By Mason Kelley
When Washington boarded its charter flight to Hawaii last week, something was different. Well, maybe not for those familiar with the way Chris Petersen runs his program. But for those experiencing the system for the first time, it was a noticeable change.
Instead of the head coach sitting in the front row of the first-class section, the Huskies’ offensive and defensive linemen settled into roomier seats.
“That’s saying something,” senior Danny Shelton said.
With the big bodies up front, Petersen sat in an aisle seat in the middle of the plane. The face of the new “Washington Way” blended in as part of the pack.
When Petersen talks about things that make his system special, Washington’s coach often says the goal is to do “common things in uncommon ways.”
It is a concept best understood through experience. After I spent last season following Steve Sarkisian’s Huskies, Petersen provided the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at Washington’s season-opening business trip in paradise.
Facing a flight of more than five hours, the Huskies left Thursday afternoon, boarding buses bound for the airport. The team arrived in Honolulu late in the afternoon and headed for the hotel. Players and coaches settled in and got to work.
There was no time to play in the pool. The closest the players got to sand and surf were a few sunset selfies.
As the sun rose over the water Friday morning, assistant coaches were up early jogging. It was like an open invitation to a private beach. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, passing linebackers coach Bob Gregory, running backs coach Keith Bhonapha and tight ends coach Jordan Paopao along the way.
And, while the coaches had to get back to the team, I decided there was just enough time to jump in a lagoon at 6:30 a.m.
When Petersen talks about things that make his system special, Washington’s coach often says the goal is to do "common things in uncommon ways."
The players’ day started with breakfast, followed by a light practice. Before packing up, players gathered around defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to sing “Happy Birthday.”
After practice, the Huskies traveled to Aloha Stadium to get a feel for their surroundings. They weren’t there long. They spent just enough time for the team to get acclimated, and for Petersen to run a few laps around the field.
Before heading into the locker room, Petersen passed and asked, “How are we doing?”
“Great,” I replied before returning the question. As he disappeared around the corner he said, “Not too shabby.”
The Huskies left the stadium and drove to Pearl Harbor. They spent about an hour honoring those who lost their lives during the tragic Dec. 7, 1941 bombings.
“I was just very solemn, because I have respect for the people who have passed anywhere, in any way,” outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha said. “You have to be respectful.”
It was a full day that ended with a team meal and one more round of meetings.
All of a sudden, it was time to play. The first game in a new era of Husky football had arrived. The team hotel was quiet throughout the morning and early afternoon. Some assistant coaches were spotted jogging. Players rested.
A few hours before kickoff, the Huskies boarded the buses. As they pulled up to the stadium, a group of fans wearing customized shirts for local products Hau’oli Kikaha, Micah Hatchie and Taniela Tupou greeted the team.
Receiver Jaydon Mickens was the first player on the field. Kicker Cameron Van Winkle warmed up his leg by booting a soccer ball.
As clocked ticked down closer to kickoff, Hatchie and Tupou were standing at the entrance to the tunnel that led to Washington’s locker room.
“We’re home, bro,” Hatchie said to his teammate. “It’s crazy.”
Minutes before the Huskies took the field, crammed side-by-side in the tunnel, cornerback Marcus Peters stood at the front of the group, dancing to J. Cole’s “Power Trip.”
Then it was time to play. The Huskies rallied and then held on for a 17-16 victory. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a win, a step in the right direction.
Players showered and headed for the buses. They grabbed boxes of chicken fingers as a postgame snack on the way to the airport. It was after midnight in Hawaii before the plane took off. By the time the team arrived back at Husky Stadium, the sun was up.
As quickly as it started, the trip was over. The Huskies had a few hours to rest. Then it was back to work. They jumped right into a new week, another opponent.