At Husky Stadium, Sean McGrew drew a loud ovation — for a 3-yard run.
Savvy University of Washington football fans knew there was more to it than that.
In the Huskies' third game, much later than he expected, McGrew made his season debut.
Once the public-address announcer called out his name for the short gain against Arkansas State, the people in the seats clapped enthusiastically.
Always a crowd favorite, the 5-foot-7, 180-pound sixth-year senior from Torrance, California, was healthy enough to play in losses to Montana and Michigan but didn't, and now he was back.
Feeling energized by the reception, McGrew rushed for 31 yards on 6 carries and scored twice as the Huskies piled up the points in a 52-3 victory over Arkansas State. He was happy to be back. His fans were happy about this, too.
College football can be an extra cruel game with its violent collisions and equally so with its cold dispersal of playing time. Minutes sometimes are doled out like crumbs on a bread line.
McGrew was the victim of the depth chart, left stranded on the sidelines for those two downer outings by UW coaches who deemed sophomore Richard Newton and redshirt freshman Cam Davis more worthy of carrying the football and exclusively for that matter. This would enable the young guys to better get into a rhythm.
Admittedly frustrated by getting passed over, the unused veteran running back handled it as best could. He doesn't cause problems, sulk or quit.
"Those are the guys we went out there with and that's how it happened," McGrew said. "You can't complain about it, can't do anything about it. You just have to come back to practice and go to work. That's been my mindset. Still got a lot of ball left. Not really trippin' about it."
A year ago, he emerged from this pack of Husky rushers to start two of the four games held during a pandemic-restricted season. He was part of a four-back rotation that included him, Kamari Pleasant, Newton and Davis, often in that order.
It worked well as the Huskies won 3 of 4 games, though no one got rich and famous off their number of rushes or accumulated big chunks of yardage.
When the offense stalled to open this season, the UW coaching staff, remembering the good times of 2020, junked its two-back edict. They returned McGrew and Pleasant to the backfield mix against Arkansas State. The Huskies needed a spark and they got one.
"[It was] extremely difficult because I hate losing in general," McGrew said of sitting out. "[It was] not necessarily more about me getting in there, or not getting in there, it was more about losing as a team and losing. It's always like a feeling you have where you feel you can go in and change the outcome of the game."
With the UW scholarship running backs lined up seven deep, and the Huskies needing to develop their younger backs in a natural progression, it was almost inevitable that McGrew and Pleasant might be the odd men out. They were the short-term guys, using pandemic free passes to play longer.
Yet the coaches realized they had to have McGrew on the field to help pull them out of their 0-2 funk and they even put him on punt and kickoff coverage teams as well as back at tailback.
McGrew provided the Huskies' second touchdown of the game against Arkansas State on a nifty 13-yard run near the end of the first quarter, good for a 14-0 lead. He stutter-stepped at the line of scrimmage, faking an opponent off his feet, and cut left and raced to the end zone.
Everyone saw the diminutive guy let out a warrior scream after scoring. It seems the competitor in him had to release a little frustration.
"Honestly, there are times when I'm playing football and you go into a zone where you're not really like yourself and you're like a whole different person on the field," he said. "I felt like that was one of those moments where I had just a lot of pent-up emotions and energy and things inside of me."
In the third quarter against the visiting Sun Belt team, McGrew carried the ball three times on a short drive, slamming up the middle from 1 yard out to score again and push the Husky advantage to 35-0.
Fans have taken a liking to McGrew because he's this speedster who plays with extraordinary toughness for his size. They relate to him because he always seems so passionate on the field.
They knew the situation when he first got the ball. It was almost an I-told-you-so moment for them. Teammates made sure to inform about the applause in case he hadn't noticed. If anything, he sensed their support.
"I feel like I did notice it a little bit, but I'm pretty good about tuning the crowd out when I'm out there," McGrew said. "But it was definitely awesome that Husky nation was excited to see me out back there. It definitely felt like home."
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