On a warm, but quickly cooling Wednesday evening at Husky Stadium, Austin Seferian-Jenkins cuts to the middle of the field, then back to the corner and casually catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Keith Price over the outstretched hands of cornerback Desmond Trufant. It’s a routine play during a mid-season fall practice, but three things stand out about the play. One, Seferian-Jenkins is big. Two, he’s fast. And three, he doesn’t look like a true freshman tight end.
Those three facts have been trumpeted by many that watch the Huskies play. Seferian-Jenkins still has share of things to improve on (pass-blocking and run-blocking being the big ones), but the former Gig Harbor Tide has made a big impression on the Husky Nation, catching nine passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns in his first four college games. Most importantly, the 6-foot-6, 258-pound former number-two tight end prospect in the nation has given Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian something his program sorely missed after the dismissal of Kavario Middleton following the 2009 season: a true, pass-catching tight end.
“I don’t know that we had a true tight end last year and we tried to manufacture the position, so to say, by using different guys in different roles,” Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “The three tight ends we have now are doing a tremendous job and they’re young and they’re getting better every day.”
So far, Seferian-Jenkins has exceeded even his own expectations. He had multiple offers from big time programs, but chose the hometown team, . Since making that choice, he said he has not looked back as Washington has been everything he has hoped for.
“It’s been great, I can’t really ask for more,” he said. “I didn’t know it was going to be like this, I’m happy it’s gone this way so far. There’s going to be bumps along the road…it’s just a great place.”
Seferian-Jenkins was part of a hyped incoming freshman class that included Skyline’s Kasen Williams, the national prep player of the year. So far Seferian-Jenkins has been the most productive member of that class, catching his first touchdown in his second collegiate game ("I wish my grandpa could have been there to watch me") and catching two crucial touchdowns last week in a 31-23 win over Cal. After his first touchdown catch did what he’s done a lot since he came to the UW: counted his blessings.
“I’ve always dreamed about that being a kid” Seferian-Jenkins said. “Very few kids get to go and do their dreams and I’m living dreams. I’m just really thankful and come out on Saturdays and, for example, to come out today and practice at a great football program and be able to play for a storied football program. I’m really the one that’s lucky and blessed to be out here, so when I ran out there, I was just thanking God and pointing to the sky.”
The former Tide is still making transitions into the college game, despite his early success. Sarkisian identified the blocking portion of being a tight end as the biggest thing Seferian-Jenkins needs to work on, something the freshman freely admitted was a work in progress. He has never had to operate with a playbook and the learning proves can be slow.
“I’ve never played with a playbook, so it was different having a playbook for the first time,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “But it’s just got to come down on me and making sure I do my job.”
For now, Seferian-Jenkins will have to continue to work. But if his numbers through his first four games, in a situation he is still getting comfortable learning, are any indication, Husky fans could be looking at a four-year answer to the tight end drought the school has experienced since the graduation of Jeremy Stevens. No matter what happens for Seferian-Jenkins, however, chances are he will just keep counting his blessings.
“I’m just so blessed to be able to come here and be able to play in front of my family and my friends and have great teammates and great coaches,” he said. “I know at the end of the day I made the best decision for myself and I just thank God every day that I made this decision.”