The chatter on the Snapchat group chat had been building toward this day.
For months, members of the Washington Huskies’ 2018 recruiting class had kept in touch through their private social-media setting, communicating “every day, all the time,” tight end Devin Culp said.
For so long, June 20 – their day to report to UW for freshman orientation – seemed so far off. Last week, that day arrived, and the recruiting class did too.
The arrival of the incoming freshmen has added intrigue this summer after the NCAA recently eased restrictions on redshirt rules.
Previously, anyone who played in any game, even one snap, would exhaust a full season of eligibility. The new rule allows players to participate in up to four games without burning their redshirt status – meaning they would still have four more years of playing eligibility.
It’s a significant change, and it could prove particularly beneficial for freshmen who are still developing, still adjusting to the college game.
The new redshirt rule was a big talking point for UW’s 2018 class on Snapchat leading up to their arrival.
“It’s going to be huge,” Culp said. “If you play in those three or four games and something comes up later with the whole redshirt thing, just getting that experience would be great. You’ve already played in a game, played in front of thousands and thousands of fans, and you know what it’s like to take those snaps in big-time moments. It’s going to be cool for a lot of guys.”
Culp, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound graduate of Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, could be one of those freshmen who gets an early taste of college football this fall in the wake of a likely season-ending injury to sophomore tight end Hunter Bryant.
Bryant, an ESPN Freshman All-American last year, was expected to be one of the Huskies’ top receiving targets this fall. Sources have confirmed Bryant has undergone surgery and will be out for an extended period.
Washington entered the spring with quality depth at tight end. Senior Drew Sample has been a starter for the past three seasons in UW’s varied tight-end formations, and he’s as dependable as just about anyone on the roster.
But the Huskies ask a lot of their tight ends – last fall, head coach Chris Petersen said his tight ends have to know almost as much about the offense as his quarterbacks – and it can be a taxing position physically.
Sophomore Jacob Kizer, who appeared in 12 games as a true freshman last fall, posting two catches for 17 yards, is the only other tight end with any real game experience. After a strong spring, redshirt freshman Cade Otton moves up to No. 3 on the depth chart, and senior walk-on DeShon Williams could take on a greater role, too.
The Huskies also have junior Michael Neal and Jusstis Warren, a converted linebacker, listed at tight end.
Culp did a little bit of everything in high school. He was a starting receiver as a sophomore on Gonzaga Prep’s 2015 state championship team, and he helped this year’s basketball team to an undefeated season and a state title.
As a senior last fall, he was a “wing” in Gonzaga Prep’s triple-option offense, and rushed for almost 1,000 yards and five touchdowns on jet-sweep runs. Dave McKenna, Gonzaga Prep’s coach, said Culp was determined to prove himself as a blocker last season.
“He was one of the most unselfish players we had, because he blocked so well for us,” McKenna said. “He took ownership of becoming a better blocker. He really bought into that. … He’s extremely coachable and competitive, and he’s always got a big smile on his face. He’s just a great, great kid.”
Last Tuesday, Culp drove with his mom, Pia, from Spokane and arrived at UW.
“For me, it’s mostly just excitement to live in a new city and play for an amazing program and a great group of coaches,” Culp said before leaving Spokane. “For my mom, it’s going to be sad – her baby’s leaving the nest. But it’s not like a million miles away. It’s just a five-hour drive.”
Before leaving for UW, Culp said he was working out regularly back in Spokane, waking up at 5:30 a.m. three days a week for conditioning. He said he’s not trying to put any added pressure on himself to contribute right away this fall, but he’s optimistic.
“I would love to do that – that’s what it’s all about. You want to go compete and play,” he said. “This new redshirt rule, I think it’s going to be a good deal for everyone.”
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