At 11:27 p.m. on Saturday, Fox college football analyst Joel Klatt tweeted: “Jake Haener!! would probably start everywhere in the Pac 12.”
At least, not then.
Not in the fall of 2019, when Jacob Eason edged out Haener for Washington’s starting quarterback job. The competition was so close, in fact, that Husky coach Chris Petersen vowed to play both quarterbacks in the imminent season opener against Eastern Washington.
“Jake Haener and Jacob Eason … obviously two really good quarterbacks,” Petersen said on Aug. 23, 2019, when the decision was announced. “It was a tight competition, and you take it as long as you can and you’ve got to make a decision and roll with it. Jake Haener will play in that first game. He should, he deserves it and he will.”
Not so fast.
A day later, Haener – a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder from Danville, California – officially left the program, parachuting into the transfer portal. He resurfaced 11 days later at Fresno State.
Which is where this all gets interesting. Because, in 10 career games with the Bulldogs, Haener has completed 68.1% of his passes, throwing for 3,485 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions. He led a heroic 40-37 upset of No. 13 UCLA on Saturday night, completing 39 of 53 passes while throwing for 455 yards with two touchdowns and one interception … all while nursing an obvious injury.
Trailing 30-26 with 2:55 left, Haener crumpled to the turf after delivering a 19-yard touchdown strike to Fresno State wide receiver Erik Brooks.
Then, after UCLA went back ahead, Haener put the game away with a stunning six-play, 75-yard drive spanning just 40 seconds – culminating in a 13-yard back-shoulder bullet to Jalen Cropper. As his teammates celebrated the go-ahead score, Haener dropped to his knees, raising both arms in a befuddled Rose Bowl.
At 2:26 a.m. on the East Coast, Haener – a former Husky – became a college football cult hero.
“I don’t know how I feel,” a delirious Haener told Los Angeles’ ABC affiliate, with eye-black smudged down the sides of his face. “My body hurts so bad. What just happened?! That was insane. We try to give them every chance to win, and then we just find a way. I love this team. I love the valley. Oh my God!”
Added CBS Sports college football writer Tom Fornelli on Twitter: “This Jake Haener performance, when most of the country is sleeping, on a network most couldn’t see if they were awake, is Pure College Football.”
So why didn’t it happen at Washington?
Two years later, it’s worth wondering what might have happened if Haener – a redshirt sophomore at the time of his transfer – would have stayed in Seattle, where he could have conceivably played through 2022. With his starting job secured, Eason led the Huskies to a thoroughly uninspiring 8-5 record in 2019, before becoming a fourth-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts the following spring.
When Jimmy Lake and offensive coordinator John Donovan took over in a pandemic-shortened four-game season last fall, they did so with four scholarship signal callers – redshirt freshman Dylan Morris, graduate transfer Kevin Thomson, sophomore Jacob Sirmon and true freshman Ethan Garbers. Haener – who would have had three full seasons in the program – would have been the odds-on favorite to start.
Instead, Morris – a former four-star recruit from Graham-Kapowsin High School – stepped into the starting role, with middling results. In seven career starts, he has completed 59.1% of his passes, while throwing for 1,783 yards with 11 total touchdowns and eight interceptions. On Saturday, after struggling in losses against Montana and Michigan, he completed 23 of 39 passes for 367 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 52-3 win over Arkansas State.
“For me, with my job and my role on this team, I haven’t performed well enough, with the costly turnovers,” Morris said after the game. “My job is getting this offense rolling and in a rhythm. And just talking to those guys, I haven’t performed well enough. That’s what I’m working toward.”
With a possible three-plus seasons left in the program, Morris has work to do – and time to do it. And, despite a 1-2 start, he remains the unquestioned starter – with five-star freshman Sam Huard waiting in the wings.
Of course, the transfer portal has impacted the quarterback position more than most – and four scholarship signal callers have utilized it since Morris arrived in 2019.
Sirmon won the starting job at Central Michigan this offseason, and has thrown for 561 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions in the Chippewas’ 1-2 start.
Garbers – who transferred to UCLA this winter, after a single season in Seattle – watched Haener win from the opposite sideline, where he’s stashed behind established starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Colson Yankoff, a former Coeur d’Alene High standout, also landed at UCLA in the spring of 2019, where he has since switched to wide receiver and failed to record a catch in 10 career games.
And then there’s Haener – who, by all indications, has flourished at No. 22 Fresno State. And while both his mother and grandfather are Washington alums, his decision to leave UW was certainly understandable.
After all, a vocal majority of the Husky fan base vehemently argued for Eason – the former five-star recruit with the rocket right arm – to start under center in 2019. And though it was largely assumed he’d jump to the NFL the following spring, Eason could have conceivably returned for his senior season in 2020 as well.
Don’t forget, either, that many UW fans’ opinions were indelibly influenced by Haener’s 37-yard pick-six in a 12-10 loss at Cal in 2018 – so much so, that he deleted his social media accounts to avoid the ongoing excoriation.
“It was pretty tough,” Haener told KJR-AM in 2019, of the response to that particular play. “You get a lot of things after the game and you try to not pay attention to it. Stuff is popping up on your phone – messages that aren’t the best mentally to deal with, because I was a 19-year-old kid at the time trying to deal with it and really experience college football for the first time.
“You’ve got to deal with it. It’s part of it, and it was a really good learning experience, and I think it’s going to help me for the rest of my career moving forward at the next school, because it’s valuable.”
Haener deserved a fresh start, and he’s made the most of it.
Meanwhile, Morris could certainly develop into a consistently successful starter, and Huard – the most prolific prep passer in the history of the state – appears to have a bright future at Washington as well. The cupboard is not bare in the quarterback room.
But after Saturday, it’s hard not to wonder what might have been.
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