Mathisen: Washington Football’s Biggest Impact Freshman for 2020

Who takes up the young leadership mantle donned by Trent McDuffie last season?

Posted on October 28, 2020

  By Nathan Mathisen of Dash Sports TV for SuperWest Sports

Last year, Washington freshman Trent McDuffie made huge impact plays game after game. His season-long performance earned him a spot on the Second-Team Freshman All-America team, as well as an honorable mention for Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.

Now the question is which freshman from the 2020 class will have a similar impact season?


There are a few names that come to mind.  Let’s start with the two four-star freshman wide receivers, Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan. They both have the ability to be impact players from day one, but with so many talented Husky wide receivers, it could be difficult for them to find playing time immediately.

If either one of them does work their way onto the field, however, that one will likely make some big plays. 

In his four years of high school football, McMillan hauled in 260 receptions for 5,234 yards and 54 touchdowns. He absolutely stuffed the stat sheet, and was named to the CalHiSports All-State First Team as a senior. 


As a senior, Odunze made 54 catches for 1,222 yards and 15 touchdowns, earning both the Gatorade and MaxPreps Nevada Player of the Year awards.

He came to UW with a college-ready body at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. And he has speed to burn, having already run a 4.55-second 40 yard dash, and a four-second shuttle time, and won the 4A state title at 200 meters and the 4×100 relay.

Another strong candidate for impact freshman would be offensive lineman Myles Murao, a highly touted four-star recruit who figures to have great career at UW.


Murao has drawn high praise from Husky coaches and defensive line players throughout fall camp, so there is a shot that he earns the starting center or guard position. Even if he doesn’t land a starting spot, Murao is likely be on the field in short spurts, giving the other linemen breaks.

The name that stands out the most, however, who I feel has the best shot at making an immediate impact, is Sav’ell Smalls.

Smalls is a five-star outside linebacker who can play with his hand in the dirt as well as standing upright. At 250 pounds, he’s currently smaller than the projected two starting outside linebackers, and would benefit from time in the weight room.


Nonetheless, with Joe Tryon having opted out, the outside linebacker position for UW is much thinner than projected at just six outside linebackers. And five of the six are either a sophomore or a freshman, with no juniors and only one senior. Smalls could easily win one of the starting spots.

Senior Ryan Bowman is the clear leader of the group, but behind him, anyone could win the second starting spot. Sophomore Laiatu Latu likely has a leg up in the race as he had the most playing time last year out of the other outside linebackers, playing in 12 of the 13 games, and recording 15 tackles. Zion Tupuola-Fetui, also a sophomore, played in all 12 games, but he only recorded 9 tackles.

With so little experience at the OLB position, Smalls could start from Week One if he lives up to his five-star status and dominates the way he has dominated on every previous level.


In short, the Huskies have a strong 2020 class with a lot of freshmen who could make immediate impacts. I didn’t even mention four-star quarterback Ethan Garbers, who would have a tremendous impact were he to win the starting job.

Even with so many freshmen capable of making an impact this season, Sav’ell Smalls seems most likely to fill McDuffie’s shoes.

You can watch Mathisen’s Husky Dash Sports Talk Show on Dash Sports TV, and read Mathisen’s other sports stories and columns at The Daily.

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