A UW rarity, advantage: The four-year starter

Jennifer Buchanan photo
Dan Raley

They have 207 starts among them. Thirty-seven victories. Six All-Pac-12 first-team selections. Four Apple Cup wins. Two league championships. One College Football Playoff berth. Zero regrets.

Offensive tackle Trey Adams, quarterback Jake Browning, defensive tackle Greg Gaines, running back Myles Gaskin, offensive tackle Kaleb McGary and tight end Drew Sample comprise an elite Washington football fraternity inside its Rose Bowl roster—they’re four-year starters.

Players this good for this long usually go to the NFL after two or three seasons. These Huskies, however, chose to stick around, play together and see what else they could do.

“We know who the guys are—they’re the ones who you know are going to be consistent and play hard and go hard in the weight room,” Adams said. “We like to push each other. A lot of guys are attracted to that. You look back and, it’s, ‘Wow, we’ve played a lot of football.’ ”

The UW’s super six is responsible for a nearly 5,500 yards rushing and 12,000 yards passing. They helped end Oregon’s dominance that brought 12 consecutive defeats. They put the Huskies back in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 18 years.

Had there not been a major interruption in service for one of these pillars of success—Adams, with a back injury that led to surgery and cost him 10 games—there’s no telling what this Washington team might have accomplished this season. The Huskies (10-3) are just 10 points from an unbeaten record, and a pancake block or two from their talented left tackle, a Wenatchee product who carries a somewhat nimble yet massive 6-foot-8, 316-pound frame, might have changed one or more of the outcomes.

McGary from Fife was first on board, choosing the Huskies over Wisconsin. Gaskin, the school’s all-time leading rusher and from Lynnwood, settled on the UW after thinking he was Arizona State-bound. Gaines, a Californian, and Sample, from Bellevue, committed to Boise State and Chris Petersen, and then followed the football coach to Seattle when he switched jobs. Browning, another Californian and considered the plumb of these signees because he was the highly regarded quarterback, chose the UW over Alabama, Oklahoma State and others. Adams was set on becoming a Husky all along.

Recruiting services rated Adams, Browning and McGary as four-star recruits, the others with three stars. Everyone except Adams will complete their college eligibility on New Year’s Day in Pasadena. The big tackle, re-inserted in the starting lineup against Washington State, Utah and presumably Ohio State after recovering from his injury and serving as an emergency fill-in for his replacement, Jared Hilbers, will finish out his run as a four-year starter in 2019. He’ll use a redshirt year still available to him and delay his pro ambitions for another season to make sure he’s back on track.

“I’m not worried about the NFL; I feel I need another year to develop,” Adams said. “I’m a new person now. I have two new knees and a new back. This is the upgraded Trey Adams.”

As the Rose Bowl approaches, the portfolios for the Huskies’ super six are rich in experience and accomplishments. Here’s what these guys, ranked in order of their number of starting assignments, have done to create their UW legacies, based on their starting-lineup staying power, and what lies ahead:

Browning has started all 52 games he’s played, sitting out a single contest as a freshman because of a midseason shoulder injury. He will finish as the Huskies’ all-time leader in passing yards (11,983) and in touchdown passes (94). He earned first-team All-Pac-12 recognition and Offensive Player of the Year accolades in 2016, and honorable mention all-conference honors as a junior and senior. He’s more of a manager than a playmaker in overseeing the offense, but his teammates swear by him.

McGary, a starter for 46 of 52 games after redshirting as a freshman, is the most decorated of the six players. He was named All-Pac-12 first team as a junior and a senior, the only repeat selection among these Huskies upperclassmen. He should be a decent NFL player.

Gaines, the lone defender among this elite crew, has started 46 of 53 games after redshirting his first year. He plays with a large “W” tattooed across his right bicep (see photo). He’s gone from All-Pac-12 honorable mention as a sophomore to the league second team as a junior to a first-team pick as a senior. There’s a place in the pros for him, too.

Sample, a starter in 39 of 50 outings after redshirting, has caught 23 passes this season, more than doubling his receptions from any previous year, and adding to a skillset that listed him primarily as a blocker. He was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention as a sophomore and senior. If the pros liked Will Dissly, they’ll really be enamored with Sample.

Gaskin, in becoming the first Pac-12 player to rush for 1,000 yards or more in four consecutive seasons and No. 3 on the league’s all-time rushing list (5,202), has started 39 of 51 outings. He was a first-team all-league pick as a sophomore, and an all-conference second-teamer as a junior and a senior. He considered turning pro after the 2017 season but wasn’t enamored with his projected draft position as a late-rounder. Spending added time with his UW teammates helped guide his decision to return as a senior, too.

“I look at those dudes as my brothers,” Gaskin said. “I think that was kind of the No. 1 thing, having another run with those guys. We were all going to get to play together again.”

Adams, a starter in 31 of 34 games, was All-Pac-12 first team as a sophomore but crippling injuries prevented him from receiving any league recognition the past two years. Yet even after injuring a knee and having surgery as a junior, Adams was rated as the league’s top NFL prospect entering this season. If he can stay relatively healthy, he should make the biggest impact on the pros of these super six.

Junior center Nick Harris and junior free safety Taylor Rapp, both All-Pac-12 first-team selections this season, are poised to become four-year starters in 2019—joining Adams—though with Rapp it seems there's more of a likelihood he'll take the early NFL route. But who knows?

Starting for four seasons is a college football rarity that has become commonplace at Washington. Players at other schools are departing sooner than ever, sitting out bowl games so they don’t endanger their health and jeopardize their pro prospects. Not these particular Huskies—they can’t get enough Montlake snaps.

“We all love being here,” Harris said, speaking on behalf of his fellow UW linemen. “Nobody wants to leave early.”