SEATTLE – Washington receiver Cody Bruns spoke an eternal truth of college football players whose careers are about to end.
“It’s one of those things where it seems like it was yesterday (that he first enrolled at UW),” Bruns said. “But at the same time, you have put so much work into things, it seems like it was a long, long time ago.”
A long, and sometimes strange, trip indeed for Bruns and four other UW players who are the only ones left from the pre-Steve Sarkisian era.
All will end their careers Saturday when the Huskies play in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas against Boise State. Besides Bruns, the others are safety Justin Glenn, cornerback Adam Long, center Drew Schaefer and fullback Jonathan Amosa. Bruns, Glenn, Long and Schaefer all signed with UW in February, 2008 as part of Tyrone Willingham’s final recruiting class at UW.
Amosa joined the team that fall as a walk-on and later was put on scholarship. One other player from the Class of 2008 – cornerback Anthony Gobern – also will play his final game Saturday. Gobern, though, did not officially enroll at UW until 2009, after Sarkisian had become coach.
The five who were part of the team in 2008 have seen the program emerge from its lowest depths – an 0-12 season their first year in which Willingham was fired midway through – to steady the ship and again make bowl games an annual occurrence.
And while they may not have reached the biggest goals for a Pac-12 team, they say they leave with no regrets. “It’s been a great five years,’’ said Glenn, a graduate of Kamiak High who also seriously considered Arizona State before deciding to stay home. “I never could have told you what would have happened because of the crazy stuff that did happen. But it’s been fun and it’s made me who I am.’’
Having experienced the change from Willingham to Sarkisian has given the members of the Class of 2008 an even tighter relationship, they say.
Glenn, Bruns and Schaefer have been particularly close, rooming together throughout their UW years. “We just have been through so much,’’ Schaefer said. “We have really bonded through it and there’s just a lot of camaraderie between us.’’
And while the players’ college careers will inevitably be defined by those on the outside by what happened on fall Saturdays, each says their memories will be framed as much by what happened off the field.
“The most fond memories are just building relationships with the team and everyone, especially the guys that have been here the last five years,’’ said Long, a native of Los Angeles. “That’s the most important thing I will take is the memories I have with them.’’
Not that there haven’t been plenty of on-field highlights, despite the rocky beginning. The Huskies are 21-17 the last three years, 15-12 in Pac-12 games, and have beaten every conference team but Oregon and Arizona State (which they haven’t played since 2010) in that time.
As is true of every college football player, each will also leave with their own tale to tell. Long’s may be the most star-crossed. He turned down a track scholarship at UCLA to come to UW, saying he wanted a different cultural experience in college. He emerged as a starter at cornerback for the last six games of his freshman season in 2009, and played as a key reserve in 2010, making a critical pass defense down the stretch of the Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska. But he then suffered a torn ACL in an offseason drill a couple months later and has rarely played since. He has one tackle this season.
He says he leaves, though, with no bitterness. “Obviously there are times when it would kind of bite at you,’’ he said of his injuries. “But at the same time, I have been through every position from starting to just helping to injured. So it’s been an experience, and that’s what I take away most is just the experience.’’
All will also leave with their degrees, and like every other college graduate, each is also a little unsure what is ahead. None is regarded as certain to have a shot at a pro career and Bruns joked that “if anybody wants to give me a job, let me know.’’
Five other seniors, who joined the team after Sarkisian became coach, will also play their final game in Las Vegas. “It’s been unique in that our senior class is kind of made up of half guys we inherited and half guys we recruited in our first class,’’ Sarkisian said. “Those guys (the ones he inherited), what I’ve appreciated about them is to accept what we brought in because they obviously signed on for something different the year before we came on board. And then when we came on board, they’ve been extremely willing. They’ve battled and competed for us. We’ve had some amazing moments together. We’ve also had some gut-wrenching moments together.
“But through it all, their leadership has been tremendous and they’ve battled and competed for us. I’m proud of them and I’m happy for them that they are going to their third consecutive bowl game after what was looking like doom and gloom at mid-season.”