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How QB Jake Haener helped jump-start UW kicker Peyton Henry’s football career

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 20, 2019, 9:15 p.m.

Washington’s Peyton Henry, left, is congratulated by Race Porter  after kicking a field goal against Utah during the first half of the Pac-12 Conference Championship  in Santa Clara, Calif., on  Nov. 30, 2018. (Tony Avelar / AP)
Washington’s Peyton Henry, left, is congratulated by Race Porter after kicking a field goal against Utah during the first half of the Pac-12 Conference Championship in Santa Clara, Calif., on Nov. 30, 2018. (Tony Avelar / AP)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Peyton Henry would not be here without Jake Haener.

That’s true in more ways than one.

Henry, Washington’s sophomore kicker, and Haener, the Huskies’ sophomore quarterback, were teammates long before they landed on Montlake in 2017. They met in kindergarten at age 5 and have been best friends since. They were “always on the same team,” Haener said Sunday.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when Haener’s freshman football team at Monte Vista High School needed a kicker, he knew just who to call.

“He was always a big soccer guy and liked to kick the football around,” Haener said of Henry. “We didn’t really have a kicker that was worth anything, so I decided to give him a call and told him to come out and start kicking, and the rest is kind of history.”

“I gave it a go, and ever since then I never looked back,” Henry said.

Here’s what not looking back looks like: the Danville, California, product converted all 69 extra-point attempts and made eight field goals in his senior season at Monte Vista in 2016, while also recording 84 touchbacks on 93 kickoffs. He finished 152 for 154 on PAT attempts and 18 for 26 on field goals, with a long of 52 yards, in a surprisingly fruitful prep football career.

By the time the Monarchs finally fell to Katella High School in the state championship game on Dec. 9, 2016, both outgoing seniors were committed – Haener to Washington, and Henry as a walk-on to Virginia.

That is, until Husky coach Chris Petersen – who was in attendance – asked Haener about Henry.

“I told him, ‘He’s our senior kicker. He’s got a couple walk-on offers from Cal and other spots. He’s committed to Virginia right now,’ ” Haener said. “Coach (Bob) Gregory got a hold of him and they started talking, and he gave him a spot.”

So, yes, Henry would likely not be here (in football), or here (at UW), without his best friend since age 5.

But, unfortunately, that background isn’t all they have in common. Both Haener and Henry experienced some significant lowlights in 2018; Haener completed just 2 of 6 passes for minus-3 yards, including minus-9 rushing yards and a pick-six, in his two Pac-12 appearances. Henry converted 43 of 44 extra points and 16 of 22 field goals, but blew a 37-yarder at the end of regulation in an overtime loss at rival Oregon.

To redirect any negativity or lingering distractions, Haener deleted his social-media accounts this offseason.

“I try to stay off it,” Henry said of social media. “That’s what I’ve learned this past year. You don’t want to look at that stuff or anything like that because it could definitely dampen your mood or make you start thinking about stuff. So you just try to stay off of it.”

Henry and Haener have one more thing in common: They’re both submerged in position competitions.

For Henry, that means attempting to stave off freshman kicker Tim Horn, who arrived at UW with a scholarship, a renowned right leg and a clear path to the starting job. Instead, the 5-foot-11, 197-pound Henry might have solidified his position, appearing the more poised and consistent kicker during media viewing early in August.

“I’ve always really liked his temperament for that kicker position, for sure,” Petersen said this week. “He’s pretty calm and even-keeled. But he cares tremendously.

“I think it’s been really good. I think competition’s a good thing. Tim’s done a nice job since he’s been here, from where he started. He’s getting more settled in, getting more confident. I think those guys push each other and kind of elevate each other’s game.”

Husky fans hope that also applies to kickoffs, after Henry registered a touchback on just 32.9 percent of kickoffs last season. The sophomore credited UW’s strength and conditioning staff for helping strengthen his all-important left leg this offseason.

Of course, there’s always going to be room for improvement. Especially when it comes to the Oregon kick, Henry isn’t looking back.

“I forgot about it pretty quickly, moved onto the next week,” he said. “I’m not going to dwell on one kick. It doesn’t define me or my career. I’m just doing my thing, and I’m not going to worry about that.”

Henry hopes the most memorable kicks in his UW career – the ones that define it – are still ahead.

If they are, he’ll know which longtime teammate he has to thank.

“Sometimes (Haener takes credit for jump-starting my career), but in a joking way,” Henry said. “He played a pretty integral part in it. I’m glad he got me into it. He definitely deserves some recognition.”

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