Oct. 8, 2009
Washington's do-everything Joe Jarzynka will be honored as the "Husky Legend" at this Saturday's game vs. Arizona.
By Matt Winter
Few players are more memorable than Joe Jarzynka. The 5-foot-7, 165- pound wide receiver/returner/kicker with the golden locks stole Husky fans hearts with his reckless style and his dynamic playmaking ability. After starring in football and soccer at Gig Harbor High School, Jarzynka came to Washington in 1995, passing up a scholarship offer from Eastern Washington to join the Husky team as a walk-on.
"At the time, going to UW was an academic decision," Jarzynka explains.
When Jarzynka was recruited, the Huskies were still under sanctions from the NCAA so there was no scholarship to give. It wasn't until a few years later that Jarzynka was given a scholarship. In a recruiting class that included Olin Kreutz, Brock Huard, Lester Towns, and Mac Tuiaea, Jarzynka was surrounded by great talent and knew the only way to make it was to want it more than the rest.
"I put everything I had into every play," Jarzynka said, "I wanted to win more than anything else and worked harder than everyone for it. That's what people respected me for."
After redshirting the 1995 season, Joe made a name for himself in 1996 on the scout team going against the first team defense. He would often play the role of the opposing quarterback if the Dawgs' opponent had an option-type offense. His hard work ethic and team attitude gave him opportunities to play, and after Fed Coleman went down with an injury before the first game of the 1996 season, Jarzynka started at kick returner against Arizona State. He would go on to return a handful of kicks and punts in 1996, but it was in the coming years that Jarzynka made his mark.
During the 1997-99 seasons, Joe saw his role in the offense expand, starting two games at wide receiver and compiling 17 career receptions for 183 yards and two touchdowns. However, Jarzynka is a Husky Legend because of what he did on special teams.
"I had accepted that I was the kick and punt returner," Jarzynka states, "and though I was always working to improve, I knew I had that position. I liked it and was able to express myself with the freedoms it ensured.
"I'll never forget what Al Roberts, our special teams coach at the time, told me once: `You've got to learn to express yourself within the system.'"
Expressive is a good word to describe the way Jarzynka returned kicks. Reckless, risky, and without regard for his body, his returns looked like nobody else's. A blur of purple, gold, and long blond hair, he routinely fielded punts surrounded by opposing defenses--punts that most returners would call a fair catch on, but that wasn't his style. He was the closest thing to Evel Knievel on a football field, and to Husky fans, his dynamic returns alone were worth the price of admission.
"When nobody's expecting you to return it, that's when you can get people," Jarzynka explains of his reluctance to call fair catch. "There's only a couple guys that are your immediate threat, and if you can shake those guys you've got five to ten yards already."
His wild playing style would often catch up with him. It wasn't unusual to see Jarzynka get hit hard on a punt that most players would call a fair catch on. He remembers one specific hit he took against Oregon State in which he couldn't eat solid food for three days.
In 1998, Joe would make his mark on the other side of special teams. The Huskies were having serious kicking problems going into Jarzynkas's junior year, so Joe decided to walk into the coaches' office at the beginning of the season and guaranteed them he'd be better than any kicker they had. A successful kicker and four-year soccer letterman in high school, Joe grabbed the ball and tee and started practicing.
"It only took 10 kicks or so to get back on the bike, so to speak," he explains. "In practice, I'd go take some punts then kick some field goals. Pretty soon, you can't deny the guy who's making all the field goals."
His first field goal came in week five 53-12 win over Utah State. "I never really got nervous or excited, but my legs were like rubber," he says of his first field goal.
Jarzynka would start at kicker for the remainder of the 1998 season, converting 19-22 extra points and 6-8 field goals, including 2-2 from over 40 yards.
It was also in 1998 that Jarzynka had his best season as a returner. He returned a Husky record 47 punts for 425 yards (which ranks third all time). He broke the Husky record for punt returns in a game with eight against BYU, and earned Pac-10 Player of the Week honors against Cal after breaking the conference record with 166 punt return yards, including a 91-yard punt return touchdown (surprisingly, the only of his career). Oh, and by the way, he kicked his own extra point. His success was rewarded at the end of the season when he was named First-Team All-Pac 10.
Jarzynka's senior year in 1999 came with a regime change. New head coach Rick Neuheisel preferred to put "raw speed guys" back returning kicks, but he couldn't keep Jarzynka off the field for more than a few games. He would end up returning 32 punts for 218 yards, as well as getting increased time at wide receiver in the offense.
Jarzynka graduated from UW in 2000 with a degree in psychology. He passed up a contract to play for Calgary in the CFL in hopes that he would be able to make the NFL. After staying in shape and training for a few years, Joe finally gave it up. He now lives in Tacoma with his wife, Jennifer, three-year old daughter, Madelin, and eight-month-old son, Fisher. He currently is working for Pinnacle, a Seattle company, as a commercial real estate broker.
"I came into the program, not having any true love or understanding for the Husky program. I just wanted to go and play for a D-1 school," Jarzynka admits.
"I learned a lot in my tenure about what the program is about. The fans and the people associated with the program are amazing. I learned to understand the heritage of the program, learned I was a small part in something a whole lot bigger, and now I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of that."