SEATTLE — On Oct. 13, 2018, Trey Adams wasn’t hunting ducks.
While his teammates lost in overtime to rival Oregon inside Autzen Stadium on a sunny Saturday afternoon, Washington’s 6-foot-8, 314-pound left tackle — who missed the first 10 games of the 2018 season with a back injury — kept himself occupied nonetheless.
“I was actually deer hunting at home, and I actually shot a deer, and I was listening to the game on the radio,” Adams said on Wednesday. “I do remember that.”
Unfortunately, the Wenatchee native and fifth-year UW offensive lineman also remembers the final score.
“It was my first deer; I was super happy,” Adams said. “Then we lost so I was, kind of, not as happy.”
Regardless, Adams’ experience illuminates a lesson UW fans have undoubtedly already learned: You don’t need to play in a Washington-Oregon game to be affected by it.
Take Levi Onwuzurike, for example. UW’s 6-3, 293-pound junior defensive lineman hails from Allen, Texas, where the whole world revolves around the Texas-Oklahoma Red River Showdown on an annual Saturday in October. When he arrived in Seattle for an official visit on Oct. 16, 2015, Onwuzurike was uncommitted and relatively unaware of the Pacific Northwest’s premier rivalry.
“My first experience was my official visit. So that was a big game,” he said on Tuesday. “We rolled in on the boat. There was so many fans. I was young; didn’t even know what was going on. But Azeem Victor came back (from a targeting penalty the week before) at half. The crowd was going crazy.
“So you could just feel how important that game was to the fans and to the team.”
Onwuzurike felt it then, and he feels it now. And, yes, the Huskies lost that game, 26-20, their 12th consecutive defeat in the rivalry (before dismantling the Ducks, 70-21, in Eugene the following season).
But did that game experience have a significant effect on his future commitment?
“That was a big part of it, now that I think of it,” Onwuzurike confirmed.
Onwuzurike, who has now played in two Oregon games after redshirting in 2016, said on Tuesday that “to me, it’s bigger (than Texas-OU). Down here it’s way bigger, for sure.”
The immensity of Saturday’s matchup certainly isn’t lost on UW junior quarterback Jacob Eason, who grew up watching Washington-Oregon games but has yet to experience one on the field.
“You want your hometown team to win. But I was so little that sometimes I didn’t understand it,” said Eason, who didn’t travel for last season’s loss while redshirting. “And my pops played for Notre Dame, so there was that, too.
“But now that I’m older and I’ve seen it and I saw what it meant to this team last year and I saw how much the fans are involved in it and everything, it’s just an awesome, big game and big deal to be a part of.”
It’ll be an especially big deal on Saturday, a rare occasion when both teams are ranked at the time of the matchup. No. 25 Washington’s albeit slim Pac-12 title hopes hang precariously in the balance, and No. 12 Oregon (5-1) must win inside Husky Stadium for the first time since Onwuzurike was watching in 2015 to remain in College Football Playoff contention. Oregon arrives with one of the premier quarterbacks in the country in Justin Herbert, as well as the Pac-12’s most statistically stingy defense.
Washington (5-2) is the underdog, no doubt.
But on Saturday afternoon, Adams will be hunting ducks — and he isn’t the only one.
“The city of Seattle’s going to be watching. Obviously it’s a huge game,” Eason said. “It’s one of those games you grow up wanting to be a part of. Now the opportunity’s there, so we’ve just got to finish up this week of preparation and do the best we can in terms of getting ready for this game. Then on Saturday we’ve just got to go out and play our game.”
Added Onwuzurike: “Are we going to practice like it (is just another game)? Yeah. We’ll practice as hard as we always do. But once it comes game time, once we see all the fans, it’ll turn into something different in the moment.”