University of Washington

Dante Pettis is now a NCAA record holder. Here’s how he did it.

Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis has returned nine punts for touchdowns in his career. He surpassed former Oklahoma defensive back Antonio Perkins and former Texas Tech star receiver Wes Welker to set the NCAA record Saturday.
Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis has returned nine punts for touchdowns in his career. He surpassed former Oklahoma defensive back Antonio Perkins and former Texas Tech star receiver Wes Welker to set the NCAA record Saturday. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

Anyone who watched Dante Pettis set the NCAA record for most punts returned for touchdowns will have certain memories.

Fans are going to recall the thrill of the moment. Pettis will remember nearly every step he took on a historic 64-yard return.

Washington’s coaches and players will do the same. They’ll also pay homage to the supporting cast who played a role in Pettis’ monumental effort Saturday in a 38-3 win over Oregon at Husky Stadium.

“Getting the record was pretty cool,” Pettis said. “Extremely thankful for my guys blocking. Obviously (thankful) to God for letting it be possible. This week has just been insane. Lot of blessings coming our way. We just gotta thank God for that.”

Pettis is the author of nine punts returned for touchdowns. He surpassed former Oklahoma defensive back Antonio Perkins and former Texas Tech star receiver Wes Welker for the honor.

His four punt returns in one season also ties a Pac-12 record set by California’s Deshaun Jackson in 2006 and again by Oregon’s Cliff Harris in 2010.

The return also gave him 1,258 career return yards which is also a Pac-12 record.

Pettis was already on an emotional high after watching the Houston Astros win the World Series. His father, Gary, is the team’s third base coach.

A few days later, Pettis became the latest member of his family with something to celebrate.

The Ducks and Huskies were tied at 3-3 when Oregon punter Adam Stack launched the football in Pettis’ general direction.

By the time Pettis got the ball, he already received blocks from Austin Joyner, Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor. They gave Pettis such a cushion, there wasn’t an Oregon player within five yards.

He took off and sped past Oregon’s Sampson Niu and found open space. UW’s Camilo Eifler and Brandon Wellington picked up two more blocks.

The 6-foot-1 and 195-pound Pettis had to find away around Ducks lineman Drayton Carlberg, who is 6-5 and 286 pounds.

Advantage. Pettis.

Carlberg reached to grab Pettis, who was instantly gone and with Stack in his sights.

Stack, a freshman, was now charged with stopping the most dangerous punt returner in NCAA history.

Advantage. Pettis.

He turned the corner and glided into the end zone untouched where he then celebrated with his teammates.

“I just remember there was one guy in front of me when I caught it. I don’t even know which way I went around him,” Pettis recalled. “I don’t know if I went right or left and broke through the middle and there was like three big linemen and was like, ‘OK, gotta get past them.’ And I saw the punter and ran on the punter. That was it.”

Pettis attracts the attention, but those around him are also aware of who’s in front of him.

UW’s punt return unit isn’t filled with randoms off the roster. Its a group comprised of mainly veterans — some are also starters at other positions.

Ben Burr-Kirven, the team’s leading tackler, was blocking for Pettis. He also finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles.

Joyner, who is now a starting cornerback, was constantly shadowing his assigned receiver and also blocked for Pettis.

Another member of the unit? How about true freshman running back Salvon Ahmed. The former four-star prospect — who also scored on a 58-yard touchdown run — got in front of a lineman long enough to knock him off course while trying to pursue Pettis.

“Thing is when you see Dante score them touchdowns, you gotta go back and look at them blocks. Some of those dudes are starters,” Huskies linebacker Keishawn Beirria said. “Ben is a starter on there. A bunch of DBs that start on punt return who are out there locking guys down play by play. First down, second down, third down, fourth down.

“They’re out there locking guys down and running 50 yards down the field and setting up blocks for Dante.”

Huskies coach Chris Petersen said the team’s punt return unit takes pride in being able to block and create lanes for Pettis.

Petersen said UW’s goal is to place Pettis in a position so he can create an opportunity any time he fields a punt.

The return was the kindle that ignited the Huskies en route to scoring 38 unanswered points and still holding their place as the Pac-12’s only chance to reach the College Football Playoff.

“(Huskies special teams coach) Bob Gegory does a great job of kind of mixing different rushers going toward the punter,” Petersen said. “Dante played it well. We kinda changed our style last week in terms of rolling out and not kicking it super far.

“Sometimes, those are hard to get your hands on the ball to make a guy miss. He came through.”

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark

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