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Petersen Being Told No As A Player Is How UW Got Top State Lineman
Release: 02/07/2014
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Petersen was the only college coach to take the time and interest to ask Kaleb McGary of Fife, Wash., High School his preference between offense and defense. It’s a lesson the Huskies’ coach learned 30 years ago while being told he was told small to play quarterback.

By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

After being told “No, you can’t play that” so many times in football as a kid, Chris Petersen wasn’t about to tell Kaleb McGary the same thing.

That is how Petersen's own playing days in the 1980s helped the Huskies get the top high school lineman in the state.

Chris Petersen under center at UC Davis. (Photo courtesy of UC Davis Sports Information)

McGary, a star from Fife, was getting calls and scholarship offers from everywhere. Though McGary was 2013's South Puget Sound League's 2A defensive lineman of the year, and though he also was an all-league tight end, every college coach saw the 6-foot-7, 285-pound wall as a prototypical left tackle. It's the most valuable position on any offensive line in protecting the quarterback. Thus, McGary was a most valuable recruit.

Petersen saw the same thing.

"I think you are a big-time left tackle," Washington's new coach told McGary during an intense two months of whirlwind recruiting since Petersen took the UW job.

Yet Petersen also took the time and care to ask the titanic teen what no other coach did: What did he want to play?

McGary’s signing Wednesday with Washington offers insight into how Petersen's down-to-earth perspective may impact Husky football.

"I asked him, 'If you had a preference, which side of the ball would you like to play on?'" Petersen said of McGary.

The heralded lineman told Petersen his first love was defense.

Petersen's response: "Great!"

"And if that doesn't work out," Petersen reiterated, "I think you are a big-time left tackle."

That's how McGary joined Bellevue star safety Budda Baker in giving the Huskies the top two recruits in the state this recruiting year.

Why did Petersen offer what apparently no other college coach would: McGary his preference on which position to play?

It's what Petersen wanted for himself growing up as an undersized quarterback in Yuba City, Calif.

"I learned this a long time ago: I think if a kid feels very strongly about a position or one side of the ball you really need to give him a chance to compete there -- because that's where his heart is," Petersen said. 

"I was one of those guys who was always trying to get moved. No one wanted me to play quarterback because I was too short and too small."

Despite his size, Chris Petersen set numerous records as quarterback for UC Davis. (Photo courtesy of UC Davis Sports Information)

Petersen bucked everyone else's wishes and kept playing QB, starring for the Yuba City High Honkers until 1983. He kept playing quarterback against coaches' opinions at nearby Sacramento City College. He then played at UC Davis, again as the passer everyone thought should be something else, such as maybe a wide receiver. Or a golfer.

All Petersen did as UC Davis' quarterback was set numerous school passing records, including single-season marks for efficiency, completions, completion percentage, touchdown passes and total offense. He set the Aggies' career mark for completion percentage. The Huskies’ new coach remains all over UC Davis' career top-10 passing lists. His season and career completion percentage records still stand there.

Petersen was the 1986 Northern California Athletic Conference player of the year. The quarterback that most wanted to be something else was also that year's UC Davis Colby E. Slater Award winner as its male athlete of the year. In 1997 he was inducted into the Cal Aggie Athletic Hall of Fame.

All because coaches at Sac City College and at Davis did what Petersen just did for McGary, now the Huskies’ newest, four-star lineman.

"I've learned that. You just have to give kids a chance to do that," Petersen said.

"But he does have ability to play defense, so we will start there. I don't think he's married into the defensive side. I mean, everybody else was recruiting him for offense. Everybody. And so I think Kaleb is good on either side.

"But we've told him all along, 'Hey, you want to start on one side or the other? We're good (with that). We think you are good enough on either side. We'll give you a shot either way.’”


INSIDE THE DAWGS: Petersen’s first spring practice with the Huskies will begin March 4. As they were last year, spring practices will be split over two sessions, the latter in April. The annual spring game is April 19. … As of the now the only Husky recruit out of this year’s class expected to enroll early this spring is Jaimie Bryant. The 6-5, 300-pound defensive lineman from Tumwater, Wash., was originally in last year’s class then agreed with then-coach Steve Sarkisian’s staff to “grayshirt” – not sign a letter of intent and delay for a year enrolling at UW. Petersen and his new Huskies staff honored the previous agreement.

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