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30 Day Countdown - Day 17: Breakout Upperclassman

Don’t call it a comeback, call it an emergence

Stanford v Washington

Now —with only 17 days until the Eastern Washington game— we try to fill another day of waiting for actual football with one of these unparalleled “Breakout Player” type things. It’s not a freshman, nor is it a redshirt freshman. It’s not a player making a comeback, but it is someone who’s been in the program for a few seasons.

It’s the upperclassman who is poised to “Break Out.”

A breakout doesn’t have to make a huge splash or be someone flashy with big numbers. A player thought to be in a position battle who emerges as a reliable and effective starter can be considered a break out player. This category is always important in terms of filling depth. The staff finds upper class rotational players who have flirted with playing time in the past, but have never been constant contributors.

This season, two of the players on the list are expected to start in the middle of the defense. In their case, it’s either break out or else.


Brandon Wellington, Sr (Middle Inside LB)

OK, this one is flashy, and will probably have some big numbers. The Husky middle linebacker position has averaged 121 tackles per season during the Chris Petersen era. John Timu, Azeem Victor, and Ben Burr-Kirven have been “that guy” over the past five seasons. This year, Wellington steps into the middle linebacker position, and he will have the opportunity to rack up a lot of tackles.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Pac-12 Championship Game - Washington v Utah
Brandon Wellington has played in 35 of 41 games during his UW career, including four post-season games.

Wellington’s UW career has seemingly flown by. He played in every game (mostly on special teams) as a true freshman. In 2017, he played in 11 games before injuring his ACL. The rehab from that injury caused him to miss the first four games of 2018, but he returned to full strength by season’s end, starting the Pac-12 Championship game as well as the Rose Bowl.

The bar is pretty high here. If Wellington leads the team in tackles it’s not a break out season because he’s probably the favorite to do that. Could Wellington be a 1st team All Pac-12 player? Could he actually be an upgrade to BBK in the middle? That would be a breakout.


Kyler Manu, Sr (Weakside Inside LB)

I have to be honest, I didn’t think Manu would retain his starting job through the spring, but he did. Based on what we know from fall camp (which isn’t a lot) he’s still expected to start at the other inside linebacker spot next to Wellington. Manu is a great candidate for this breakout designation because I don’t think many people are expecting a lot from him. While Wellington is the heir apparent to the tackling crown for UW, Manu has largely been viewed by fans as a placeholder at the WIL position until someone else emerges.

There are some good prospects behind Manu including Jackson Sirmon, MJ Tafisi and true freshman Josh Calvert. So far, Manu has held onto the starting job. Are the younger guys still trying to find their way in Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense, or has Manu legitimately taken a stronghold on the position?

I’m admittedly humdrum regarding Manu. For that reason, a big contribution from him would be an “upperclassman breakout” in the truest sense to me.


Jared Hilbers, Sr (Right Tackle)

It’s a nice luxury for assistant coach Scott Huff to replace a four-year starter at right tackle with a fifth-year senior. Kaleb McGary will be missed for sure, but his departure to the NFL opens the door for Hilbers, who started 11 games a year ago at the left tackle position. How does an offensive lineman “break out?” Keeping the RT job (Hilbers is being pushed by sophomore Henry Bainivalu) is a good start. Not drawing a ton of attention by getting beaten is another way.

I’ll tell you what, Jared Hilbers, you start every game at right tackle, and we nearly never hear or see your name (except during UWDP Film Study, of course). We’ll call that a breakout.


Which player will be considered 2019’s breakout upperclassman at season’s end?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Brandon Wellington
    (305 votes)
  • 10%
    Kyler Manu
    (91 votes)
  • 12%
    Jared Hilbers
    (102 votes)
  • 18%
    Other Offensive Player
    (157 votes)
  • 18%
    Other Defensive Player
    (156 votes)
  • 2%
    Other Special Teams Player
    (24 votes)
835 votes total Vote Now