Trey Adams couldn’t help but watch last season’s College Football Playoff championship game, even after the Washington Huskies lost to Alabama in the semifinals.
And as he watched a national title eventually won in thrilling, upset fashion by the Clemson Tigers, a single thought prevailed.
“That we could have been there,” said Adams, now a junior left tackle. “I visualized us there, and it was just weird. But it all just comes back to practice, spring ball, one day at a time.”
So here they are, back on the practice field Monday for the first time since their charmed 2016 season ended with that 24-7 defeat against the Crimson Tide in the Peach Bowl.
That loss, it seems, serves a dual purpose for the Huskies. It is a reminder of how close they were to achieving their ultimate goal of winning a national championship, and a barometer of how well they match up with the nation’s most revered program.
But the simple fact that UW played in the game — win or lose — also prompts motivation to return to that stage.
“You just really want to get back,” said senior receiver Dante Pettis, UW’s top returning pass-catcher from last season. “You have that feeling, whether it’s winning the Pac-12 championship and getting a good feeling, or losing in the semifinals and that terrible feeling. You want to get back to that.”
UW coach Chris Petersen predictably dismissed the notion of last season’s experiences aiding this year’s team, saying “we don’t think like that. This is back to square one, and our record has no relevance to what we did last year.”
“We watched the film,” said sophomore offensive lineman Nick Harris. “We saw what we did right, we saw what we did wrong. We’re putting that to the side. We don’t want to live in the past. We’re just moving on, trying to get better every day.”
That process will be more incremental for some than others — particularly junior quarterback Jake Browning, who underwent offseason surgery to repair an injury to his right shoulder and was limited during Monday’s practice.
Browning, the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, suited up for UW’s first spring practice but didn’t throw many passes, aside from a few light tosses on the sideline during warmups.
When a drill called for three quarterbacks to throw at once, Browning had a ball in his hand and took his drop with the other two, but held onto the ball when the others released. During 11-on-11 periods, quarterbacks K.J. Carta-Samuels and Daniel Bridge-Gadd shared reps while Browning observed from behind the play.
Browning will be more involved as the spring progresses, Petersen said. But the Huskies plan to be careful with him.
“We’re not trying to win spring ball,” Petersen said. “We’re trying to get guys ready to improve each day, so we’ve had this planned since right after the season, how we wanted to use him. So it’ll be a gradual buildup. He’ll do more than he did today, but the trainers and Coach (Jonathan) Smith and all those guys have a very specific plan.”