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UW notebook: Jordan Perryman’s pro day bounce-back, breakout candidates and more

By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – There was a time – before the strained quad in the season opener against Kent State, before the dislocated shoulder on the fifth defensive play against Oregon, before the broken thumb in the Apple Cup win over Washington State – when Jordan Perryman looked like Washington’s best player.

During August practices, Perryman – a 6-foot, 202-pound corner and UC Davis transfer – routinely outdueled UW wide receiver Rome Odunze, who promptly torched Pac-12 competition for 1,145 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

At the time, co-defensive coordinator Chuck Morrell – never one for exorbitant enthusiasm – said, “Jordan Perryman is playing as good as anyone on our squad right now, and it’s impressive watching him play day in and day out.”

Unfortunately, that production didn’t survive the preseason.

The Hanford, California, product and FCS All-American was buried under an avalanche of injuries, though he managed to contribute 37 tackles in 10 games (all starts).

On Wednesday, he lamented that the worst part was “feeling like I’m not producing for my team. I came here to help my team win. They won without me. But I was thinking to myself, ‘We could have done a little bit more if I was able to do my part.’ ”

Granted, Perryman represented but a single snowflake in the secondary’s injury avalanche, as safeties Vince Nunley (out for the season) and Asa Turner (three games), cornerbacks Julius Irvin (seven games), Elijah Jackson (six games), Mishael Powell (four games) and Davon Banks (four games), and “husky” nickel Dominique Hampton (one game) all missed games.

But Perryman, for one, looked plenty healthy in Wednesday’s Washington pro day – logging an unofficial 4.38-second 40-yard dash, a 37.5-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot, 6-inch broad jump.

He was far from Washington’s best player in 2022.

But Perryman is focused on the future.

“Obviously, it’s rough. I’m disappointed that it went that way,” he said of his senior season.

“But I still have an opportunity, so I’m going to keep moving forward and not back.”

Next in line

As is so often the case, outgoing players were asked following the pro day which Huskies will produce breakout seasons in 2023.

The most frequent answers: offensive lineman Nate Kalepo and defensive lineman Ulumoo “MJ” Ale.

The 6-6, 323-pound Kalepo started the first three games at left guard last season, impressing prior to Jaxson Kirkland’s eventual return. Kirkland said Wednesday that “his ceiling is extremely high. He’s kind of similar to my size, a tackle body playing inside. That can be a huge advantage, and he’s extremely powerful.”

Added outgoing right guard Henry Bainivalu of the fifth-year junior: “I know his mentality. He’s a physical guy. He wants to get after anybody. He won’t be denied, and I think that’s one of the best attitudes you can have as an O-lineman, definitely.”

A Renton, Washington, native , Kalepo has operated at UW’s starting right guard this spring, though he could eventually settle on the left side as well.

As for Ale, the 6-6, 331-pound senior contributed 11 tackles with a tackle for loss and a pass defended after converting from the offensive line last offseason. But Kirkland noted that “we could tell as the season went on that toward the end he really got the hang of the D-line thing. With how large he is, we know he can be a force in there. So I’m excited to see that.”

Ale, too, has operated as a starting defensive lineman through five spring practices – alongside junior Jacob Bandes. Senior Tuli Letuligasenoa, junior Faatui Tuitele and twins Jayvon and Armon Parker are all expected to contribute as well.

Huff appreciation

After struggling mightily in 2021, UW’s offensive line took seismic steps – allowing seven total sacks (second in the nation) in 13 games last fall. Kirkland noted that “it was frustrating that whole time (2021), because we knew we had it. We knew how good we were. We just wanted to finally prove that and show everyone how great this offensive line is. I still don’t think we really reached our full potential. I know it’s crazy saying that, but we had so much more in the tank.”

It remains to be seen if UW’s offensive line, which is replacing three starters, can replicate that performance in 2023.

But position coach Scott Huff – whose retention last offseason ruffled feathers inside the fan base – returns for a seventh season, having rewarded UW coach Kalen DeBoer’s decision.

“He’s the best offensive line coach in America,” Kirkland said. “I know everyone was gunning for his head after 2021, but there’s a reason why he got retained. I think we saw that last year. I’ve got nothing but love for that guy.”

“Huff’s been like my second dad here at UW,” Bainivalu said. “I know he’s always been in my corner. To be able to learn from him and listen to him and how he talks is just an amazing opportunity, and I’m grateful I got to do that for six years.”