SEATTLE — When Junior Adams thinks about Chico McClatcher, his mind drifts to that one game.
It happened years ago, back when McClatcher was at Federal Way High School and Adams was the wide receivers coach at Eastern Washington, not UW. Adams attended in order to scout one of Federal Way’s junior prospects, but it was the younger McClatcher who demanded his attention when he returned the first punt for a touchdown.
Adams couldn’t stop watching him after that. McClatcher was a natural, he said, the kind of player who made it all look so easy. He kept fans on the edge of their seats, just waiting to see what he would do next.
“That’s how I remember Chic,” Adams said from where he leaned against a fence after UW’s fall practice on Sunday.
It didn’t take long before Adams was recruiting McClatcher, who is now a senior for the Huskies. And when Adams took over as the wide receivers coach at Boise State in 2014, he quickly offered McClatcher a spot. Adams impressed McClatcher from their first meeting. He was young and approachable, McClatcher said, and he knew how to talk to players about what to expect at the college level. The two spent years building a relationship.
Late in McClatcher’s recruiting process, Adams was looking forward to completing a home visit. It was all arranged. But when he did a final check-in to make sure everything was in order, McClatcher — softly, nervously — broke some news: He was going to visit UW instead. Soon after, he committed to the Huskies.
“It was like he stabbed me in the heart because I’ve known him since ninth grade,” Adams said. “But no, it’s a pleasure to be around Chic. You know how it is. It comes full circle sometimes, man. It’s awesome to be with Chic.”
Adams was already well-acquainted with UW’s roster when head coach Chris Petersen hired him as the new wide receivers coach in January. He’s a long-time fan of Petersen, so he’d been following the Huskies ever since Petersen departed Boise State. Even when Adams was on the coaching staff at Western Kentucky, he tried to tune in for every game.
But while UW’s roster didn’t hold many surprises for Adams, one name was more familiar than the rest.
“I’m excited to be here, for starters, then to be able to walk in and see a guy like Chico?” Adams said. “I always wanted to coach him and here I am. Chico’s made my job a lot easier. I can lean on him for some things. It’s been fun.”
After McClatcher chose the Huskies over Boise State, he mostly lost touch with Adams. But that didn’t dampen his excitement when Petersen made the hire. Now, McClatcher considers Adams as much a brother as a coach.
“With Junior, he got swag with him, he got a little swag with him,” McClatcher said. “That’s what our wide receiver room needs, really, and that confidence he instills in us. He gets our lifestyle. He knows we’re in college and we want to have fun and all that. But on a serious note, he wants the work ethic, too, in the classroom and on the field. That’s what you want in a coach.”
Last season, McClatcher played in eight games for UW before deciding to take time away from football for personal reasons. He addressed the break early in fall camp, saying multiple factors contributed to the decision. Not only was he dealing with family issues, he also didn’t feel 100 percent physically and was struggling to move past mistakes he’d made on the field.
Since then, McClatcher has often made his way into Adams’ office to talk about making his return this season.
“He helped a lot,” McClatcher said. “He went through some adversity during his college years. He recognized my adversity that I went through last year. He said, ‘Look you just got to put that behind you and learn from … that and focus on being a better player and a better person each day.’”
Their relationship has always been bigger than football, Adams said.
“I just told him, ‘Man, things happen. It’s a new slate. I’m here to help you. If anything comes up and you have anything on your mind, I’m here for you,’” Adams said. “The thing about it is, this thing’s enjoyable. He’s been doing this since he was 6 years old. This is what comes easy. Being on the football field comes easy. Life is what’s hard sometimes.”
Adams took a pause, then smiled.
“I told him I loved him, too,” he added.
McClatcher is older now — although sometimes Adams can’t help but see the little guy who first caught his eye as a high school freshman — but not much else has changed. McClatcher remains quiet, but he’s always smiling. More often than not, he’s one of the first players on the field for practice.
And who guy that kept fans on the edge of their seats? He’s still in there, too.
“He plays hard,” Adams said. “He’s catching the football and he’s playing the game with a smile on (his) face, do you know what I mean? And when you’re playing the game with a smile on your face, everything is going to fall into place for you.”