Freshmen will play key roles for Huskies
Several freshmen signed in Chris Petersen’s first recruiting class, including two receivers and five defensive backs, could play this year.
Seattle Times staff reporter
At 6 feet 5, 217 pounds, freshman Brayden Lenius brings an element of size and sure-handedness any program covets in a wide receiver. His addition is a particularly welcome one to a Washington receiving corps in need of another true outside option.
“He’s a 6-5 savage,” junior receiver Jaydon Mickens said. “He’s just a beast. When the ball is in the air, I don’t even have to look. You know who’s coming down with it.”
UW’s other freshman receiver, Dante Pettis, has also impressed Mickens with his quick cuts out of routes and his attitude. Pettis, Mickens said, isn’t afraid to go head-to-head against the Huskies’ top cornerback, junior Marcus Peters.
As senior Kasen Williams continues to round back into shape following last year’s leg injury — Williams has said he hopes to be 100 percent by the Aug. 30 season opener at Hawaii — Lenius is another true outside receiver with big-play potential.
Pettis, at 6 feet, 177 pounds, has the versatility to play outside or in the slot.
“I think they’re going to contribute right away,” Mickens said. “I talk to them every day. ... I tell them, ‘Don’t try to become a vet all in one time. You don’t have to. We don’t need you to. We just need you to contribute when you can and just know your assignment and play fast.’ ”
Several freshmen signed in Chris Petersen’s first recruiting class, including five defensive backs, could play this year.
Budda Baker, the former Bellevue High star, headlines that group, and he will likely open the season as sophomore Brandon Beaver’s backup at free safety. Baker is also expected to get some opportunities as a kickoff-return specialist.
“It’s just been awesome watching him fly around and compete out there,” defensive-backs coach Jimmy Lake said. “He’s just got to continue to learn the defense so he can be that step ahead of the offense. And as soon as we catch that up with his speed, he’s going to be special.”
Lake has also singled out cornerbacks Naijiel Hale, Sidney Jones and Darren Gardenhire, and safety Jojo McIntosh as freshmen who have a chance to contribute.
On the defensive line, freshman Will Dissly (6-4, 273) looks ready to play. Jaylen Johnson, Shane Bowman and Vita Vea are also candidates to contribute at that position.
Putting their best foot forward
Despite a strong push from the strong right leg of freshman Tristan Vizcaino, sophomore place-kicker Cameron Van Winkle and junior punter Korey Durkee appear to have a stronghold on UW’s kicking duties.
Travis Coons finished last season handling all of UW’s kicking duties, the rare triple-duty of place-kicks, punting and kickoffs. Coons is now battling for a starting job with the NFL’s Tennessean Titans, leaving the door wide open for his old jobs at UW.
It might take all three guys to fill Coons’ boots.
Van Winkle converted all eight of his field-goal attempts in last Saturday’s open scrimmage, including a long of 42 yards. Durkee seems to be handling the full-time transition to rugby-style punting with aplomb , and Vizcaino remains in line to be the Huskies’ kickoff specialist.
“I think the competition Coach Pete brought in is absolutely amazing,” said Durkee, the Gig Harbor High product. “I had it last year, for a couple years, with Travis. And growing and learning from him, and his experience with the NFL’s Titans right now is awesome.”
The Huskies introduced some rugby punting last year, and Petersen’s staff seems to prefer that style, too. Durkee said it suits him just fine.
“Punting is always about consistency,” he said.
Van Winkle, a Mount Si High of Snoqualmie product, said he is fully recovered from a back injury that sidelined him for the second half of 2013.