Upon arrival at the University of Washington, the Huskies’ first-year coaching staff sat down and watched film of the 2013 season to evaluate the players returning for 2014.
Jeff Choate, the Huskies’ defensive line coach, turned on that footage and likely saw a lot of Danny Shelton, Hau’oli Kikaha and Evan Hudson, three senior starters who also anchored the defensive front a year ago.
What Choate didn’t see was Andrew Hudson, who played so little as a fourth-year junior in 2013 that he finished with two total tackles and was told by the previous coaching staff that he would be better off playing his final college season somewhere else.
“I know he’s a guy who expressed on a number of occasions his desire to have a good senior year here,” Choate said.
And while Hudson doesn’t have 14.5 sacks like Kikaha or four defensive touchdowns like Shaq Thompson, his numbers — 44 tackles, six tackles for loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles while starting each of UW’s eight games at defensive end — indicate a quietly productive season as part of one of the Pac-12’s most productive defenses.
“This has definitely been the funnest year of football for me, and we’re already over halfway through the season,” said Hudson, who led UW with 10 tackles last week against Arizona State. “Each game has been so much more memorable.”
And that must be pleasantly surprising to those who assumed Hudson’s career at UW had ended with the 2013 season.
That story has been told before. You’ll recall that Hudson, along with fellow fourth-year juniors DiAndre Campbell, Taz Stevenson and Jamaal Kearse, were introduced as seniors prior to last year’s Apple Cup. The decision was made that each player, degree in hand, would move on from the UW program.
Then coach Steve Sarkisian left for USC, the UW hired Chris Petersen, and Hudson and Campbell told the new staff they wanted to stay and play for the Huskies as fifth-year seniors.
Petersen obliged. And Hudson vowed that 2014 would be different. Through eight games, he’s accomplished that.
“Football’s not just about wins and losses. There’s a lot of life lessons, and that’s one of them,” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “He had a lot of adversity last year, most of it out of his control, but his attitude is all in his control. And he’s the first guy to say his attitude wasn’t right, and flipped the switch and has had an awesome senior year.”
But he’s also playing better because he doesn’t take everything so seriously all the time.
“It’s all been fun,” Hudson said. “It’s all been loose. Free. The fight is there, especially those situations like this last week (the goal-line stand against Arizona State).
“So, I don’t know. Going into those situations with this attitude has been better. Not so uptight, tense — ‘We’ve got to win, make a play, do my job,’ whatever. That’s been the biggest difference for me.”
Hudson’s transformation started in the winter, lifting weights and working out under the guidance of first-year strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha, who identifies the 6-foot-3, 246-pound native of Redlands, California, as a standout.
“The first thing that he did was have the best offseason of anyone in our program,” Choate said. “If you ask Coach Socha who was the best guy in the offseason program, without hesitation, he says Andrew Hudson.”
Kikaha sees it, too, describing Hudson as “just a different guy” and praising his technique at the “four-eye” spot, lining up on the inside eye of the offensive tackle.
“It’s hard to pass-rush out of four-eye, and that’s probably what he’s best at, in my opinion,” Kikaha said. “He’s gotten a few sacks this year off of things like that.”
Hudson is enjoying it all — even the little things, like spending time with teammates at hotels and on airplanes — knowing that he seized a second chance and turned into one of the Huskies’ most consistent players.
“He put everything he could into making sure that he was going to have the best senior season he could have,” Choate said. “And I don’t think his mindset was about producing and being the starter. I think his mindset was about enjoying his experience, his teammates, leaving the University of Washington and saying, ‘Yeah, I look back 20 years from now, and I had a good experience.’ And the byproduct of his attitude being right is that he is having that kind of production on the field.”