SEATTLE — Ask University of Washington senior receiver Devin Aguilar about any of his nine career touchdown receptions, and he’ll probably shrug and mutter something about how that’s what he came to UW to do.
Ask him about his favorite block, however, and you might get a wide grin.
rly in the second half of a win over Utah 12 days ago, Aguilar pancaked a defender to spring running back Chris Polk for a season-best, 49-yard run. The play put an exclamation point on UW’s 31-14 win and, for Aguilar, felt almost as good as catching a pass in the end zone.
“I haven’t knocked someone out in a long time,” Aguilar said, his grin widening and his chest swelling. “It felt good to do that. But nothing’s better than a touchdown catch. It’s not all the time you get in the end zone.”
While the UW receivers would undoubtedly prefer to catch passes, they have willingly embraced their role as blockers this season — and it has been apparent on Saturdays.
In addition to his knockout blow at Utah, Aguilar has made bowling pin-like takedowns on a pair of Jermaine Kearse screen passes, including one that went for a touchdown against Hawaii. Aguilar also made the key block in the Cal game when Kearse lined up in the backfield, took a pitch on fourth-and-1 and ran for seven yards.
Against Nebraska, Kearse laid a nice block that opened the door for teammate Kasen Williams to gain 11 yards on a screen pass. Williams was the lead blocker on running back Chris Polk’s 49-yard run at Utah while UW receiver Kevin Smith added a nice block of his own to spring Polk for 14 yards against Cal.
Downfield blocking has been a big key to UW’s offensive success this season.
“We’ve been working on that all season and we’re starting to enjoy it,” Aguilar said. “It’s no longer just, ‘Oh, man, I’ve got to block when I’d rather be catching passes.'”
Since the spring, the UW receivers have worked hard to make blocking a key part of their repertoire.
“We try to be physical, and we try to make blocks down the field — especially on running plays for Chris Polk and for Jesse (Callier),” Smith said. “We really wanted to make that a focus for us: to get big runs for the running backs.”
Polk, who has 611 rushing yards through five games this season, has noticed.
“We actually really have trust in each other now, we believe in each other now, whereas last year we were still trying to guess: ‘Well, if he’s in, I don’t know,'” he said. “They’ve really picked their game up.”
While they still prefer to use their hands to go up and catch a ball, UW’s receivers don’t seem to mind it so much now when they have to block with them.
“We’ve really sat down as a corps and made a point of emphasis on down-the-field blocking and playing unselfishly,” sophomore James Johnson said. “A lot of guys are understanding that, and as the season’s gone on, we’ve gotten much, much better at it.”
Added Aguilar: “If we can stay on our blocks for them, they’ll get a long, long run. It’s just being active. We used to be fast on pass plays, but now we’re fast on both — run plays and pass plays. You keep the tempo going, that helps out a lot.”
The Huskies have had just a few oooooh moments in the receivers’ film sessions this season — Aguilar’s knockout blow at Utah being the most notable — but every nice block ups the ante in an ongoing competition between wideouts.
“We’re still progressing,” Aguilar said. “We still need our knockout shots and so forth, and then we may have to do something talking about that later in the season.”
Aguilar is probably the leader in big blocks on this year’s receiving corps, but there have been others that made teammates sit up and take notice.
“The main block to me that really sticks out was Kasen Williams’,” Johnson said, referring to UW’s freshman star-in-waiting. “He had a great block last week to spring Chris (Polk) up the sideline. I think that was awesome, man.
“Just to see it all the way around, throughout the whole receiving corps — from Jermaine all the way down to Kasen — is awesome.”
Blocking is a thankless task — much less glorious than, say, catching a slant pass and turning it into a long touchdown — but the UW receivers have checked their egos, rolled up their sleeves and taken to it.
“For me personally, there’s nothing quite like scoring a touchdown,” Johnson said. “But when you make an awesome block to spring somebody, there’s no feeling like that. It’s fun.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who like to get out there and put our face and hands on people. We love it, we love the physicality of the game, and we look forward to going out there and being physical with other teams.”