coordinator Scott Linehan came up with a playbook full
of four- and five-receiver sets, a modified West Coast offense
that, with a wink, he calls the Pacific Northwest Coast offense.
Against Arizona State the various spread formations allowed
sophomore Ja'Warren Hooker, the NCAA indoor champion in the 55
meters and Pac-10 champ in the 100 and 200, to run fly routes
that opened up the middle of the field for Joe Jarzynka, a
diminutive junior with rock-star hair, who caught three passes,
and Gerald Harris, a fourth-year sophomore coming back from
separate surgeries for torn anterior cruciate and medial
collateral ligaments, who caught four passes. Huard threw 47
times, connecting on a career-high 27 passes (for 318 yards),
spread out among six receivers. "There was a lot of confusion
out there," said Sun Devils cornerback Courtney Jackson,
"because on film we had never seen any Washington set that had
four receivers, let alone five. Just goes to show how much you
can do in a summer."
Indeed, Huard had put his receivers through extensive workouts
this off-season, displaying the leadership expected from one of
the few junior co-captains in the history of a program that has
always revered seniors. Huard had been promised by no less an
authority than agent Leigh Steinberg that he would have been the
third quarterback taken in the NFL draft last January had he
turned pro, but he stayed in Seattle because, he says, "I've got
too much unfinished business to take care of in college football."
Huard already has 16 Husky career passing records, one of which
is his 40 touchdown passes, six more than were thrown by his
brother Damon, a three-year starter from 1993 to '95 who is now
Dan Marino's backup in Miami. But Brock has been overshadowed by
some of the conference's other top guns, among them UCLA's Cade
McNown, a fellow lefthander with whom his Pac-10 career will
always be linked. Coming out of Puyallup High, Huard was
considered the top schoolboy quarterback on the West Coast, and
he narrowed his choices to Washington and UCLA. McNown settled
on those two schools also, and he made it clear he would go
where Huard didn't. Huard signed with Washington, leaving UCLA
for McNown--and both schools have been exceedingly happy ever
Following Saturday's victory Huard talked about his two star
receivers, Davis and Looker, and the circuitous paths they have
followed in their careers. A redshirt freshman in 1995, Davis
showed considerable promise at linebacker, but over the next two
seasons he unselfishly moved from H-back to inside linebacker to
roverback, all the while pulling double duty with special teams
(for which he earned second-team, All-Pac-10 honors last year).
When Davis was elected a co-captain this season, the joke was he
got the nod only because he was friendly with players at so many
positions. A formidable combination of size and speed at 6'3"
and 235 pounds, Davis has finally found his best position. "Do I
like tight end?" he said late Saturday night. "I love it now."
Size and speed--or the lack thereof--have been an issue for
Looker throughout his athletic career, going all the way back to
his first encounter with Huard, when the two were in fifth grade
and met in the finals of a one-on-one tournament at a basketball
camp. "I was at least half a foot taller, and I just abused
him," says Huard, who at 6'5" is still four inches taller than
his roommate. They became best friends, and the core of a potent
passing attack in high school, where both were all-state. But
Looker was a skinny 160 pounds, and no major football program
was willing to spend a scholarship on him. He accepted a
basketball scholarship to Western Washington, a Division II
school in Bellingham, where he played both guard positions over
two seasons with mixed success. During his time there, Looker
spoke regularly to Huard by phone, and they often hung out in
the summer. Looker says Huard had a habit of steering the
conversation in a particular direction. "I wouldn't say he was
recruiting me," Looker says, "but he'd be like, 'You know, we
could sure use some more receivers.'"
Looker eventually gave in, his confidence stoked by the 30
pounds of muscle he had put on since high school. Though he has
earned praise for his precise routes and Velcro hands, Looker's
greatest strength may be the rapport he has with his
quarterback. "Those two are on their own private wavelength,"
As the Huskies were milling around outside Sun Devil Stadium,
waiting to pile onto the team bus, Looker was signing autographs
while leaning heavily on a pair of crutches, made necessary by
cramps in both legs as well as a deep thigh contusion. A
red-eyed Huard, who had been so overwrought by the victory that
he wept on the sideline, draped an arm over his friend's
shoulder. "I'm so glad you made it," Huard said, beaming. "Could
it be any better than this?"
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY SCOTT TROYANOS HEALED HUSKY Harris, a fourth-year sophomore due to multiple knee operations, had four catches against the Sun Devils. [Gerald Harris in game]