When the 2020 season abruptly ended for pandemic reasons, the University of Washington football team still had plenty to be optimistic about moving forward, returning 20 of 22 starters from a 3-1 team.
The mark of a veteran crew is fielding an experienced lineup that doesn't change much from week to week.
However, seven games into a new campaign that's been sour for the most part, the Huskies count just eight players who have survived all sorts of obstacles and held on tight to to their first-unit jobs for every outing.
This comes after offensive tackle Jaxson Kirkland and defensive tackle Sam Taimani were unable to travel to Arizona because of injuries, ending their starting streaks of 11 and 10 consecutive games, respectively. Kirkland, hurt against UCLA, remains a 35-game starter over four seasons with a few gaps.
Just four players on each side of the ball for the UW have resisted the transfer portal, injuries, COVID-19 or demotions over the past 12 months. It goes to show that best-laid plans don't always pan out.
We take a look at the Huskies' Eight Men Out There and how they've remained in the opening lineup.
Dylan Morris, QB
Over the past week, Husky coach Jimmy Lake was asked directly and multiple times whether he intended to replace the redshirt freshman quarterback from Puyallup, Washington, with someone else such as true freshman Sam Huard. Lake's answer was no. Others noted how Oklahoma boldly pulled starter Spencer Rattler, everyone's preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, in favor of true freshman Caleb Williams. Morris struggled mightily for a half against Arizona and even had to come for a series with an injury in favor of Huard, but he perseveres.
Luke Wattenberg, C
A sixth-year senior and 43-game starter, Wattenberg was mentioned early on among the nation's top centers. He's been Luke-warm this season. He had a near-disastrous snap against UCLA that traveled over Morris' head for a 25-yard loss to the UW 5. He hasn't helped his pro ambitions much, but goes about his business. Yet he pushes on.
Henry Bainivalu, RG
He's started the Huskies' last 13 games over three seasons. While drawing mention as a possible NFL draft pick, the 6-foot-6, 330-pound junior hasn't been all that nimble playing with added weight this season. He'll probably need to trim down in the future to be more productive and become a pro prospect. He remains one of three UW linemen to answer the opening bell each game.
Victor Curne, RT
The big Texan has had an average season at best while starting 11 consecutive games dating back to 2020. He missed most of spring ball with a foot injury that set him back. He's been flagged for 3 false starts this season. For the past two games, Curne has given way to fellow sophomore Matteo Mele in the fourth quarter of the UCLA and Arizona games. He might be hard-pressed to fend off Mele and hang on to his starting job.
Kyler Gordon, CB
This guy might be the Huskies' MVP so far. He's come to play every game. He's been solid throughout his team's up-and-down season, coming up with a pair of interceptions against California and greatly limiting the pass completions all around him at all other times. Just a sophomore, he might be inclined to enter the next NFL draft, so he might be down to five or six college games. He very well may be the UW's most secure starter who hasn't missed any time.
Jackson Sirmon, LB
Another 11-game starter, he's been a fairly reliable defender while playing on the second row, though he sometimes guesses on the gaps. The sophomore leads the team in tackles (53), but the Huskies are still waiting on him to become more of a playmaker. He has a pair of tackles for loss and a fumble recovery this season, modest numbers at best.
Ryan Bowman, OLB
His sixth year as a Husky hasn't been his best year. At 280 pounds, he might be too bulky now to be a backfield-crashing playmaker and second-team All-Pac-12 selection that he once was. He has 2 sacks among 22 tackles, though his fumble recovery did, indeed, seal the overtime win over Cal.
Cooper McDonald, OLB
The second-year freshman edge rusher got thrust into the starting lineup as a replacement for Zion Tupuola-Fetui, probably before he was ready. He has 18 tackles and 1 sack while replacing ZTF, who might be close to reclaiming his starting job after a pair of successful test runs coming off the bench against UCLA and Arizona. McDonald is the player among the remaining eight uninterrupted starters most likely to give up his spot before long.
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