It’s a new era at Washington.
And that doesn’t apply solely to the coach, offensive coordinator or starting quarterback.
There’s also a fresh crop of unfamiliar faces. And in a shortened season where eligibility has been paused, it’s possible more true freshmen will contribute (on special teams, or otherwise) than ever before.
With Washington’s season opener less than two weeks away, here are the five true freshmen likely to play the most.
Jaden Green (long snapper, 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, Gilbert, Arizona)
OK, I’m breaking my rules here, because Green should honestly be the undisputed No. 1. He will, without question, start in the opener against Cal on Nov. 7 and – barring injury or unforeseen circumstances – be UW’s permanent long snapper for the next four seasons.
That’s the expectation when you give a scholarship to a long snapper, and even more so when the previous starter – in this case, A.J. Carty – is out of eligibility. And it sounds like Green has been as advertised in fall camp.
“Jaden’s been great,” inside-linebackers coach and special-teams coordinator Bob Gregory said. “He is really good. He’s one of the best that I’ve been around. That kid can fire the ball back there. He’s a good long snapper.”
So, why wasn’t Green slotted into the No. 1 spot?
Because that would have been less fun, and rules are made to be broken.
Jalen McMillan (wide receiver, 6-1, 185, Fresno, California)
McMillan was perhaps UW’s most high-profile offensive prize in the 2020 class – a wideout with sure hands, ideal size and a blue-chip burst on the outside. He chose the Huskies over Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC and many more.
And now he’ll get to prove what all the hype was all about.
Granted, Washington is not exactly hurting for wide receivers. Terrell Bynum, Puka Nacua, Ty Jones, Marquis Spiker, Austin Osborne, Jordan Chin, Rome Odunze, Sawyer Racanelli and Taj Davis are angling for precious targets as well. But Lake has emphasized that “on both sides of the ball, freshmen should be able to insert into our scheme mentally and be able to play right away. It shouldn’t be that confusing.”
McMillan is talented enough to play – and the scheme shouldn’t stop him.
Mark Redman (tight end, 6-6, 245, Newport Beach, California)
Speaking of first-year offensive coordinator John Donovan’s pro-style scheme, it’s going to heavily feature the tight ends.
There’s only one potential snag: UW doesn’t have many tight ends returning.
True junior Hunter Bryant departed for the NFL last spring, and senior Jacob Kizer opted out of the 2020 season. That leaves Washington with three returning scholarship options – junior Cade Otton and redshirt sophomores Devin Culp and former walk-on Jack Westover – this fall.
Of course, Otton – who caught 32 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns last season – could realistically be the Pac-12’s most complete tight end in 2020. But Culp, a graduate of Gonzaga Prep, and Westover remain relatively unproven. To confront that fact, UW signed three tight ends in its most recent class – Mark Redman, Mason West and Jack Yary.
And of that tight-end trio, Redman should be the most physically prepared to contribute in 2020.
A 6-6, 245-pound freshman, Redman registered 72 receptions for 979 yards and 13 touchdowns in an undefeated senior season at Corona Del Mar High School – proving a reliable pass-catcher for current Husky freshman quarterback Ethan Garbers. Redman has the frame and flexibility to succeed as a blocker, and the hands to eventually influence the passing game as well.
Sav’ell Smalls (outside linebacker, 6-2, 250, Seattle)
When Joe Tryon declared for the 2021 NFL draft, an opportunity presented itself to UW’s next prospective pass rushers.
In 2019, four Huskies – Tryon, Ryan Bowman, Laiatu Latu and Zion Tupuola-Fetui – largely rotated in UW’s outside-linebacker spots. And in Tryon’s absence, Smalls and redshirt freshman Bralen Trice will compete to fill the fourth spot behind Latu.
Of course, in many ways Smalls’ reputation precedes him. The former five-star prospect from Kennedy Catholic High School was considered the crown jewel of UW’s 2020 class. His commitment also served as an important in-state recruiting win over a cavalcade of national contenders.
But none of that matters if the kid can’t play.
And, so far, he may have exceeded expectations.
“He looks great,” said Bowman, who likely will start opposite Latu. “He’s a dude that is trying to get better. He asks questions. He’s got a good mentality. Guys like that always elevate. He’s got all the tools, so he’ll be a great player for sure.”
Added Lake: “He’s coming along very nicely. He’s causing a lot of havoc in the backfield, and he’s also played the run well. He’s picked up the schemes very, very quickly. He’s a smart young man, loves football. There’s definitely technique stuff that still has to get better, and it will get better. But he has definitely flashed.
“We are excited about Sav’ell. He’s on the right track. And if he just keeps working hard every single day and continues to get better, we will enjoy him possibly playing in 2020.”
Translation: He’s playing in 2020.
The question is how often, and how effective he’ll be.
Rome Odunze (wide receiver, 6-3, 205, Las Vegas)
They tell you never to judge a player by his high-school statistics.
Even when he puts up prolific numbers at a national powerhouse.
So let’s not assume success for Rome Odunze just because he corralled 54 passes for 1,222 yards and 15 touchdowns in 13 games at Bishop Gorman High School last season while eclipsing 100 receiving yards and reaching the end zone in 12 games.
Instead, let’s listen to why wide-receivers coach Junior Adams wanted him at Washington.
“Size, speed and athleticism,” Adams said. “When he did get the ball in his hands, he always made the first person miss. Then when you get to know him, he’s a really good dude. He’s got a big heart. He comes from a good family, a wonderful mom. He’s got a really good work ethic.”
That work ethic has translated in fall camp as well, as Odunze has repeatedly earned praise from his coaches and teammates. It shouldn’t be a surprise, at this point, if he starts in the season opener.
And it’s not because Lake and Co. are judging the player by his high-school statistics.
But this size, speed and athleticism is pretty hard to ignore.
“He’s tall, he’s fast, and he plays with a defensive mentality. He is a tough young man. That’s what we saw on tape,” Lake said of Odunze. “He’s showing that and more so far in camp. He’s still got a ways to go, and he’s still got to go do it in a real FBS football game against another opponent. But he’s definitely, so far, made some big-time plays against some good DBs that are on our team.”
Next, he’ll be trusted to do the same against Pac-12 opponents.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.