As Washington took the field at Husky Stadium for early warm-ups during the spring preview on Saturday, an announcement blared over the loud speaker: Former cornerback Jordan Miller had been selected by the Atlanta Falcons in Round 5 of the NFL Draft.
Miller was the third member of last year’s starting secondary to get drafted. Cornerback Keith Taylor was finishing up a drill when he heard, and he skipped back over to his teammates in celebration.
Later in the day, safety JoJo McIntosh signed with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent, meaning both starting cornerbacks and starting safeties from the 2018 Pac-12 Championship team are headed to the NFL.
That’s the reason junior defensive back Isaiah Gilchrist trusts the process, just like those former players repeatedly advised him to.
It hasn’t always been an easy road for Gilchrist. After playing in eight games as a redshirt freshman, he saw action in just three games last year. There were times when his confidence faltered, and times when he wondered if his moment would ever come.
That’s where players like Miller and McIntosh, Taylor Rapp and Gilchrist’s former roommate, Byron Murphy, came in. They never let him stay down for long.
“Everybody was making sure to keep my head up,” he said. “I feel like it was just a big thing for me to learn from some of the greats that passed through UW.”
During Saturday’s scrimmage periods, Gilchrist offered a glimpse of the kind of player he could become. He finished with a team-high two interceptions, including one off of Jacob Sirmon that he returned 40 yards for a touchdown. He intercepted Jake Haener for the other.
“When you see green grass like that, you just got to make sure you catch the ball before you start running,” Gilchrist said, grinning as he talked about his pick-6. “Like Coach (Jimmy) Lake says, don’t miss a layup. It was awesome.”
Gilchrist had plenty to grin about, and he flashed a smile often as he talked to the media after the practice. For a player still looking to carve out his role in the Huskies’ defense, the performance was particularly meaningful.
“Even if you think back to when I was somewhat getting down on myself, these coaches always believed in me,” Gilchrist said, happily answering questions his perch on the end of a stage in UW’s interview room. “They’re always wanting to put you in the best position to succeed. I feel like once you just buy into all of that, you start making plays and it’s just awesome to have that happen.”
To understand the importance of staying the course, Gilchrist just had to watch the product on the field — or tune into the NFL Draft over the past three days.
“Obviously not everyone comes in and just immediately plays,” he said. “You got to work your way up, learn from guys above and when it’s your turn to make plays, you got to go out there and make plays.
“I feel comfortable now that I know the defense. I don’t want to say in-and-out, but I have a fairly good knowledge of the defense and I feel like it’s much easier to make plays when you know what you’re doing.”
Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said Gilchrist has shown flashes of his abilities. He’s smart, Lake said, and he understands the game. That’s why he’s been able to successfully rotate through multiple positions.
“And then today, he’s physical, he made plays on the football, he’s getting interceptions, scoring,” Lake said. “He needs to carry that over into the weight room the next few months and then take that energy, that focus that he had today into training camp and then keep getting attention from us and then he’s going to get more reps when we get to game day.”
Gilchrist, who also had four tackles and a pass breakup, has worked to make himself as versatile as possible so he’s ready to plug in wherever Lake needs him. He said that can be difficult during spring when the coaches are adding four or five new plays every day. But the repetition helps. Over the past month, he’s grown more comfortable at each position.
Now, his biggest challenge is taking another step forward during fall camp.
The spring preview provided the perfect launching point.
“When it comes down to it, I just got to make more plays than I have,” he said. “This year I’m just trying to focus on making as much plays as possible and coming back to knowing the defense.
“The more you know, you’re not thinking about anything. You’re just running around playing. That was big for me.”