Freshman receivers get quick baptism

Last winter, while the University of Washington football team was heading south figuratively, falling to a 7-6 record, their recruiting efforts led them south geographically, to Los Angeles.

Needing to bolster a depleted receiving corps that would include only three returning scholarship players in 2003, the Huskies surrounded the greater Los Angeles area, a place where Don James found great recruiting success while building the dominant Husky teams under his reign.

In Washington's search for top talent, they narrowed their focus to two of the best playmakers in SoCal, Sonny Shackelford of Beverly Hills and Loyal High's Quintin Daniels.

In the end, as luck would have it, the Purple and Gold won out on both.

Shackelford committed somewhat early in the recruiting process, choosing the UW over Arizona, Oregon State, San Diego State and San Jose State.

"I've always wanted to be a Husky," said Shackelford. "They've always seemed like No. 1 in the Pac-10, and I always wanted to go to a Pac-10 school. That's why I chose Washington."

Daniels took it down to the wire, committing a week before letter of intent day, ultimately deciding Montlake was the place best suited for him as well. The Huskies beat out UCLA and Arizona State for his services.

"I felt more of a family type atmosphere here and I really liked the coaches," said Daniels. "I had a good chance at playing early, too."

In fall camp, both Daniels and Shackelford showed why the Huskies pursued them last winter. Practicing alongside six other true freshman and redshirt freshman Jordan Slye, they stood out from the pack.

Both showed a willingness to learn. Neither hung their heads. Each showcased their athleticism time and time again. And both were rewarded by making the trip in the opener to Ohio State, and both played. Daniels had one catch, on the final play of the game.

Several impressive traits stand out in their talent. Daniels showed that he's not just a track guy; he can play football. His hands, though not yet excellent, are reliable. And his ability to shake a defender and get in the open field simply can't be taught.

Shackelford showed that he could bring tons to the field. He's dripping with confidence, and for good reason. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder runs routes well, has terrific hands, and can hurt a defense with his big-play ability after the catch.

"Sonny is a guy that manages to get to the ball," said receiver coach Bobby Kennedy. "He always jumps in the huddle and likes to catch passes."

Ask No. 21 himself, and Shackelford will tell you exactly what Kennedy tells you.

"I just like to catch the ball, make somebody miss, and go," he says.

Besides Shackelford and Daniels, other true freshman receivers that will see the field on special teams and at wide out this year include Bobby Withorne, Anthony Russo and Corey Williams. The competition for playing time will be fierce all season long, for the next four years.

"It's pretty cool because we are all working so hard and the competition is making us all better and better," said Daniels. "It helps a lot to know that if I slack off one day, I could move down the depth chart."

Shackelford agrees with his Los Angeles sidekick.

"It makes us all better," he said. "It makes everybody want to do better than the next person."

Kennedy, who didn't have a single freshman to coach in his receiving corps last season, says he has enjoyed getting a chance to work with all the new faces this fall.

"It's neat having a big group like this because they can bond, they can get to know each other, they can compete against one another," said Kennedy.

Sonny Shackelford

"The neat thing about having these guys is that I can train them the way that I want them trained."

At the collegiate level, a big step up from the high school ranks, that's more important than ever for these first-year receivers. All of them, not just Daniels and Shackelford, know they've got much to learn.

"It's a pretty big jump," said Daniels of the move from high school to college. "At the high school level I could just do one move and get by people. Here I can't do that anymore."

"It's a lot faster. It's hard to get off the line against the defensive backs."

In time, the freshmen will learn. The problem is, in 2003, they will have to do so on the fly.

Kennedy says that the freshmen playing rotation will be determined by a number of factors.

"First of all, they've got to learn the offense," said the coach. "Also, I've got to feel comfortable that they are going to execute when we put them in the game. We need them to be difference-makers, not just guys that are just in for a play or two."

A thousand miles away from home, two freshmen from L.A. hope to be those difference-makers this fall. Playing time is the top goal for both Daniels and Shackelford, and both have received it after game one.

But leave it to the kid from Beverly Hills to take it one step further.

"I want to make the crowd scream," said Shackelford. Top Stories