Stevens has high hopes for 2002

With youth on the defensive line a reality, Jerome Stevens is now the graybeard of Randy Hart's group. Stevens is going through his third spring in the Husky program and will be a junior next fall. He is listed as the starting nose tackle and figures to be the main middle clogger when the team travels to Michigan in late August to kick off the 2002 campaign.

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"Jerome has played a lot next to Larry, and has played some with Josh (Miller) and Terry (Johnson). He's in much better shape now. He needs to get consistent, but those reps he's had will certainly help," said Randy Hart of Stevens.

Stevens enrolled in the winter quarter of 2000, so he saw the field as a true freshman that fall. Despite playing linebacker for Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, California, Stevens has played exclusively on the interior defensive line and the transition was made relatively smoothly.

However, he was a 300-pounder for his first two seasons and the defensive coaches felt that was too heavy for him.

"He was not able to be consistent. He's now down to where we want him to be, and we think that is where he can play like we believe he can," said defensive coordinator Tim Hundley. "He can make things happen for us."

Stevens now tips the scales at 285 and has clocked a personal best 4.9 in the 40. He and Josh Miller are both 400-pound plus bench pressers, so strength will not be an issue. Speed and stamina were, but at his new weight those two factors are becoming non-issues.

"It's going pretty good this spring. I'm doing everything Coach Hart tells me so I can become a better football player. I'll do what it takes," said Stevens after practice yesterday.

He is proud to be running with the first team. "It's always fun to run with the ones. You are always the first ones on the field, and you know all of the plays. When you are with the ones, you have to go out there and show them how it's done."

Stevens has a close bond with fellow linemen Josh Miller and Terry "Tank" Johnson and that helps the three play as a group. "When you talk about hanging out together, that carries over onto the field. When you know the person that you play next to, your job is that much easier. When we run stunts (where a defensive player runs into a different gap other than his own), you can trust each other. You really believe that the other person will cover that gap you left and he'll know that you'll have the other gap covered. It's a real important factor."

Stevens has played a lot of snaps without ever taking a redshirt season, but this season could be the most important one in terms of his growth and direction as a football player.

"It was great to play as a true freshman. I was learning and at the same time I was trying to get used to the speed of the game. Everything was very fast but they needed me right away to play. Now I think it was worth it. Larry (Tripplett) told me that your first year you learn, the second year you improve, but then in your third year is when it should all start coming together. That is what I'm looking for when the season starts," said Stevens.

"I've had some good practices this spring and I'll try to keep that up and let it all come together this fall."

Physically he's ready to make the next step. Stevens would like to begin the fall at a playing weight of 280, only five pounds off of where he's currently at. "I think I could be more of a threat on the pass rush at that weight. I can play at that weight because I'm strong. I lift a lot of weights, and when you do that, you can throw those big guys around," said Stevens of facing bigger linemen.

"Weights and technique, that's what it's all about. Technique gets you where you need to go, and I still bench over 400 pounds and run a 4.9. I want to be a threat this year, to get off the ball and collapse the pocket. That is the number one goal, to get the pressure off of the defensive backs. If we can do that, and the ball still gets off, then the DBs still have to pick up the slack. Everyone on the line is working toward that, improving our push and getting through the line any way we can."

The first team line of Stevens, Miller, and Williams has been solid all spring. Houdini Jackson currently joins them on the other end, but Washington is hopeful that Kai Ellis will return to full health by fall, and they'll also welcome Anthony Kelley back.

Still, depth is a concern. Especially to Stevens, who along with Johnson openly cajoles the youth behind them during practice. "I expect a lot out of this group, particularly with the twos. The ones are really coming out right now but the second team guys are kind of still kind of feeling their way and I'm not sure why. They really need to start picking it up so we have a good back up group so when the ones leave the field, we still feel good about it. That's what we'll try to do this spring."

Spoken like a leader, Jerome.

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