By Bill Swartz
Other than quarterback, few positions in football are as demanding as tight end. The Washington Huskies ask more of their tight end group than most and will request even more against talented University of California defenders Saturday night at Husky Stadium.
“I can’t state this loud enough how tough that position is,” said UW head coach Chris Petersen. “First and foremost it’s such a physical position. They’ve got to block like O-linemen. Then there’s pass routes and there’s pass protection. You have a lot of things on those guys' plates.”
Earlier this season the Dawgs starting tight end, 2016 Pac-12 honorable mention Drew Sample, went down with a lower leg injury. That was on top of the season-ending knee injury to senior David Ajamu. All of sudden the Husky coaching staff had to rely on converted defensive lineman Will Dissly and true freshmen Hunter Bryant and Jacob Kizer.
Dissly, a senior from Bozeman, Montana, has stepped up nicely with steady run blocking and nine pass receptions, two for touchdowns.
“For me honestly it’s not a lot of secret sauce, I’m just going out there and executing the plays that were given. If my number is called, catch the ball or block the right guy. I’m just trying to be the best player I can. If that happens, it’s good for the Dawgs,” Dissly shared with KOMO news.
Hunter Bryant has become an important target for quarterback Jake Browning, his 10 catches now second most on the team behind Dante Pettis. Bryant was more of a wide receiver at Eastside Catholic High School, so he’s had to hone his run-blocking skills against bigger, stronger opponents. Dissly likes the progress he’s seen from his young teammate.
“I’m impressed by how much he’s (Bryant) been able to pick up. With the tight end group, there’s so much information they throw at us. I just love his work-ethic. Every day he shows up, wants to learn, and be the best player he can,” said Dissly.
Salem, Oregon, native Jacob Kizer originally signed with Washington in 2016, but put off enrollment until January 2017. He was an all-state defensive linemen as a junior in high school and is also learning the nuances of playing a demanding college offense position.
The Huskies tight end group will face a stiff challenge Saturday evening against visiting California. A trio of senior linebackers leads the Golden Bears in total tackles, sacks and tackles for loss. The best of the lot is Devante Downs from Mountlake Terrace High School north of Seattle. He is a strong candidate for Pac-12 defensive player of the year.
Cal will blitz and disguise blitzes very well, according to Husky’s offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith.
“They have a good scheme in pressuring the quarterback. When they do blitz, they’re good at avoiding the protection, slipping the running back. They play with such great effort, it shows up all over the tape,” said coach Smith.
Kickoff is 7:45 p..m. on ESPN and KOMO news am 1000/ fm 97.7. Radio pre-game coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with Gaard Swanson hosting the KOMO Kickoff show.
Prediction: Washington 38- California 17