University of Washington

Offensive ‘spark’ Chico McClatcher returns in Huskies’ victory over Eastern Washington

UW receiver Chico McClatcher on his return

Washington wide receiver Chico McClatcher took time away from football last season for personal reasons. On Saturday, he scored a touchdown in the Huskies' season-opening win over Eastern Washington.
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Washington wide receiver Chico McClatcher took time away from football last season for personal reasons. On Saturday, he scored a touchdown in the Huskies' season-opening win over Eastern Washington.

When the starters were announced at Husky Stadium on Saturday, it was difficult to tell who received the bigger cheer: Jacob Eason or Chico McClatcher.

Eason, the former Lake Stevens star who transferred from Georgia, was making his debut at quarterback. To say his first game was highly anticipated would be putting it mildly.

But Husky fans seemed just as excited to watch Federal Way’s McClatcher.

Eight games into the 2018 season, the senior wide receiver took time away from football for personal reasons. During fall camp, McClatcher said multiple factors played into that decision: family issues, physical struggles, difficulty moving on from on-the-field mistakes.

UW head coach Chris Petersen told him to take all the time he needed, encouraging him not to quit football for good. By the time winter workouts started, McClatcher was ready to return.

And as the Huskies rolled to a 47-14 victory over Eastern Washington, he put all of it behind him.

For good.

“A lot of adversity hit me last year,” McClatcher said after the game. “My teammates were around me, supporting me through it. But today I tried not to think about that. I just wanted to move on from that really. Today we played great as a whole team.”

McClatcher finished with five receptions for 57 yards and an 11-yard touchdown. After the score, he was swarmed by teammates in the end zone. As he turned to walk back toward the sideline, offensive lineman Jaxson Kirkland lifted him off the ground from behind.

“I think sometimes it’s bigger than just football and bigger than the games,” said offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. “You coach these guys, you get extremely close to them and you know how special of a moment that was for him and us.”

Senior wide receiver Aaron Fuller said McClatcher makes the Huskies more dynamic, no matter if he’s on offense or special teams.

“He just creates a spark whether that’s through the trick plays or screens or running routes and things like that,” Fuller said. “He’s a big spark to the offense.”

Judging by the response to McClatcher’s touchdown, Husky fans agree. After the game, McClatcher greeted onlookers in the student section as calls of “We love you, Chico!” drifted down from the stands.

“There was a good feeling finally getting into the end zone after a while,” McClatcher. “But like I said, I’m trying not to dwell on the past and just move forward.”

Richard Newton makes an impact

If you predicted that redshirt freshman running back Richard Newton would score the first touchdown of the season, you just might be the only one.

But on fourth-and-two early in the first quarter, Newton — a former high school quarterback — took the direct snap and went 23-yards into the end zone. As he walked off the field, he looked at Petersen, grinned and said, “This college-football thing is kind of easy. Can I roll out and throw a pass next time?”

“One thing at a time,” Petersen said after the game. “Let’s slow that down. But seeing him and his running style — putting his pads down and going forward and keeping his legs going — there’s not a lot of dancing around.”

The 6-foot, 210-pound Newton was UW’s leading rusher against the Eagles, finishing with 91 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Hamdan said Newton’s history as a quarterback made him a perfect fit for the wildcat.

“We think he’s got good command,” Hamdan said. “He’s tough. He’s got a good feel.”

Nick Harris injury

UW center Nick Harris, a preseason AP All-American and All-Pac-12 first-team selection, was injured in the first half of the game and never returned.

Harris limped off the field with the help of two trainers and made a brief stop in the medical tent. He then spent the remainder of the game standing on the sideline without his helmet and didn’t appear seriously injured. Since UW had the game well in hand, there was little reason for Harris to return even if he was able.

With Harris out, redshirt freshman Matteo Mele took over at center. Other than a few bad snaps, including a high one on Eason’s 64-yard incomple pass intended for Aaron Fuller, Male looked solid.

“Matteo has been getting a lot of reps in practice,” Petersen said. “We practiced it a lot, so it was good to get him really good reps. We’ll see about Nick and see how it goes.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive.com. A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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