SEATTLE – The first kickoff was short. John Ross, Washington’s freshman receiver and return specialist, sprinted 10 yards from the goal line and tried to cradle the ball to his chest.
Instead, it hit off his pads, bounced forward and was recovered by a member of the kickoff-coverage unit for a turnover. On the next kick early in Wednesday’s UW practice, Ross fielded the ball cleanly, followed several blocks to the right and raced into the open – with only a 195-pound kicker and 65 yards of FieldTurf standing between him and the end zone – before the drill was whistled dead.
Such is the make-or-break nature of entrusting a special role with a freshman. Teaching the fundamental duties of a return specialist is akin to taming a wild horse, but UW coach Steve Sarkisian doesn’t have any intentions of caging Ross and his spectacular playmaking potential.
“It’s a fine line with him, because he is a dynamic player,” Sarkisian said Thursday.
Sarkisian pointed to Ross’ two notable plays from Saturday’s 56-0 victory over Idaho State. Early in the first quarter, Ross fielded a bouncing punt and ran toward the UW sideline for about 40 yards before fumbling.
Then, in the third quarter, he took a short pass from backup quarterback Cyler Miles, scooted toward the sideline, wove around three defenders and raced 57 yards to the end zone.
It was the first of what Sarkisian believes will be many touchdowns in Ross’ career for the Huskies, but he doesn’t want Ross to try to “manufacture” those big plays. He wants the freshman to let them come naturally.
“This guy did so much in training camp and wowed everybody,” Sarkisian said, adding: “We’re trying to tone him down a little bit, but not take away his stinger. Those big plays are going to come.”
Washington hasn’t scored a touchdown on a special-teams return since Louis Rankin’s 89-yard kickoff return against Washington State in 2007.
Washington’s last punt return for a touchdown was by Charles Frederick in 2003.
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