Editor's note: This is the first in a series focusing on a player to watch at each position for the UW in 2014. We will switch between offensive and defensive units, starting today with the defensive line.
When praise and attention are given to the Washington football team's dangerous defensive line, most of the accolades go to Hau'oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton. And with good reason. Kikaha collected 13 sacks last season, Shelton is a 339-pound roadblock in the middle of the line, and both were named to the preseason watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the country’s top defensive player.
But to focus all the attention on those two — when there is another lineman who will be just as important to the UW’s success this season — is doing a large injustice to Evan Hudson.
Not that he seems to care too much. The 6-foot-6 senior has made his own success at the UW, much of it earned while flying under the radar.
Hudson walked on to the UW team as a tight end in the fall of 2010 after graduating from Bothell High School, where he was also a standout pitcher. He redshirted his freshman year, then pitched for the Huskies baseball team in the spring.
Over the next two years, Hudson caught six passes at tight end, with one touchdown. But Steve Sarkisian and his staff saw untapped potential for Hudson on the defensive line, and decided to shift him there at the start of fall practices in 2013.
The result was better than Sarkisian could have even hoped. Hudson started all 13 games on the line, collecting four sacks and four and a half tackles for loss. Upfront, he and Shelton were instrumental in tying up the interior of opposing offensive lines, which allowed Kikaha to excel.
Hudson said that he really started to feel comfortable on the defensive line early last season.
“I felt pretty at home even a couple of games into last season,” Hudson said. “This year’s a lot easier than last camp, but it’s still just working on getting better every day and working to get our whole team and defense flying to the ball.”
If he can continue to improve on last season, there’s no reason to think that Hudson won’t be a vital cog once again for the defensive line. And with the experience around him in Shelton, Kikaha, and fellow senior Andrew Hudson, Evan believes that this year’s group is as deep as ever.
“Upfront we have four seniors and a bunch of juniors and sophomores who have a lot of experience backing us up,” Hudson said. “We have a lot of chemistry, we know where we’re going to be and what gaps we’re going to be in, so I think that’ll help us a lot.”
While one of the biggest benefits of experience is playing with intelligence in different scenarios on the field, Hudson’s relative lack of defensive experience is hidden by his smarts. Defensive line coach Jeff Choate said that Hudson’s brain is a crucial aspect of his game.
“He’s a really intelligent player,” Choate said. “That’s probably his strong suit. He’s got long levers, understands what we’re trying to do, does a good job of being gap sound, and he’s very disciplined in terms of his assignments.”
Choate also gushed about the opportunities that arise for others around Hudson when he’s playing well.
“He opens up a lot of things. He’s kind of an unsung hero for us,” Choate said. “He takes up a lot of double teams at the three technique, eats up gaps for us, keeps our linebackers clean, creates some opportunities for one-on-ones with our edge rushers and our pass rush. While his name might not come up in the stat sheet a lot, he’s really a valuable member of our front seven.”
Hudson continues to fly under the radar, as Shelton and Kikaha have earned the preseason accolades. But that doesn’t matter to Hudson. What matters to him is how his team plays next Saturday in Hawaii. And he is confident that they will be ready to go.
“I think we’re coming together as a team, really gelling as a unit, both offense and defense,” Hudson said. “We’re just out here competing and trying to get better every day.”
Reach Sports Editor Daniel Rubens at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @drubens12
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