SEATTLE – Washington defensive end Caesar Rayford separated himself from the crowd last season by literally outrunning the pack.
The freshman from Spanaway, Wash., regularly left other defensive linemen in their tracks – and took extra sprints afterward. That brought attention and finally playing time as Rayford burned his redshirt against Oregon State and appeared in the final six games of the Huskies’ 1-10 season.
Now back at spring practice, Rayford has a new coaching staff to impress.
And once again, he is trying to hustle his way into their heads and hearts.
“I try to be ahead of everybody,” Rayford said. “During the training stuff, I actually ran with he linebackers just to get a little challenge. I just like to compete, and the running shows I care.”
This spring, he has noticed more players showing the same thing.
“Practices are way more upbeat now,” he said. “Coach emphasizes running everywhere, running to the ball, running to your drills. Coach says we’re going to be a well-conditioned team. He always wants us to run and run hard. It’s kind of fun now because everybody is running.”
Coach Ty Willingham admits that hustle and work ethic are among the indicators he watched for while learning his new team.
“It’s the manner in which we play that game – that’s as important as anything,” Willingham said. “It’s got to be played hard, it’s got to be played physical, it’s got to be played with a great deal of hustle. … Good players play hard regardless of what the situation is. They bring that inner confidence, that attitude. That’s what we’re looking for.”
So far, Willingham says he is pleased.
Of course, top effort might be expected through the first six spring practices as the Huskies try to make a good early impression.
“I hope it was never to impress the coach,” Willingham said. “I hope that’s the way they are, the personality they have. But I do know people are not exactly that way. Your true colors, in time, show themselves. But I am hopeful that what we’re doing and what they’re illustrating are an attitude and a love of the game.”
Rayford seems to be one of those with the attitude and the love of the game. And his work began long before Willingham was hired.
Rayford arrived at Washington from Bethel High School standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 215 pounds.
This spring, he is up to about 230 and he harbors hopes of blossoming to 250 pounds.
“Weight training has been going really well,” he said. “I’ve been pushing myself, doing extra. Even now that practice is under way I’ve been lifting, practicing, eating about every two hours – forcing myself to eat. Even with the weight coming, I’ve been keeping my speed.”
Nearing the halfway point of the 15-practice spring drills, Rayford is listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind junior Brandon Ala.