Talent Evolution: Centers and Tight Ends



In 2008, the Washington center was senior Juan Garcia backed up by sophomore Matt Sedillo and sophomore Greg Christine.  Behind them was fifth-year senior Robert Lukevich whose character and loyalty to Washington were unquestionable because, although he never played a down in five years, he never quit trying.  Drew Schaefer was a true freshman but the thought of him playing center had not yet occurred to anyone.

Sixth-year senior Garcia was special.  At one point as an underclassman he lived in Ballard but didn’t have a car.  He needed to work out regularly beginning at around 5:30 a.m. with the rest of the team but the buses didn’t run in time for him to get to workouts.  Each day in the winter darkness, he would rise and ride his bike in the rain to the Washington campus.  December.  January.  February.  Cold.  Dark.  Wet.  At that time, Steve Emtman, still strength coach, said that if the rest of the team had the attitude and desire of Juan Garcia, they’d be fine.  After Washington, Garcia made the Minnesota Vikings roster as a free agent.

In 2011, senior Drew Schaefer will start at center with the back-up undetermined although Dan Kanczugowski was being tried there during spring ball, and freshman Michael Criste played the position while on the scout team in 2010.  Kanczugowski is now academically ineligible.  A number of options could be considered for backing up Schaefer.  Criste, at guard during the spring, may go back to center.  In a pinch, Colin Porter could slide over from right guard.  Or versatile Erik Kohler could practice the position, just in case.  Tight end Evan Hudson has experience as a long snapper but not as an every-down center.  With respect to direct depth, center is one of the weaker positions on the 2011 team.

All things considered with respect to starter and remaining depth, the nod goes to 2008.  Garcia and the center position were among the few bright spots on the 2008 team.

Tight end

In 2008, reliable senior Michael Gottlieb, a former Kingco walk-on, started and played well as both pass catcher and blocker.  His backup, senior Walt Winter, did well but never reached the level some expected when Winter, named to the all-state team and having played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl before his freshman year, arrived at Washington.

The freshmen tight ends were Marek Domanski, Chris Izbicki, Parade All-American Kavario Middleton, and Romeo Savant.  Middleton played as a true freshman and started as a sophomore in 2009, having some bright moments on the field but, with darker moments off the field, was dismissed from the team by Coach Steve Sarkisian in July 2010.

By the end of the 2010 season, Washington had undersized Marlion Bennett, an injured Chris Izbicki, and untested Marek Domanski at tight end.  Dorson Boyce had been moved to fullback.  Offensive tackle, 327 lb. Dan Kanczugowski was moved to tight end and started.  Kanczugowski’s blocking following the switch worked well for tailback Chris Polk but the need to move Kanczugowski to tight end was further indication position depth was extremely weak.

But what a difference a year makes.

Washington is approaching fall 2011 practices.  On one hand, Kanczugowski is ineligible, senior Domanski is still untested, and 2011 could have been Middleton’s senior year.  On the other, beginning with spring ball, the tight end position has become suddenly strong because of the new personnel available.

Michael Hartvigson, an athletic 6’ 6” 250 lb. redshirt freshman who was all-state on defense and all-area on offense while at Bothell High, is healthy and champing at the bit, as is his former Bothell High teammate 6’ 6” 250 redshirt freshman Evan Hudson who was all-state on offense.  Both are good but, based on spring ball performances, not as good as U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection 6’ 6” 250 (at least) lb. true freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins.  Although the players are young and inexperienced at the collegiate level, all at once Washington has talented depth at tight end.

Preceding spring ball, some erroneously speculated Hartvigson was the better blocker, and Seferian-Jenkins the better receiver, of the two, and Evan Hudson’s athleticism was best evidenced by his 95 mph fastball.  Coaches working with Hudson, however, have indicated the invited walk-on is smart, quick and athletic; he’ll play.  It is unfair to underrate Hudson.  Were it not for Hartvigson and Seferian-Jenkins, Hudson could be the man.  It is also unfair to imply Hartvigson is little more than a good blocker, or that Seferian-Jenkins is weak at the line-of-scrimmage.  Hartivigson has good hands while Seferian-Jenkins impressed U.S. Army All-American Bowl coaches with his blocking.  When discussing Seferian-Jenkins and Hartvigson, comparisons have been made with stand-out Washington tight end combinations of Aaron Pierce and Mark Bruener in the early 90s, and Cam Cleeland and Jeremy Brigham in the mid 90s.  And neither era had a third-string tight end like Hudson as part of the equation.

In summary, Hudson, Hartvigson and Seferian-Jenkins are all good players who may bring more individual tight end talent to Washington than has been seen for many years.

Competition among the three will make all three better preparatory to who will start.  At the same time, because of the talent level, Coach Sarkisian has talked about using double tight end formations.  In certain situations, it may become strategically advantageous to have a double tight end set with a third tight end effectively (or, perhaps, surreptitiously) at a receiving position in which case all three will be on the field together.  Coaches Dan Cozetto, Jimmie Dougherty and Doug Nussmeier could have a lot of fun with that combination.

In summary, while Gottlieb and Winter did yeomen’s work and did it adequately in 2008, Seferian-Jenkins, Hartvigson and Hudson have the size and talent to develop into a formidable trio, providing a weapon that has not been part of the Washington arsenal since the 1990s.