Leader Of The ‘P.A.C.K.’ Carries The Flag

By Mason Kelley

Jeff Choate brought “The Hammer” to Boise State in 2006. He wanted to find a way to honor the Broncos’ special teams standouts. So he found a sledgehammer.  He awarded it to someone each week, and that player would carry it onto the field.

“The hammer kind of became emblematic of our program at Boise State,” Choate said. “It’s really become a piece of their identity there.”

Now at Washington, the defensive line coach and special teams coordinator wanted to find a way to create a similar symbol for the Huskies.

“We talked a lot about what we wanted to do in terms of honoring that guy, that selfless player who puts himself out there on special teams, a way to recognize that individual and let them lead our team onto the field,” Choate said.

After thinking through a few ideas, Choate came up with the “P.A.C.K.” flag, an idea he felt fit nicely with Husky history and the mentality the coaching staff is working to create. The acronym’s meaning isn’t exactly a state secret, but it’s also not something they publicize.

“It’s something special to us on the special teams units,” Choate said. “It represents that individual and our team sacrifice. Their gift to each other is the work they put in on special teams.”

The flag is purple with gold lettering that spells P.A.C.K. Underneath the word is a dog-sled logo, which matches the one on the inside collar of each Washington jersey.

During the last week of fall camp, Choate presented the flag to his players during a team meeting. He told them the player who had the best performance on special teams each week would lead the Huskies out of the Husky Stadium tunnel while holding the flag.

Challenge accepted. Washington players embraced the opportunity to showcase their skills in a phase of the game that often goes uncelebrated.

“If you don’t win on special teams, sometimes that can lose you the game by itself,” linebacker Travis Feeney said.

When the Huskies sprinted out of the tunnel, through the fog and onto the field for their game against Eastern Washington last week, Feeney was holding the flag.

“It felt nuts,” Feeney said. “I went ballistic running out there on the field with all the fans going crazy. It was a great experience.”

The junior’s play against Hawaii earned him the opportunity.

“In Week 1, he wasn’t as much involved in the defensive game plan,” Choate said, when asked about Feeney. “He embraced his role on special teams. He played more than 26 snaps in the kicking game, had some dominant physical plays. He’s a very fast, long-levered guy who creates a matchup problem for other teams.

“I’m really, really pleased with the effort and discipline he’s put into that phase.”

It was Brian Clay who made an impact against the Eagles, recovering a surprise onside kick.

“Brian is just a guy who has consistently shown up from all the way back in spring football,” Choate said. “When we do our fundamental drills, it’s like, ‘Yeah, this is what it’s supposed to look like.’ It’s not really a surprise to me that he’s been such a positive contributor for us in the kicking game.

Choate added that Clay’s onside kick recovery might have been the “play of the game.”

For Clay, it was just an opportunity to contribute.

“I saw them tip it off, because they pointed at a guy down the line,” Clay said. “I knew something was up. It was a tight game, so I just trusted my technique and just recovered it. It’s a great feeling, because it’s a selfless position. I just went out there and produced for my team when they needed me most.”

Clay and Feeney have been battling on special teams since the spring. Clay said Keishawn Bierria, Azeem Victor, Evan Hudson and Sean Constantine are among the teammates who are “always fighting and scrapping” on special teams.

“A lot of guys are into it,” Clay said.

In addition to Clay’s onside kick recovery, freshman Sidney Jones forced a fumble on Eastern Washington’s second kickoff of the game. Trevor Walker recovered it, and the Huskies marched down the field for their second score.

“It’s the ultimate in terms of creating momentum,” Choate said. “College football in particular is an emotional game. Those ebbs and flows, those momentum swings are huge. You saw that the first time we kicked the ball off when we got the turnover.

“It creates a lot of juice on the sideline and that’s one of the things I enjoy about coaching that phase. It’s an emotional part of the game. You get to turn it loose and go have some fun.”

When the Huskies run out of the tunnel against Illinois, Clay will carry the flag.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I love running out of the tunnel with my teammates. It’s probably the best part of game day besides winning.”

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