By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — These proclamations are hallmarks of a coaching change. The Washington Huskies hope they also prove to be true.
You’ve likely heard them before. The strength and conditioning program is much improved. Better than what was here before it. The offseason was much more productive. Better than any before it.
And, perhaps of most note for the Huskies, there is a public consensus among players that everyone seems much closer. Defensive ends and offensive tackles speaking to each other. Friends in uncommon places. Cats and dogs living together. And so on.
But for all the Washington Huskies’ talk of their desire to fulfill first-year coach Chris Petersen’s stated goal of unity — and there has been plenty, to be sure — fifth-year senior defensive lineman Andrew Hudson is one of a handful of players who seem to be off to a head start.
It’s one thing for a defensive player to sit with an o-lineman at lunch. But it’s not often that a defensive lineman travels to Tahiti for 10 days with five of his teammates from the offensive line (though senior nose tackle Danny Shelton made the trip, too).
The Tahiti trip was in conjunction with a UW study-abroad program, the same one that Shelton, senior linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha and a few other Huskies players participated in a year ago.
This time around, Hudson joined, along with Shelton and offensive linemen Shane Brostek, James Atoe, Siosifa Tufunga, Micah Hatchie and Cory Fuavai, and they seem to have discovered a latent benefit.
“Just a good time to work together, have fun, (have) a couple workouts. It was a good summer,” Hudson said. “To be back with them now just helps add on to all the stuff Coach Pete’s been saying about unity, and gave me personally an opportunity to come closer to my teammates.”
The Huskies began fall camp on Monday with two practices — a morning session featuring 57 players, all of them returners with the exception of freshman kicker Tristan Vizcaino, and an afternoon session that consisted of freshmen and other, younger players.
Neither session was particularly remarkable. Third-year sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles, who practiced with the newcomers, threw a pair of interceptions to true freshmen during a 7-on-7 session and appears to be knocking off the rust he accumulated after missing all of spring while suspended.
After the first session, in which the defense fared well by forcing three turnovers, allowing zero touchdowns and mucking up the 11-on-11 periods with a strong pass rush, Hudson and his defensive teammates spoke of the kind of offseason progress they hope results in improvement upon their 9-4 record from 2013.
That effort started in the weight room.
“It was functional football movement,” linebacker John Timu said, asked of the difference between this offseason and last. “Everything pertaining to what we do on the field. It wasn’t just stuff to make you look good. (It was) stuff that actually pertained to what you do every snap on the field. It was pretty good for us.”
Hudson agreed. And judging by the first-day lineups, the fifth-year senior from Redlands, California, could wind up a valuable member of the defense just a few months after the previous coaching staff had determined that he wouldn’t be returning in 2014.
Hudson worked with the first-team defensive line, as he did for much of spring. The Huskies lost defensive ends Josh Shirley (transfer) and Marcus Farria (dismissed) during the summer, thinning a group that at one point looked to be one of the deepest on the team.
“He’s the poster-boy for perseverance, sticking with it, having a good attitude, grinding, being tough mentally and just keep battling,” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said of Hudson. “There’s a lot of things in life you can’t control. Some of those things he couldn’t control, he just kept plugging away, and it’s worked out for him.”
In a way, Hudson embodies UW’s transition. It’s a new year, with a new coaching staff, with, supposedly, no preconceived ideas about who should play where. (And, he said, he was able to fulfill enough summer school requirements in Tahiti to focus more on his workouts once he returned to campus.)
Asked about the uncertainty of last season, Hudson said: “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it a little bit, just fighting those thoughts … with last year comes a lot of doubt and everything. My focus right now is take that as a chip and keep moving forward, keep pushing myself.
“It feels in some ways like the first time again, which is kind of good, I think. I got a little butterflies today, I’m not going to lie. I think that’s just knowing the grind’s going to get harder as we get these next couple of days on. It’s going to get harder and harder. I’m just looking forward to seeing how I do this year.”
Timu talks ‘mistake’
This was Timu’s first meeting with reporters since he served a two-week suspension during spring after being charged with two misdemeanor counts of vehicle prowling, charges that stemmed from the theft and subsequent sale of athletic-department parking passes.
“I regret it, deep within my heart, what I did,” Timu said. “I thought about it. I made a big mistake. Now that I’m over it, I’m ready to just move forward, get that over and be the team leader that those guys want me to be.”