Aug. 9, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Austin Seferian-Jenkins towers over defenders to snare each pass thrown his way. Heck, he towers over his own teammates as the tallest player in the offense's huddle.
Despite his mammoth size, he has soft hands. The star attendee of preseason conditioning has become a sponge learning all there is to know about college and football and life. And he portrays a veteran air on the field, as evidenced when he put his arm around fellow freshman Derrick Brown and advised the third-team quarterback behind the huddle during Tuesday's practice.
Then consider the unique teen tight end turned down scholarship offers from just about every school that issues shoulder pads. That he enrolled at UW early, in March, months before he attended his high school prom.
What drives this prodigy from Gig Harbor, Wash., who after spring practice and two days of fall camp already shows the potential to turn Washington back into Tight End U.?
"I had to be close to home for my sister," Seferian-Jenkins said Tuesday of 14-year-old Michaela, who is back home about 45 minutes or so south of her brother's new campus and life. "She's doing the best she can, but I want to show her a great example.
"I wanted to be here for my sister, set a good example and role model for her, show her if you work hard in school you can do something with your life, you can make it."
Michaela isn't his only motivation. The other is his mother Linda, who worked three jobs to raise her two children by herself.
"She's been a social worker, worked in the schools and has been a behavioral specialist," Seferian-Jenkins said. "I want to make our mom proud for all the work she has done for us -- because she's done a lot. A lot of people with all that responsibility can't do it. My mom is a real strong woman. So hopefully I can do something for her, for my mom being there for me."
The two-time Associated Press all-state receiver at Gig Harbor High has already done something for Linda. He's here for her, just up interstate 5, having chosen Washington last winter. That was after he, his mother and sister visited Texas and strongly considered the Longhorns. Florida, USC, UCLA headed a long list of other schools that wanted to sign him.
His choice means when Linda visits her son on campus this weekend, she will have only driven less than an hour. For a single mom working three jobs, that sure beats airfare and lengthy travel days through airports.
His father, John Jenkins, enjoyed a similarly short commute when he visited his son Tuesday night.
When asked how great it was to be playing big-time college ball so close to family, Seferian-Jenkins' smile lit up the dark tunnel leading out of Husky Stadium to the locker room.
"Love it," he said. "Beats Texas, every day."
Coach Steve Sarkisian is wasting no time utilizing his soon-to-be-featured tight end, an asset he's craved but been without over his first two seasons at UW. Seferian-Jenkins has been on the starting offense since spring ball, which began almost two months before he took girlfriend Miranda Davis to the Gig Harbor High prom.
"He's as talented physically as anybody I've ever had at that position," Sarkisian said.
And he coached tight ends at USC through 2008 that went on to the NFL.
"He's 6-6, 258 pounds. The hand-eye coordination he possesses is extremely unique. He's got extremely soft hands and he has the ability to keep his feet underneath him and the ability to release using his hands yet use wiggle," Sarkisian said. "You can't teach that kind of stuff."
The coach was just getting warmed up. After all, he's waited three years to have one of these, to fully open the playbook in his power-running and play-action passing offense.
"What he possesses where I was probably more impressed with him is his mental toughness, his makeup, his competitiveness," Sarkisian said. "He wants to be great. And he works at it that way."
Seferian-Jenkins may play often in two tight-end sets this season with equally big Michael Hartvigson, a redshirt freshman who is recovered from a shoulder injury. But he still has a ways to go before he gets Washington back to the tight-end production of Mark Bruener, Rod Jones, Cam Cleeland, Aaron Pierce, Ernie Conwell and Dave Williams. That's just to name a few standouts at the position for UW dating to the 1960s.
"He's got a ton of stuff to work on fundamentally," Sarkisian said of Seferian-Jenkins. "He comes from an offense in high school where he was split out the majority of the time, basically playing wide receiver. Now he's in a three-point stance and he's trying to block Everrette Thompson and Hau'oli Jamora. And so the technique, the fundamentals, things of that nature to get to that point are going to be his biggest challenges."
Then there's the added discipline needed to run the precise routes needed to beat blitzing, big-time college defenses.
Of course, that's why he took four online courses last winter on top of his senior-year curriculum to graduate early and enroll at UW for spring ball. That's why he worked fiendishly with Huskies strength coach Ivan Lewis and his staff into the summer to get to 258, after reporting to spring practice at 280.
And that's what fall camp is for, to hone the fundamentals before the Sept. 3 opener against Eastern Washington.
"I have a dream," Seferian-Jenkins said, stopping short of going beyond the present tasks of learning techniques and the playbook. "I want to be the best football player that I can be, every day."
For himself. And for two ladies back home, just down the road.
QUICK HITS: Day 2 practice highlights included helmets flying off and linemen getting after it during nine-on-nine scrimmaging on running plays - even though the team was still not in pads. Usual G Colin Porter worked some as Drew Schaefer's backup at center, as the Huskies explore possible options for depth there. ... Redshirt freshman backup QB Nick Montana has had two of his best passing days of the spring or summer. Monday he hit Jermaine Kearse in stride on post pattern for a long touchdown, and Tuesday he perfectly lofted another deep post throw that Kevin Smith caught while tumbling to the turf. Montana is getting about a third of the first-team reps, with Keith Price getting two-thirds. ... Neat scene: Fiery defensive coordinator Nick Holt quietly asking his freshman walk-on son of the same name about his day as they walked off the field together following practice. The younger Holt, listed as a LB, worked some at FB as Sarkisian seeks depth behind converted LB and new first-team FB Jonathan Amosa. ... The shoulder pads come on for the first time Wednesday (3:15 p.m. start). ... Two-a-days start Saturday, with full-contact work beginning next week.