By JOHN SLEEPER
SEATTLE – Justin Robbins didn’t mean to hold.
The freshman receiver for the Washington Huskies was blocking for tailback Paul Arnold and simply got caught in a bad way. There he was, blocking Oregon State cornerback Dennis Weathersby and Arnold was bearing down on him. So Robbins took hold of Weathersby’s shoulders.
Flag. Holding. Wiped out a 7-yard gain.
The next play, Robbins caught a 16-yard pass from Marques Tuiasosopo for a touchdown that tied the game at 7.
A great gaffe. Then a great play.
“We’ve said many times that you have to be willing to work through mistakes they’re going to make,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “These freshmen are our future.”
If so, the future looks bright for the Huskies. Neuheisel’s first freshman class at Washington is talented, athletic and tough. Robbins and tailback Rich Alexis, with 107 yards on 12 carries in the Huskies’ 33-30 victory, were the most visible against the Beavers Saturday night.
But this class is showing some extraordinary things.
Greg Carothers, from Helena, Mont., forced a fumble on a kickoff return that the Beavers eventually recovered, then forced OSU to punt when he flew in on a blitz and sacked quarterback Jonathan Smith on third-and-5.
Carothers is intriguing. Already 195 pounds, Carothers says he wants to bulk up to 220, which likely will fit his 6-foot-2 frame just fine, without a discernable loss in speed.
The kid already hits like a train. At 220, wideouts would rather take an anthropology final than run patterns over the middle against him.
Not only that, but in playing behind Hakim Akbar, Carothers is learning from one of the best in the country.
Derrick Robbins has had moments he’d rather forget (fumbled punt returns, lack of judgment on kickoff returns), but he was terrific Saturday. The freshman from Riverside, Calif., rolled up 121 yards on four kickoff returns, including one of 39 yards and another, the opening kickoff, in which he caught it 6 yards deep in the end zone and slithered through to the 32.
There are others. Sean Sweat, a tailback out of San Diego, is making a name for himself as a demon on special teams. Likewise, cornerback Roc Alexander, who also has come in on nickel packages.
Even the ones who aren’t playing look like diamonds. The Huskies want to redshirt Zac Tuiasosopo, but they had toyed with the idea of starting him at outside linebacker. Same with linebackers Tim Galloway and Matt Lingley.
And the only reason offensive lineman Dan Dicks isn’t playing is that the Huskies are so deep and talented there. Watch for him, Ryan Brooks and Aaron Butler to play extensively next year.
This was a class rated by the recruiting gurus as about in the middle of the Pacific-10 Conference. By the time they’re seniors, the backpedaling will be a sight to see.
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