The Good Hands Group
Nov. 23, 2007
By Benton Strong
One came in as a running back, another as a defensive back. Twowere recruited as pure receivers and another was a big, physical kidthat transferred in from junior college. All five of them ended up as widereceivers. All are seniors now and all are sharing a dream.
'I came to the University of Washington to win,' senior AnthonyRusso says.
Russo also came to Washington hell-bent on being a tailback, butthat did not work out for the senior from Lakewood, Wash. Talk to himabout his career, however, and regrets are non-existent.
'People ask me if I could go back, would I change the place I wentto college,' says Russo. 'And I wouldn't.
'We are so close, we call each other brothers. I have a son and they are all his uncles. It'snot just the receivers either. Our whole class of 2003 is close and it'sreally something special.'
Russo came out of Lakes High School as a tailback and wanted tostay at his position, but just like true freshman Curtis Shaw has done thisseason, Russo made the switch to wide out and it has paid dividends.
'[The change] was rough,' he recalls. 'What made it hard for mewas that I didn't want to switch. I wanted to be a running back eventhough everyone told me that in college I would be a receiver. Curtislooks like he doesn't mind doing it. I eventually realized I had to do it andI decided I might as well be my best at it.'
Russo wasn't the only member of the group to switch positions.Cody Ellis came in as a defensive back and spent two years there beforebecoming a big-play guy on the offensive side. His career has beenmarked by great, timely plays since he first lined up in the slot.
'It's been great,' he said. 'This is just a great bunch of guys and it'sbeen so much fun playing with them.'
The third of five senior receivers, Quintin Daniels, has missedsignificant time due to injury. He missed the entire 2005 season andpart of 2004 after tearing an ACL, but still won the team's KING-TV MostImproved Player (offense) last season. He, along with Corey Williams,has been a quieter, but no less effective member of this group.
Then there was the new guy. Marcel Reece joined the team in2006 and made an impact immediately. He leads the team with seventouchdown catches this year, and is the team's biggest target forquarterbacks Jake Locker and Carl Bonnell.
Together these five players make up what has been an extremelystrong receiving core. There have been some young additions to thecorps as the year has gone along, but this quintet of seniors figures tolead Washington into today's 100th Apple Cup with more experiencethan any other group.
Talk to the five of them and the memories just flow. Russo recountsWilliams' catch in the 2003 Apple Cup. The 21-yard catch with 1:10 toplay won the game for the Huskies. He streaked down the right sidelineand had the ball slip past the defender and into his hands as he fell intothe end zone. The play sent a sold-out Husky Stadium into a state ofdelirium.
Russo's list also includes several moments from his red-shirtfreshman year in 2003. The Oregon game in 2003, when the Huskieswalloped the Ducks 42-10 in front of more than 72,000 fans in Seattle isnear the top. Also, a trip to Columbus, Ohio stands out to him.
'The best memories I had were my true freshman year,' Russo said.'When we went to Ohio State, playing in front of 108,000 people andagainst a team that had just won a National Championship. We wereranked and they were ranked. Cody Pickett was a Heisman candidateand we had Reggie Williams too. That experience was exactly what Ithought college football was going to be like and it was so exciting.'
The memories don't stop as Ellis recounts his clutch grab againstthe Cougars in 2006, a play that helped Washington prevent WSU fromamassing their first ever three-game win streak against the Dawgs. Elliscame across the middle and had a Bonnell pass thrown a little behindhim. No matter, as the junior made a one-handed, spinning catch andraced 64 yards for a touchdown.
'The Apple Cup touchdown is definitely the highlight of my career,'he says. 'I had battled some injuries to come back, but I felt like I wasbehind the eight-ball in terms of all the other receivers. It felt good tofinish the season strong.'
Russo has been Mr. Big Play, seemingly out-running defenders andrunning under a deep pass every week. He leads the team in receivingyards and is second in touchdowns with five this year, piling up ninescores in his career. He and Reece have teamed up for over 1,200 yardsand 12 touchdowns this year.
Reece has been nothing short of incredible since joining the grouplast season. His 69-yard touchdown catch in the Apple Cup a year agoput the Huskies ahead for good in the third quarter.
Of Reece's seven touchdowns this season, one against BoiseState was nominated as the Pontiac Game-Changing performance ofthe week. He is second on the team in catches and yards and his 98-yard touchdown reception against Arizona is the longest play in Huskyhistory.
And just last weekend three of these guys contributed to a huge winagainst Cal at Husky Stadium. Reece snatched a 12-yard touchdown passout of the air on a fade pattern to closeout the first half. Russo tip-toeddown the sideline for a 62-yard punt return in the fourth quarter, settingup a field goal. And Ellis hauled in a 51-yard heave down the sideline onthird-and-24 to put the game out of reach for the Golden Bears.
With just two games left in their waning careers, the five receiversare hoping to create some final good memories. The memories built incollege are lasting, as each and every one of them pointed out. And therelationships these players have built with each other have withstoodthe tests of time, competition, frustration and so much more.
'There's been a lot of competition,' Reece says. 'A lot of familycompetition. We fight a little bit, but mostly we have fun. Everybodywants to be the best in our receiving corps and that's what makes usgood. Everything is a competition.'
Russo mentioned that the addition of Reece was welcome. No groupwould be unhappy to get a playmaker of his caliber. His personality fitand the numbers he put up justified his time on the field.
Even the long list of quarterbacks that have taken snaps in their timehas not deterred them. That group is larger than this one with playerslike Cody Pickett, Casey Paus, Isaiah Stanback, Johnny Durocher, CarlBonnell and now Jake Locker. Guys like Williams have caught passesfrom just about every one of them and the adjustment hasn't been easy.
'You usually expect one guy or maybe two,' Russo says. 'I'm notsure how many there were, but there were a lot of them. It was hard toget used to just one guy, but I know one thing: they all throw hard. Jake,Carl, Isaiah, Casey, all of them threw hard. That was something I had toget used to after switching from running back.'
But one thing they all do agree on now - Jake Locker is special. Andthat's coming from the guys who catch his passes and block for himdownfield.
'Jake's a stud,' Ellis says. 'He is not your typical red-shirt freshman.He is mature and wise beyond his years. I haven't felt that the team hassuffered at all because he's young.'
One thing that Locker has allowed the team to do is put five widereceivers on the field, which means that all five could be out there atonce this weekend against the Cougars.
'We are always begging for five receivers at the same time,' Russosays. 'Coach [Tim] Lappano said we were going to start doing that a lotand we loved that. Getting all the speed out on the field is fun. That's thegood thing about the Pac-10 - there is a lot of offense. '
While the five didn't all come in together, they will exit as a group.Even with the struggles these guys have lived through, they don't regrettheir decision to become Huskies at all.
'Playing at Husky Stadium has been one of the greatest experiencesof my life,' Reece says. 'I wouldn't trade it for the world. Notfor any other school or any other conference.'
While this group has played so well at Washington for so long, theymay not enter the ranks of great Husky receivers like Jerome Pathonor Reggie Williams. They have been at the school through the largestrebuilding period it has ever had, and yet they have succeeded.
The names in college football, even though some may becomeimmortalized, still change every five years or less. At Washington theywill change, from Russo to Shaw, Reece to D'Andre Goodwin and Ellis toAlvin Logan. Washington will lose players and new ones will take theirplace, but legacies don't go anywhere and these five receivers have lefttheir mark.
The Apple Cup is the game where legends are made. In 2003, formerHusky receiver Reggie Williams responded to a question about whetherhe would have another big game in the Apple Cup by saying, 'Do birdsfl y?' But it was another Williams - Corey Williams - that made thegame-winning catch that day. Expect nothing less in the 100th playingof the Apple Cup today.