It’s early August, and Dante Pettis cannot seem to keep his mind off one thing.
That topic has very little to do with his own football team at the University of Washington, which is coming off a Pac-12 title and semifinal appearance in the College Football Playoff, losing to Alabama in the Peach Bowl.
He is more concerned with another club, the one where his father, Gary, a former 11-year big-league outfielder, serves as the third-base coach — the Houston Astros.
Even with the Astros holding a huge lead in the AL West, Pettis seemed a bit restless over Houston’s inability to deal for another top pitcher at the Major League Baseball trading deadline.
“I thought for sure we were going to get someone big,” Pettis said. “We got (Francisco) Liriano. That definitely helps.”
The stage is set in 2017 for Pettis, a senior, to do more than just “help” the Huskies.
He is primed to be The Man.
“I think that is what every receiver wants — to be the guy getting as many touches as you can,” Pettis said.
After serving three seasons as a second fiddle to somebody else in the UW receiving corps, including last year to record-setting, NFL-bound John Ross, Pettis comfortably should now be quarterback Jake Browning’s top target.
“Obviously he played a huge role in what was going on last year,” Browning said. “Ross got a lot of the publicity, but Dante had (two) less touchdowns. He’s been a guy for us for a while.”
The Huskies totaled a whopping 77 touchdowns in 14 games in 2016. Pettis had a hand in 18 of those scores, tying Ross for the team lead for any player not named Browning.
I think that is what every receiver wants — to be the guy getting as many touches as you can.
Huskies receiver Dante Pettis
His 15 touchdown receptions were second on the team to Ross’ 17, but still the third-highest total in school history — and seventh-most ever in the conference. He ranked seventh in the country last season as well.
Pettis had five mutiple-touchdown receiving games, including a career-high three scores at California.
He also notched four 100-yard receiving days, including a career-best 134 yards at Oregon.
“I thought he was pretty good watching him last year from afar,” said Matt Lubick, Oregon’s former passing-game coordinator who is now the Huskies’ receivers coach. “You see all the plays he makes on the football field, but why he is a great player — an elite player — is because of what he does off the field by studying film, taking notes, sitting in the front row (in team meetings) and taking advantage of every opportunity during the day to get better.
“He is one of the best I’ve been around at doing that.”
Without a proven threat on the opposite end, Pettis said he expects Pac-12 defenses to do different things to game plan for him. How? He isn’t sure double-teaming him will be the primary mode.
“I could see it happening,” Pettis said. “We still have good guys on the other side of the field. Who knows what they will do? I don’t know if they want to leave the other side of the field that open.”
Pettis can hurt you big in another way — returning punts.
Last season, Pettis was just one of six players around the country to scored two or more touchdowns on punt returns.
He scored on a 68-yard return in the season opener against Rutgers in a 48-13 win at Husky Stadium. And later in the year, he set a UW record with his fifth career punt-return score by taking 58-yarder back in the final minutes to lead the Huskies past Utah, 31-24.
It’s not out of the question that Pettis also could throw another touchdown pass, like he did last season against California. He is still the holder on kicks, so just in case UW coach Chris Petersen wants a little razzle-dazzle on special teams.
“I would call a fake if I could,” Pettis said. “I don’t know if Coach Pete would like it that much.”
Even with just an average season at wide receiver, Pettis should move into the top five in career receptions (has 100 catches; Paul Skanski’s 161 receptions ranks No. 5), receiving yards (has 1,495 yards; Jaydon Micken’ 2,187 yards ranks No. 5) and touchdowns (has 17 touchdowns; Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ 21 scores ranks No. 5).
“The more times you get the ball in your hands,” Pettis said, “the better.”
Spoken like a true No. 1 receiver.