It’s everyone’s favorite time of year: the almost-not-offseason. It’s this time where we almost get to watch football, but without the stress of actually having to watch football and, in the process, our team lose at least once. Honestly, it’s the best of both worlds.
With this time of year comes a tradition dating back millennia: the presenting of The Jake Eldrenkamp Award.
As a refresher, the award’s full name is The Jake Eldrenkamp Award For Excellence in “Oh S*** he was Actually Way Better Than we Realized Until he Left and Now We’re Feelin’ It.” It’s kinda like a cross between the Piesman, the Heisman, the Oscars, and the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good (but Wanna do Other Stuff Good, Too).
The JEA4EiOShwAWBTwRUhLaNWFI (which would also make a secure email password) tries to answer the question: “Who are the Dawgs gonna miss that we haven’t yet realized we’re gonna miss?”
In other words, guys like Jacob Eason, Salvon Ahmed, Hunter Bryant, Joe Tryon, Levi Onwuzurike, or Nick Harris — players whose loss we know immediately off the top of our head is a big ol’ deal — don’t qualify.
Obviously what constitutes this is subjective, but I’m the dictator of this award and decide with an iron fist who qualifies. Deal with it, fools!
Former Jake Eldrenkamp Award winners by year:
2019: Jaylen Johnson (Nominees: Drew Sample, Jordan Miller, DJ Beavers)
2018: Lavon Coleman (Nominees: Will Dissly, Coleman Shelton, Keishawn Bierria)
2017: Jake Eldrenkamp
As you can see from 2019’s class of nominees, hindsight is 20/20 and sometimes we get it wrong when making a preseason prediction of who will be missed the most. Were I prescient, then obviously I would know that not having DJ Beavers would mean our linebacking unit would pretty much suck. But I’m not, so since The Jake Eldrenkamp Award is purely a preseason prognostication, Sir Beavers wasn’t the recipient. Womp womp.
This year is particularly difficult just because Washington lost so many guys whose value has been discussed over and over and over and over and over and over... and over and over and over again. With all those high-profile players, it feels like even more of a mini treasure hunt to wade through the now-former players who are overshadowed.
Luckily, I’ve done just that and come up with four finalists.
AJ Carty — LS
Who’s AJ Carty? Does he have any stats? Where’s he from? California... right? That sounds correct but heck if I know.
This kind of anonymity is the mark of a long snapper who didn’t suck. Seriously, have you ever known anything about a long snapper ever? If you’re one of few who answered “Yes,” was it not only because they fucked up once, forcing you to learn their name and other things you’d never planned on?
Anyways, I don’t know anything about AJ Carty other than I think I saw him at a comedy show once back when those were still a thing. You don’t know anything about AJ Carty, either. That complete lack of knowledge is ideal as heck. And now, with only one freshman long snapper on roster, Husky fans better hope he remains just as anonymous as our dear old AJ, or else that means we’ll be missing dear old AJ.
And that’s a recipe for terrible special teams, which is a recipe for terrible defensive and offensive setups, which is a recipe for losing a lot.
Myles Bryant — DB
Bryant is tricky because on one hand he feels like too high-profile a player to qualify for The Jake Eldrenkamp Award — and for what it’s worth there’s probably other scenarios where I’d consider him not under the radar enough. Were the secondary not returning so many high-talent young players with experience and their now-leader Elijah Molden, or if UW didn’t have so many even higher profile departures like Eason, Ahmed, Adams, the other Bryant, Harris, etc., he would probably be ineligible. But the circumstances are what they are, and they’ve created a scenario where Bryant’s departure is mostly overshadowed, if not forgotten.
Whether Bryant is the most Eldrenkamp-y of the nominees, though, mostly comes down to how much his loss affects the secondary. His role as their leader last year certainly will be missed — whether for how that improved their play or just for sentimentality’s sake — but there’s such a stockpile of high end players in that room, many of whom now have significant experience from last season, that it feels like he won’t be the final winner of The Eldrenkamp. In fact, even with him gone, there’s still more exciting defensive backs you want to see on the field than spots for them to play at a time.
At safety last year and nickel years prior, Lake and Co now have the fun task of seat-racing said defensive backs to figure out what combination of which guys at which positions can mitigate Bryant’s loss or, hopefully (and not unlikely), improve the unit from last season. There’s a lot to choose from, but by some angles that makes the job even more difficult.
Still, though, the departure of Bryant’s versatility, intelligence, and leadership shouldn’t be ignored regardless of the talent he leaves behind. I’ve found that doing so is more often than not a recipe for disappointment.
Joel Whitford — P
Listen up girls and boys, Joel Whitford kicks ass. How do we know this? Because he is Australian.
I’ve made it very clear in the past that I’m a believer that American human beings should be barred from punting. With respect to Race Porter, there’s no reason an American should punt. And I cannot emphasize enough that this has nothing to do with Race Porter’s actual skills and everything to do with the fact that there is a whole-ass giant island of people whose grandmas are better punters than pretty much every American punter in history. There’s only one American punters who should exist, and that is Johnny Hekker.
(“But Gabey, what about Jon Ryan, the PNW’s favorite Jim Gaffigan look-alike?” He is Canadian, which, if you’ve ever spent one atomic second in Whistler, you’d know is Australia North. So Jon Ryan can stay. Nice try, though.)
In his final year at Washington in 2019, Whitford accumulated almost 2,000 yards worth of punts. They averaged 45 yards with a long of s i x t y s e v e n and, when situationally necessary, a significantly improved hang time over what the Dawgs had experienced under their most recent string of punters like Korey Durkee, T-Vizzy, and Porter. For context, that long of 67 would be tied for third best in all the NFL (alongside fellow Aussie and Seahawks punter, Michael Dickson).
But what’s more important than those numbers is the precision and versatility that The Whitford of Oz brought to the position. Whitford’s Aussie Rules Football background — and yes, it’s Aussie Rules that gives Aussies this punting skill, not rugby which is a totally different sport and commentators need to stop effing calling it “rugby punting” — meant he could punt it wherever, however; high hang time, line driving, bouncing back a yard at the one, bobbing forward an extra 15 at the 20, pin them back, drop out of bounds at the two, right foot, left foot, on the run, whatever, he could do it. In the same way that you won’t find an Australian who can play quarterback with the precision and arm of the Americans, you won’t find an American who can punt with the precision and leg of the Aussies.
The advantage that gave to the Huskies’ defense was absurd. Now that we don’t have him, please Coach Lake: get us another Australian, stat. Just go up to any bar in Vancouver and you’ll find one.
And before we end, yes, I’m salty the nickname Whitford of Oz never caught on. It’s so good. So good, dammit!
Benning Potoa’e — DL
On paper, Benning’s the perfect candidate for The Eldrenkamp; he’s overshadowed by another departure at his position (Levi Onwuzurike), there’s a lot of young talent at his position that makes fans overestimate how easy a potential transition could be, and his stats weren’t crazy so that casual fans could point at them and go “That’s a big deal!”
Yet Potoa’e, while not an eye-popping player, frequently showed up with a good play right when you’d forgotten about him. He had 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss (even if over half of them were against non-Power 5 opponents) while shifting inside as a true defensive lineman his senior year after three at OLB. He can mostly be summed up as an easy-to-overlook but solid role-player — and it’s those types of players who are the archetype for The Eldrenkamp. When guys like Benning leave, you better hope the youth coming in to fill their spot is of a higher talent; otherwise, you leave behind a lot of experience that helped keep things stable and functioning without any subsitute.
Luckily, Washington does have a lot of incredibly high-end talent, both unproven but exploding with potential and young but experienced and apparently ready for an expanded role. Obviously those in the first category are Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes, and Noa Ngalu, while the latter category is anchored by the boys Ikaika Malloe calls “The Twins”: Tuli and Taki. Excluding Ngalu, the other four averaged a 94.75 rating on 247Sports as recruits. (Adding Ngalu in the equation drops them slightly to 93.2.) Insert the obligatory “recruiting ratings aren’t perfect when measuring individuals” disclaimer here, but they do matter and, on a macro scale, tell you a lot. Like here: the room of players coming behind Benning is really good.
Then there’s Josiah Bronson as the old guy in the room to provide a bit of stability, although with Tuli and Taki’s experience and skill level, his mature presence is more of a luxury than a necessity.
All things considered, Benning is a strong candidate for The Jake Eldrenkamp Award, but the players coming up behind him probably mean his departure shouldn’t cause a dropoff that makes us go “Oh shit.”
Who is 2020’s winner of The Jake Eldrenkamp Award?
This poll is closed
AJ Carty — Long Snapper
Myles Bryant — Defensive Back
Joel Whitford — Punter
Benning Potoa’e — Defensive Lineman
Answer: Joel Whitford — Punter
Unless AJ Carty’s replacement stinks it up and forces us to learn his name (Jaden, right?), I think it has to be Whitford of Oz. Being on special teams — but not a #CollegeKicker — means most people won’t think twice about losing him, but those people are wrong. Having to rely on American punters, no matter how good they are by American standards, means UW’s losing the precision, versatility, hang time, and leg that can completely flip fields. No Whitford or another Aussie equivalent could significantly affect the positions Washington’s defense and, through extension, offense find themselves in.
The losses of Benning and Bryant shouldn’t be overlooked, but we know that filling their shoes are players that, while not as experienced, are not inexperienced while also having generally higher talent levels. That’s not the case for Whitford.
Great, now I’m scared.
Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.