CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: 5 key players to confirm they’re staying with UW Huskies

Jan 26, 2024, 1:23 PM

UW Huskies Will Rogers...

Will Rogers of the Mississippi State Bulldogs throws the ball on Sept. 17, 2022. (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

(Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

This UW Huskies’ offseason will no doubt be remembered more for what the program lost than for what it retained.

Caple: UW Huskies’ unsung heroes of the 2023 season

The Huskies already were set to lose many star players to graduation or the NFL Draft, and then four days after UW lost to Michigan in the national championship game, head coach Kalen DeBoer left for Alabama. That prompted several more players to enter the transfer portal in search of a more stable destination — or simply to follow DeBoer and some of his staff to Tuscaloosa.

But new coach Jedd Fisch also has managed to retain a handful of players who should be key to Washington’s rebuilding efforts in 2024 as the Huskies move to the Big Ten and navigate a relatively daunting schedule.

Below, we explore five of those key players, and why each was so important for UW to hold onto.

QB Will Rogers

There was a time, however brief, when there wasn’t a single scholarship quarterback committed to playing for the Huskies in 2024. That changed quickly, as 2024 Arizona signee Demond Williams Jr. announced he would instead come to Washington, and then Rogers, the senior transfer from Mississippi State, withdrew his name from the transfer portal (so, too, did 2024 signee Dermaricus Davis).

It made sense for Rogers, who committed to DeBoer and former offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, to explore his options during the transition from DeBoer to Fisch. But he ultimately decided to stay and play at UW anyway, giving Fisch and his staff an experienced quarterback to helm the offense in Year 1. Rogers threw for more than 12,000 yards and 96 touchdowns the past four seasons at Mississippi State, and DeBoer and Grubb had selected him as the successor to Michael Penix Jr.

DL Sebastian Valdez

Tuli Letuligasenoa and Ulumoo Ale were seniors in 2023, and Faatui Tuitele announced after the season that he’s retiring from football. That means UW will not return its top three interior D-linemen in terms of snaps played. DeBoer’s staff had begun to address that need, signing Valdez, a senior transfer from Montana State and a second-team All-Big Sky selection in 2023 (and a first-teamer the year before).

On the same day that Rogers withdrew from the transfer portal, Valdez tweeted confirmation that he, too, plans to play for Washington next season. That’s a big keep for the Huskies, who also need to find another D-lineman or two in the transfer portal to fill out the rest of the depth. Jacob Bandes and twins Jayvon and Armon Parker could also be key players.

OL Drew Azzopardi

The coaching change effectively wrecked Washington’s offensive line. Starting center Parker Brailsford transferred to Alabama. Starting guards Nate Kalepo and Julius Buelow transferred to Mississippi. Geirean Hatchett, a versatile guard who projected as a near-certain starter in 2024, announced that he will not return to Washington, either. The Huskies are still waiting on a decision from Hatchett’s younger brother, Landen, a sophomore who entered the portal but has not yet announced a destination. Add to that the NFL Draft entry of starting tackles Troy Fautanu and Roger Rosengarten, and the Huskies are starting from scratch up front.

That’s what made it so important to retain Azzopardi, who, like many of his teammates, indicated on Twitter that he will stick around.

Like Rogers and Valdez, the previous UW staff recruited Azzopardi out of the transfer portal before DeBoer took the Alabama job. Listed at 6 foot 7 and 305 pounds, Azzopardi, now a third-year sophomore, played in 12 games with six starts at right tackle for San Diego State last season. Fisch and the new staff have a lot more work to do in order to fill out the O-line depth, but Azzopardi at least gives them a starter-caliber tackle to start with.

DB Kamren Fabiculanan

Dominique Hampton graduated. Mishael Powell transferred to Miami. Asa Turner transferred to Florida. Jabbar Muhammad is transferring, likely to either Oregon, Texas or Alabama. Those departures made it essential for the staff to hang onto Fabiculanan, a part-time starter at nickel and safety the past two years who is coming off by far his best season at the college level.

With so little returning experience at safety in particular, Fabiculanan projects as one of Washington’s most important defensive players and, assuming nothing changes, will have played his entire six-year college career at UW.

WR Denzel Boston

UW’s top four receivers in 2023 — Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, Ja’Lynn Polk and Germie Bernard — are no longer on the roster. That made it imperative for the new staff to retain Boston, now a third-year sophomore who impressed coaches and teammates throughout spring and preseason camp last year. At 6-4 and 207 pounds, the Emerald Ridge High product should see significant playing time in 2024 for the first time in his career, and he gives Rogers a big body to target down the field. Boston also returned five punts for 28 yards in 2023.

This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to OnMontlake.com for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.

More on the UW Huskies

• Seahawks Draft: ESPN’s Miller on J.J. McCarthy’s upside, Penix’s stock
• Bump: What makes UW’s Rome Odunze a top NFL Draft prospect
• UW Huskies in Draft: Who stands out to NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah?
• How Jedd Fisch’s Year 1 challenge compares to his UW Huskies predecessors

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