Edmonds native puts rugby dream on hold and ends up on Huskies’ O-line

SEATTLE — Daniel Kanczugowski isn’t supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be at the University of Washington, but decided to stay close to his Edmonds home after his SAT score didn’t qualify him to get into Stanford.

He’s not supposed to be playing football, having all but given up the sport in favor of rugby.

And Kanczugowski certainly isn’t supposed to be working with the Huskies’ No. 1 offense.

“Hell, no,” the sophomore walk-on said when asked whether he expected to be in this position, as UW’s starting right tackle during spring practices.

Of all the players getting snaps with the first team this month, Kanczugowski is certainly the least likely. A defensive tackle at Seattle’s O’Dea High School who was, in his own words, “too slow for defense” at the college level, Kanczugowski put off his dream of making the national rugby team so that he could walk on with the UW football team. And the move is currently paying off.

While starter Cody Habben rests a shoulder injury, and prized recruit Erik Kohler finishes up his senior year of high school, Kanczugowski is taking most of the snaps with the Huskies’ first-team offense. He’s likely to start in Friday night’s spring game, and Kanczugowski still can’t believe he’s in this position.

“I thought, if anything, I would be playing later” in his career, he said. “And definitely not with the (first team).”

Skyler Fancher opened camp as the starting right tackle, but the coaches made the switch two weeks ago while searching for a more physical presence. The 6-foot-4, 313-pound Kanczugowski, who went to Holy Rosary School in Edmonds from kindergarten through eighth grade, has been given an extended look after spending last year buried on the Huskies’ depth chart.

“He’s done some nice things in the run game for us,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said Tuesday. “He’s continued to work on his pass sets, to get comfortable out there, but he’s done some nice things in the run game to create some things.”

Had one been willing to bet on Kanczugowski’s athletic career, rugby would have been the safer prediction. He played for an all-state team in high school and said that he could have gotten an invitation to play for the national rugby team had he stayed with the sport.

The only school to offer Kanczugowski a chance to play college football was Stanford. But he couldn’t get his test score high enough, so he enrolled at UW.

Unlike some walk-ons that carry a chip on their shoulders, Kanczugowski completely understands the lack of attention. He never played offensive line in high school and, even in his own mind, wasn’t near the defensive player to warrant a look from recruiters.

I wouldn’t recruit me as a defensive lineman,” he said.

Assistant football coach Chris Tormey offered Kanczugowski a chance to walk on in 2008, his freshman year at UW. He made the team, redshirted, then spent all of last season buried on a depth chart that included senior Ben Ossai, Habben, Drew Schaefer, Morgan Rosborough and Mark Armelin. He only traveled with the team twice — to UCLA and Oregon State — but didn’t play in a game.

Then came his big chance two weeks ago, and Kanczugowski is determined to make the most of it.

“I never thought I’d be able to get this opportunity,” he said. “You just have to take every opportunity, I guess.”

With Habben due back in the fall, and Kohler among seven true freshmen slated to join the team, Kanczugowski might not get many more chances. He plans on resuming his rugby career at some point, but for now Kanczugowski is riding the football wave until he falls off.

“I never thought I’d be getting a shot to play,” he said. “… All I can say is that I’m happy I can run around in spring ball and get reps.”

Notes

Starting wide receiver Jermaine Kearse crumpled in the end zone after twisting his right ankle during Tuesday’s practice, but he eventually walked off the field under his own power. Sarkisian said after practice that Kearse would be “fine.” … Defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu was back on the practice field after sitting out the weekend due to an academic issue. … Safety Nate Fellner (knee), safety Greg Walker (elbow), cornerback Desmond Trufant (groin) and linebacker Victor Aiyewa (shoulder) practiced Tuesday, but none of them are expected to participate in Friday’s spring game. Running back Jesse Callier (knee), wide receiver D’Andre Goodwin (hamstring) and linebacker Brandon Huppert (knee) are among the other Huskies not expected to play Friday. … The spring game is open to the public and is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

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