By Lauren Kirschmann | McClatchy News Service
SEATTLE — Washington’s freshman wide receivers are getting plenty of attention.
Players on both sides of the ball have praised them during Zoom calls with reporters. Coaches — head coach Jimmy Lake included — have taken notice, too. If you ask which players are standing out in fall camp, their names are almost always on the list.
Lake understands why. As he put it: “Tape doesn’t lie.”
“They’ve been awesome,” he said last week. “They bring a lot of great energy. They’ve caught some impressive footballs in some big situations that we’ve put them in practice. So, I’m sure that’s why they caught the attention of some of the [veteran players]. … When you put on the tape and those guys are making play after play after play, they’re going to show up and vets are going to talk about them.”
UW added three wide receivers in the Class of 2020: four-star recruits Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze and three-star Sawyer Racanelli.
McMillan (6-2, 185), who edged Odunze as the highest ranked of the bunch, came to the Huskies from Fresno, Calif.. He caught 89 passes for 1,644 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior at San Joaquin Memorial.
Odunze (6-3, 205), who is from Las Vegas, caught 58 passes for 1,322 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior at Bishop Gorman. Asked what stood out when he was recruiting Odunze, UW wide receivers coach Junior Adams got right to the point.
“Size, speed and athleticism,” he said. “When he did get the ball in his hands, he always made the first person miss. And then when you get to know him, he’s a really good dude. He’s got a big heart. … He’s got a really good work ethic.”
Said Lake: “He’s tall, he’s fast and he plays with a defensive mentality. He’s a tough young man. That’s what we saw on tape. … He’s here and he’s showing that and more so far in camp. He’s still got a ways to go, and he still has to go do it in a real FBS football game against another opponent, but he’s definitely so far made some big-time plays against some good DBs that are on our team.”
In-state recruit Racanelli (6-2, 210) is from Brush Prairie. He caught 101 passes for 1,764 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior at Hockinson but missed his senior season due to a knee injury.
“[Racanelli’s] a good football player and he’s a proven winner,” Adams said Tuesday. “He makes tough catches. He’s very smart. He’s probably one of the funniest guys in that room. He’s an awesome dude. I like being around Sawyer. And he’s tough. Real tough.”
Redshirt junior wide receiver Terrell Bynum described the newcomers as “dynamic” and “light years” ahead of where he was a freshman. He wouldn’t say they are faster than him — “I was just as fast,” he said with a grin — but they are less hesitant.
“Being around guys that are really smart, we’re able to give them the keys and they know the offense a lot better than I do when I first got here,” Bynum said. “They’re playing just fast. They’re thinking more about the defense than actual play on offense.”
Of the three, Odunze and McMillan seem to be generating the most attention. Even with the unconventional offseason, they could be on track for substantial playing time during the seven-game 2020 season.
“The two freshmen receivers, Rome and Jaylen, have looked really good,” said redshirt junior running back Sean McGrew. “It’s definitely good to have some new faces and have some new guys make some plays.”
The Huskies have experienced players returning, most notably Bynum, sophomore Puka Nacua and redshirt senior Ty Jones. But they also lost an experienced group of seniors that included Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia and Chico McClatcher. There’s certainly an opening for first-year players to earn time on the field.
Like Bynum, Adams commended the trio for their early understanding of the playbook. The Huskies will be running a new offense this season under first-year offensive coordinator John Donovan.
“They connected with the group,” Adams said. ‘The group connected with them. They go out and they practice hard. Just like with any freshmen, you’re going to have your ups and your downs and all that, but they keep battling. I’m really pleased with how they’re picking up the playbook as freshmen. They’re doing good. They’re making plays. It’s built some really good competition in that room.”