Jimmy Lake, when asked which University of Washington players have made a noticeable move during spring practice that he didn't readily expect, offered one name without hesitation.
In fact, the Husky coach said he was surprised someone else hadn't brought up the wide receiver's name earlier in Wednesday's press briefing that followed the team's ninth workout.
"He has made some tough, tough catches with DBs draped all over him, with possible holding or PI calls, and he's still made some phenomenal catches," Lake said. "Sawyer Racanelli, for sure, has stood out in the past week."
Wearing No. 19, Racanelli is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman from Brush Prairie, Washington, who resembles the biggest pass-catcher out there, if not someone packing solid size similar to UW running backs Richard Newton, Taj Davis, Kamari Pleasant and Jay'Veon Sunday.
It's not like the Huskies didn't know about this guy's potential. Yet Racanelli missed his senior year of high school football with an injury and then didn't have much of a chance to show what he could do during the past abbreviated season, appearing briefly in two UW games. He's having his coming-out party now.
In fact, the Husky coach said his wide receivers are just now hitting their stride as a group, showing a little swagger and winning a more battles against highly skilled defensive backs.
"Our wide receivers are starting to look like what we want them to look like," Lake said. "But they're going against a secondary that is really, really good and they're going against a style of defense that historically doesn't give up big plays."
One interesting bit of separation came on a play in which fellow redshirt freshman Rome Odunze caught a ball from Colorado State transfer quarterback Patrick O'Brien in a full sprint and Oklahoma transfer cornerback Bookie Radley-Hiles tried to run him down only to lose more ground to Odunze as they ran to the end zone.
The Husky pass defenders, indeed, are a competitive and close-knit group. When junior safety Dominique Hampton intercepted a Camden Sirmon pass midway through Wednesday's practice, all of his secondary teammates spilled onto the field and surrounded him in celebration, swing their arms in a helicopter-like style.
Later, Radley-Hiles made an end-zone interception and once again the defensive backs ran onto the field to smother him and salute his big play.
Lake also singled out the play of M.J. Tafisi, a junior inside linebacker who suffered a neck injury that ended his 2019 season and slowly has regained his football prowess. He's currently a second-unit player who has the ability to move up.
"It's nice to see him back to what he was two years ago," the UW coach said. "I'm extremely happy with M.J. He's peaking. If something happened and he had to take over as the starter, or even took over as the starter, it would not surprise me one bit."
Another player shaking things up a bit is sophomore Nate Kalepo, who has been rotating some with starter Ulumoo Ale at left offensive guard, the only spot that appears in serious competition, though starting right tackle Victor Curne remains out with an injury.
"Nate's another guy who could be a starter just like that and we wouldn't flinch," Lake said.
Weird fact of the day: While touted freshman Sam Huard clearly is a left-hander, two other UW players are southpaws, too, though they don't necessarily demonstrate it in what they do: Racanelli and junior safety Asa Turner.
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