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How Close Haener Came to Returning to the UW

The Fresno State quarterback shared his story with Pro Football Focus.
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The day after Kalen DeBoer left Fresno State to become the University of Washington football coach, Jake Haener was ready to follow him to Seattle.

The quarterback entered the transfer portal and immediately heard from several schools, notably Texas, Oregon and Nebraska. He also mulled early entry to the NFL draft. 

However, the competitor in Haener made him reconsider the UW — where he spent two seasons and abruptly left after losing the fall camp quarterback competition to Jacob Eason in 2019. 

It was not an easy decision. His mother, Julie Haener, was a 1989 UW graduate, someone who's used her broadcast journalism degree to become a popular TV news anchor in the Bay Area for the past quarter century. His grandfather went to school there, too. It was his dream school for the third-generation Haener. 

“My goal when I first came out of high school was to be the starting quarterback at the University of Washington,” Jake Haener recently told Pro Football Focus in a lengthy interview. “I remember how excited I was when I first signed."

Yet Haener impulsively gave all of that up when Eason was named the starter and he headed to Fresno State, where he sat out the 2019 season as a transfer. 

Had he stayed at the UW, Haener might have replaced Eason, who would struggle at times, for an 8-5 team. 

Jake Haener and Elijah Molden share a moment after the 2019 opener against North Dakota.

Jake Haener shared a moment in 2018 with nickelback Elijah Molden.

At the very least, Haener could have started the past two seasons for the Huskies, just as he eventually did for Fresno State. 

Now coming off a season in which he passed for 4,096 yards and 33 touchdowns for his Mountain West team, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound quarterback considered going back to Montlake and making his mark on what he's always believed was a storied program.

"Just with all the lineage they've had and all the history that's up there and just that setting, too, being able to play there, to just have the opportunity to be in that city, it's a special place," Haener told PFF. “I kept thinking about it, and, yeah, it was really tempting. It sounded really cool.”

One of the roadblocks in making the move back to the Northwest involved eligibility issues. The only way he could play right away at the UW was as a graduate student, but not all of his credits had transferred over to Fresno State when he switched schools. 

The UW was on a quarter system and his new one used semesters. He continually was re-taking classes and trying to catch up. He was told he still wouldn't be able to participate in Husky spring practice and have to wait until the end of summer to enroll. 

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The NFL came into play for him in the form of a Senior Bowl invitation to play in the game and spend a week of practice run by pros scouts, just in case he was ready to declare for the draft.

Haener was torn about what to do and almost made another impulsive decision. For a moment, he decided he was going back to the UW no matter what. He'd played two seasons at Fresno State as DeBoer's quarterback, who was now at his Pac-12 school of choice.

“At one point I was like, 'Screw it,' ” he told PFF. “I called DeBoer. I was like I’m just going to Washington. I don't care if I have to get there in July. It is what it is. I just want this to be done, let’s move on and go from there.”

Jeff Tedford, however, changed everything for the quarterback once and for all. 

He was the Fresno State coach when Haener transferred to the school and redshirted, with DeBoer spending the 2019 season as Indiana's offensive coordinator. In December, Tedford became the Fresno State coach again, replacing DeBoer, who had replaced him as the coach.

Tedford conquered his health issues that made him step down. He proved very persuasive in re-recruiting Haener to the Bulldogs. The quarterback removed his name from the portal and passed on the Huskies a final time.

“I had a change of heart when Tedford called me,” Haener said. 

Two months from another season in Fresno, Haener shows up on all of the lists that rank the nation's top quarterbacks. He's ready to have another big year for Fresno State. 

The Huskies have been left to wonder what if. What if Haener had come back to Montlake for more? Even better, what if he had never left in the first place? 

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