SEATTLE – Aaron Fuller acknowledged the obvious.
“We had an ‘off’ year last year. That’s pretty recognizable by everyone around the country,” the Huskies junior wide receiver said of the Washington passing attack in 2017.
After the Huskies’ 2016 breakthrough, led by star receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis, the passing game regressed last fall, a decline that can be attributed in part to staggering injuries at wide receiver and tight end.
As the Huskies search for answers out wide this spring, and search for a new go-to receiver following Pettis’ graduation, this has also become obvious: Fuller looks capable of being Jake Browning’s next No. 1 target.
A 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior from McKinney, Texas, Fuller has followed up his strong finish to the 2017 season with an impressive spring, all but assuring his spot as a starting wideout for the Sept. 1 season opener against Auburn.
“He’s definitely taken his game to another level,” wide receivers coach Matt Lubick said.
As a second-year sophomore last fall, Fuller made four starts and had 26 receptions for 291 yards. The majority of that production came in the final five games, when he had 18 catches; and with Pettis (ankle) limited to a few snaps in the Fiesta Bowl, Fuller emerged with a career-high six catches for 61 yards and a touchdown against Penn State.
“I thought he did really well in the Penn State game, and he’s been building on top of that,” Browning said. “He’s come out ready to work every single day and putting good practices on top of good practices.”
Fuller has been a regular with the first-team offense this spring, joined most often by junior Andre Baccellia and 6-4 sophomore Ty Jones. All three have shown flashes of their potential. Fuller has been the most consistent.
“His leadership has been huge right now – leading by example, showing guys how to practice, how to take notes in a meeting room,” Lubick said. “He’s having a huge impact on not only our offense, but our receiver room as well.”
Fuller is also first in line to succeed Pettis as the Huskies’ primary punt returner – cornerback Byron Murphy has also been getting spring reps as a returner – and Fuller welcomes the spotlight that comes with the added responsibilities.
“I love having that pressure on me,” he said. “Coming from Texas, it’s a big football (environment). So it’s kind of getting back to my roots, basically. It’s fun being around the ball, being on the field at all times. Just having that ability and having the coaches trust me with that type of stuff is pretty fun.”
Sophomore receiver Jordan Chin has been a pleasant surprise this spring, and redshirt freshmen Alex Cook and Terrell Bynum have received the bulk of the reps with the No. 2 offense. (Bynum, though, is out this week with an unspecified injury.)
Freshman Austin Osborne, one of three touted receivers in the 2018 recruiting class, is an early enrollee who has gradually been getting more opportunities as he learns the offense. Running with the No. 2 offense, he caught a two-point conversion pass from Jake Haener in the back of the end zone on Wednesday morning.
Incoming freshmen Marquis Spiker and Trey Lowe are scheduled to arrive this summer. Head coach Chris Petersen has said standout slot receiver Chico McClatcher (broken ankle) and junior wideout Quinten Pounds (knee) are both on schedule in their return from surgeries last fall.
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