UW’s most-accomplished tight end focuses on improving

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comMarch 10, 2013 

A wacky spring football practice schedule and an equally wacky Pacific-12 Conference basketball schedule found both the Washington football and basketball teams in action at the same time Saturday morning. The quirky conflict posed a chance for Huskies tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who played both sports last season, to reflect on his decision to give up the bouncing ball.

“I don’t even think about it any more,” the junior said after the football workout. “My concentration is totally on football right now.

“Still,” he added, “I’ve got a lot of friends on the team and I wish them the best. I hope they get a win tonight against UCLA.”

That the Huskies tipped off against the Bruins at 11 a.m. – and already were in their street clothes by the time the football practice ended – underscores Seferian-Jenkins’ point: His heart belongs, first, foremost and forever, to football.

A power forward who gave coach Lorenzo Romar some rebounding depth last season, Seferian-Jenkins wasn’t particularly torn about abandoning his dual-sport career. That he’s likely to be named a consensus preseason All-America in one of them – and struggled to log playing time in the other – meant there wasn’t a lot of soul-searching to be done.

As a basketball player who averaged 2.1 rebounds and 7.1 minutes per game, Seferian-Jenkins longed to be adequate. As a football player who already has become the most accomplished pass-catching tight end in school

history, Seferian-Jenkins longs to be legendary.

It’s weird: At 6-foot-6 and 266 pounds, Seferian-Jenkins did not stand out as an imposing physical presence on the basketball floor. He could set a solid pick, but underneath the basket, grappling with 6-10 guys for rebounds, he lacked the size to assert himself.

And yet he’s conspicuous on a football field, where he’s taller than all defensive backs and quicker than most linebackers.

During another fast-paced spring practice that approached a frenzy – “organized chaos,” is what coach Steve Sarkisian called it – Seferian-Jenkins was conspicuous again Saturday. He appeared to catch every ball thrown his way. One handed or two, leaping or striding, he was a completion waiting to happen.

When told how impressive he looked, the Gig Harbor High graduate responded with a wince.

“I didn’t have a good day,” he said. “My effort wasn’t good enough. I’ll do better on Tuesday.”

But what about all those passes he hauled in?

“There’s other stuff involved,” said Seferian-Jenkins. “For a tight end, it’s not just about catching the ball.”

Senior quarterback Keith Price is among those teammates who’ve taken notice of the tight end’s determination to excel at every nuance of a hybrid position.

“He’s trying to perfect his craft,” Price said. “He’s working on blocking and the all-around parts of his game. ASJ wants to be the best tight end in the country.”

Safety Sean Parker concurred.

“He’s always the first on the field and the last to leave,” Parker said. “He pays attention to every little thing that makes him better.”

A top-three finalist for the 2012 John Mackey Award — awarded by a panel that voted for the outstanding tight end in America – Seferian-Jenkins’ challenge in 2013 will be, as Sarkisian put it, “to take the next step in terms of maturity and dealing with adversity.

“Sometimes you’ve got to deal with the ‘agony’ of football, so to speak.”

And if Seferian-Jenkins develops the mental callouses to complement his velvet-soft hands?

“I don’t think there’s anybody better,” Sarkisian said.

Seferian-Jenkins has taken the first step toward becoming a complete football player by concluding he needs to pursue football completely.

“I don’t play basketball anymore, I don’t even watch it anymore,” he said. “I’ll probably pay some attention when March Madness comes around, but that’s it. I’m all about football right now.”

Moments later, the best tight end at a school with a rich tradition of them could be seen alone behind the end zone of the practice field, slamming his body into a four-piece blocking sled.

Saturday wasn’t good enough. Tuesday would be better.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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