Washington’s two return specialists will share the field on Saturday with one of the country’s most accomplished punt-and-kick returners.
John Ross, UW’s own speedy kick returner, has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in two college seasons. Dante Pettis, UW’s junior punt returner, has returned three punts for touchdowns in two college seasons. He even set a school record last year with an average of 16.9 yards per return.
That’s a total of six return touchdowns between two guys. That’s an enviable number.
Rutgers receiver Janarion Grant, though, has six by himself.
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Grant, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior from Trilby, Florida, has returned four kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns in his career. He returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season alone, and he ran back a kickoff and a punt for scores against Washington State.
That means the Huskies’ 11 a.m. season opener Saturday at Husky Stadium will feature three all-conference-caliber returners.
“They’ve got a phenomenal returner,” UW coach Chris Petersen said of Grant. “And not only a returner — he’s just a really, really good player. So we have our hands full, without question, right out of the gate.”
Grant is Rutgers’ all-time kick return yardage leader (2,411), and he caught 35 passes last season for 352 yards and a touchdown.
UW defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said the coaching staff went back and watched film of Grant from his freshman season, when he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Fresno State on the first touch of his collegiate career.
Lake expects Rutgers to feature Grant’s skills in other ways, too.
“He’s going to be something definitely to deal with in the special teams arena,” Lake said, “but also on offense. We think he’s going to be everywhere, and they’re going to be trying to give him a lot of touches throughout the game.”
Ross, meanwhile, is simply ready to play, period, after missing all of last season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He says his knee feels fine, and that he hopes the Huskies lose the coin toss so he can get his hands on a kick return right away.
Petersen, who typically chooses to defer, said he isn’t changing his strategy.
“But I like his mentality,” Petersen said, “and that’s how it should be when you’re a guy who can make plays. You want the ball as soon as possible.”
Ross, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown the last time he played — on Jan. 2, 2015, against Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl — said he has a day-by-day countdown clock as the screensaver on his phone.
“I look at it every single day,” Ross said. “It’s the Rutgers mascot and it pops up and just says ‘game day.’ ”
He’s looking forward to that first Rutgers kickoff, whenever it might be.
“A lot of my family members are coming out,” Ross said. “I know the fans are going to be going crazy. The team’s going to be hyping me up if we get it. So I’m really looking forward to that.”