The 2021 season, now just days away from beginning, is already different than any season I can remember. I recall in April or May of last year, shrugging off the notion of the 2020 season being altered in any way. I’m glad I’m not a betting man.
We are thankfully only 9 days away from replacing speculation with fact - and in the bizarro world of the last 18 months, you could be forgiven for letting your anticipation / anxiety / hand-wringing get the better of you. But regardless of your default Husky-football-DefCon-level, uncertainty is indeed rife across several position groups. But that’s okay because THERE IS A SOLUTION.
The solution? Ice Bath Time Machine.
The Husky fanbase has been accused at times of living in the past - often by those whose football program has no past. So today we will revel in this accusation, and live in the past to our heart’s content as we continue the tradition of the Ice Bath Time Machine in our countdown to 2021 football.
We’ll grab Husky players from years’ past who would fill positions of need, or at least positions that begin the season with uncertainty in regards to personnel or performance.
But before we start, there are a few rules.
1. I’m restricting my selections to players who I am old enough to have seen or at least heard about while they were still Huskies. I went to my first Husky game in 1987.
2. We are raising the bar here... or rather, maybe we’re lowering the bar. Lowering the bar in a limbo sort of way. Because for this year’s time machine, All-Americans and 1st team All-Conference players are off limits. Selections can’t have been awarded anything higher than 2nd-team All-Conference honors.
3. Any player picked in a previous edition of this article is off the board.
Now let’s turn the time circuits on and get the flux capacitor fluxing.
Don’t look surprised when I set the National Championship era as our first stop. No way can we forsake those teams that won Pac-10 titles, Rose Bowls, and a National Championship. If we’re gonna live in the past, let’s get our money’s worth.
James Clifford, ILB, 1988-92
Husky legend Dave Hoffmann was a two-time All-American and the face of the linebacking crew during the National Championship era, but he didn’t do it alone. James Clifford (6’2”, 225) was in the same class (1988) as Hoffman and Husky greats Mario Bailey, Mark Brunell, Steve Emtman, and Lincoln Kennedy. Clifford was a thumper with loads of heart, who lettered as a true freshman and led the Pac-10 with 164 tackles as a sophomore in 1989. His performance signaled the rise of what would become a stellar linebacking crew that led one of the best defenses in college football history.
A knee injury kept Clifford on the sidelines for the 1990 season - a year that ended with victory in the Rose Bowl after a 10-year absence, and foreshadowed the legendary 1991 season. A loaded linebacker room with the likes of Chico Fraley, Hillary Butler and Jaime Fields, meant that Clifford faced stiff competition upon his return to health. And although an integral member of the 1991 team, his injury altered the trajectory he looked to be on from sophomore year.
But with the Ice Bath Time Machine we can have it all. Let’s grab Clifford before his injury and add him to today’s linebacking corps - one that has seen a rash of departures, injuries, and the need to return to form.
Siupeli Malamala, OT, 1987-91
Remember in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure when they jammed the time-travelling phone booth with all those historic figures to bring back for their school report? Well, we won’t quite do that from this period of Husky history - however tempting - but we are gonna grab one more player - offensive tackle Siupeli Malamala.
Malamala was a rock - more of a mountain really - on the Husky O-line during a period that also boasted Lincoln Kennedy, Ed Cunningham, and Pete Kaligis. A three-year starter at right tackle from ‘89 - ‘91, and measuring 6’6” and 300 lbs. (back when 300 lbs. was remarkable), Malamala was a vital member of a team that was reaching the height of its powers. A road grader for Greg Lewis and Beno Bryant, Malamala played on a line that was not just dominant, but intimidating.
My 10th grade biology teacher had a Dawgfather poster up in his classroom - the one from 1991 where they’re all standing around that fancy car. I used to stare at that poster when I should’ve been paying attention in class, and Malamala scared the hell out of me.
The 2021 O-line has both young talent and experience, and returns all of last year’s starters. Of all the position groups, I think this one is least in need of help. But you can never have too much nasty. Or scary. Or both.
(Note: if we wanted to get fistfight-nasty, Olin Kreutz is your man. But the two-time all Pac-10 lineman’s achievements disqualify him from this competition. Don’t tell him.)
Devin Aguilar, WR, 2007-2011
6’1”, 190 lb. receiver Devin Aguilar was the Rocky Mountain News’ All-Colorado Player of the Year as a high school senior in Denver, CO. Aguilar partnered for four years with two-time All Conference WR Jermaine Kearse in a receiving duo that witnessed the Willingham era at its bleakest, then helped the Huskies climb out of the basement and back to respectability.
The duo of Aguilar/Kearse reminds me of Orlando McKay and Mario Bailey, or Charles Frederick and Reggie Williams, with Aguilar filling the role of damn-good-receiver-who-got-less-of-the-spotlight. Aguilar played a vital role in the Huskies return to winning ways, playing in 46 games from 2008-2011 and finishing his career with 131 catches for 1802 yards and 13 touchdowns while earning All-Conference Honorable Mention in ‘09 and ‘11.
A tough and creative receiver, with deceptive talents according to QB Keith Price, the departure of Kearse and Aguilar after 2011 saw a marked drop in the Price-led passing game. A testament to the role Aguilar played at a pivotal time in Husky football history.
JoJo McIntosh, Safety, 2014-2018
Goodness JoJo McIntosh pic.twitter.com/De8UlkAodu— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) November 19, 2017
Full disclosure - JoJo McIntosh is a favorite of mine. A 6’1” 205 lb. safety that could play the run or the pass, McIntosh was the biggest hitter on a defense that was the perennial best in the Pac-12. A three-year starter, McIntosh played alongside Budda Baker, then Taylor Rapp in a run of top-notch secondaries under Chris Petersen and Jimmy Lake.
McIntosh brought a Cam Chancellor-like presence to the backfield - fearless, lurking, waiting to punish receivers and running backs alike. At one point in 2017 or 2018, a friend at one home game turned and asked me why we hadn’t heard JoJo’s name more often. “They’re scared of him!” was my answer, referring to what seemed like the offense intentionally avoiding McIntosh’s part of the field. Can you blame them?
McIntosh was a pillar of the Husky defense from 2016-2018, starting every game but one from 2016-2018, finishing with 212 total tackles (127 solo) for his career and winning All Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2016, and the Guy Flaherty award - given to the team’s most inspirational player - after his senior season in 2018.
Jimmy Lake offered this gem at the time: “He’s really the enforcer back there. I tell guys all the time, if they have the ball and he’s coming downhill, they better get on the ground quick.“ Classic.
I’d like to keep them all, but if we stick to the rules we can only choose one. I’m picking JoJo.
Who would you choose to add to the 2021 Huskies?
This poll is closed