Dec. 19, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
"Yeah, I'd be in Week Three of basketball, going against Mount Tahoma," said Seferian-Jenkins, a 6-foot-6 forward at Gig Harbor, Wash., High School until last spring.
He played the same high school basketball rival in the third week of each December -- while also becoming one of the nation's most coveted football recruits at tight end.
Now he and Williams are the Huskies' co-leaders in touchdown receptions as freshmen. They just ended their 16th week of football practices since the season began in September. They have another 10 days of preparation before Washington (7-5) plays Baylor (9-3) in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.
Football, not hoops, in late December. It's why the top recruits signed with UW.
"It's different," Williams said following another practice at Dempsey Indoor for the Alamo Bowl. "I always thought, `Oh, I'm used to playing in the state championship games in high school so I am used to going the whole season, 14 weeks. But with the break in between (33 days between the Apple Cup and the Alamo Bowl) and then practicing for a month, it's a little different for me.
"I'm used to, `OK, when's the game coming? We've had all these practices.'"
Washington's second consecutive bowl appearance will finally arrive on Dec. 29. The game will be in the Alamodome, the site of the only football game Seferian-Jenkins and Williams have played in their lives past the Washington state high school finals and the first week of December. They both played in the 2011 U.S. Army All-American Bowl for national high school all-stars Jan. 8 in San Antonio.
Eleven months later, they are practicing as integral parts of Washington's push for a second consecutive upset victory in a bowl, in another Alamodome game that matters far more.
"It's a blessing to keep playing the game that we all love," said Seferian-Jenkins, whose 479 yards receiving are the third most by a tight end in any of UW's 120 seasons.
His six TD catches are already tied with Cam Cleeland, Ernie Conwell and Aaron Pierce for fourth most by a tight end -- for a Huskies career.
"I'm excited every day for the challenge that these extra practices bring," Seferian-Jenkins said. "And it's fun.
"These 15 practices make our team that much better. A lot of people, myself included, can get a lot better at fundamentals and a lot of different things. It's going to be exciting to see how much better we can get in these 15 practices."
That's exactly how Williams is approaching what essentially is an extra spring practice set for these rising Huskies. The freakishly skilled, 6-2, 212-pound wide receiver has been immersed in self study since wowing a national-television audience with two first-half touchdowns and a hurdle of a standing Washington State defender in last month's Apple Cup.
Even though he also has six touchdown catches to tie Seferian-Jenkins and Jermaine Kearse for the team lead, Williams wants to be more consistent in the finer points of route running and catching. He thinks he can and will be far more consistent than he was in a debut season that included a sprained ankle midway through it.
"I took a lot of time to look at what I was like in the past, coming in from seasons before and how I was running routes earlier in games," Williams said of what he's been doing during bowl prep. "I just took the time to work on things I wasn't doing before -- coming out my breaks I have a tendency to slow down. I'm working on that."
Williams might be his harshest critic. His work has been paying off for two months. He has had 23 of his 33 receptions and four of his six touchdowns in the last six games.
"As we've seen it before with our young kids, freshman can hit a wall, (and it's) a little bit of a grind," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said after Monday's 90-minute practice. "To those guys' credit, they're both mentally tough kids.
"I thought this year, more so than any other years, our freshmen really got better as the year went on. I think about (run-stopping defensive tackle) Danny Shelton, I think about what Kasen did the second half of the season, I think about the last couple games with Austin really getting himself back going again -- I think our freshmen, for the most part, have really improved and haven't had to worry about hitting that wall as much."
Yet the coach acknowledges that the season - and academic term - has gotten long now that they are preparing for a bowl game.
"All of a sudden here come college finals, here come the papers that are due at the end of a quarter," Sarkisian said. "A few days here and there for those guys to recharge their batteries have been helpful."
Williams credits his surge over the last half of the season to confidence. He might have some more in San Antonio.
"I'm seeing these guys are the same size or smaller than me. That gives me confidence," he says. "That's the main thing, to have confidence in myself."
That's great news for the Huskies: The top 10 cornerbacks, safeties and nickel backs listed on Baylor's two-deep roster are all 6-1 or shorter - that is, shorter than Williams.
That basketball-like fact may come in handy at the Alamo for UW's two ex-hoopsters.
"It's going to be a really big opportunity for me to make something happen," Williams said, "especially on a stage like this."
QUICK HITS: Sarkisian likened Monday's practice to the last day of grade school, with "antsy" players eager to go on a three-day break home to families before the team flies to San Antonio Friday. "They are excited to go see their families and friends, which they deserve to with the football and school finals and all that," Sarkisian said. "But it was a productive week of work. I know they are excited to get down to the game and to do all the activities and also to prepare and ultimately play in the game on national television, which is a great opportunity for us." ... The Huskies may be healthier for this game than any other this season - including the opener. Sarkisian noted TB Chris Polk was 16 days removed from arthroscopic knee surgery before UW began the season against Eastern Washington. QB Keith Price says his knees, while not 100 percent, are as healthy as they've been in months. Williams' ankle is a memory. DT Alameda Ta'amu's broken hand and leg soreness have healed. The only big question mark of players who aren't out with season-ending injuries is S Will Shamburger. He is questionable for the Alamo Bowl with a stinger injury.