On a cool night in the Arizona desert, in his hometown of Tucson, Matteo Mele started at center for the University of Washington football team, replacing an injured Nick Harris.
For the next couple of hours, he called the huddle and snapped the ball to then-quarterback Jacob Eason. Just a redshirt freshman, Mele held up well in a 51-27 victory and an overly dominant offensive showing in 2019.
Harris left the UW for the NFL 18 months ago, so his understudy seemingly should have moved up and been promoted to a full-time job, and continued to flourish in this role.
That's not what happened.
Harris moved on, as dictated by his eligibility and pro aspirations. However, senior Luke Wattenberg moved from starting offensive guard to No. 1 center last season, with Mele his backup. Using pandemic allowances, Wattenberg this fall will repeat his senior year as the top Husky snapper.
Not only that, this spring junior Corey Luciano shifted from offensive tackle to Wattenberg's backup, while freshman Geirean Hatchett switched from offensive guard to the No. 3 center.
He is nowhere to be found when it comes to lining up over the football.
The coaching staff determined that Mele's large 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame was better suited for offensive tackle.
The Arizonan started the spring game for the No. 1 offense and the Gold team at right tackle, replacing an injured Vic Curne and maybe making it tougher for the incumbent to get his job back.
Going down the roster in numerical order, this is another of our post-spring assessments of all of the Husky talent at hand, gleaned from a month of observations, as a way to keep everyone engaged during the offseason.
Mele wears No. 78, a number he has all to himself on a team that forces a lot of players to share numbers. Offensive tackle Curt Marsh, an NFL first-round draft in 1981, is the most accomplished UW player to pull on that shirt.
While Mele's development has taken some time, and sent him from one position to another, he's still a sophomore with three seasons of college eligibility remaining.
The Huskies initially signed the 3-star Mele even though he made a big show of an Oregon offer sent his way, call it his childhood dream school, and he was pursued by Oklahoma, Louisville, UCLA and Kansas State, among several others.
Mele is doing what it takes to make another Husky breakthrough, working diligently on his strength. He finished with one of the five best front-squat performances on the team, hoisting 415 pounds in the Husky combine that followed spring practice.
It's been 21 months and 10 UW games over two seasons since Mele made his lone college football start in his hometown. It's probably taken a lot longer than he envisioned in waiting for a second opening assignment to come his way, but he should be ready when it happens again.
Mele's 2021 Outlook: Projected backup offensive tackle
UW Service Time: Played in 6 games, started 1
Individual Honors: Not yet
Pro prospects: 2024 NFL third-day draftee
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