By Tony Castricone (photo credit: Scott Eklund)
August 7, 2018

Day four at Huskies fall camp saw many familiar faces on the sidelines, including Pac-12 Network’s Ashley Adamson, here in Seattle to do a feature story on Husky hoops star Matisse Thybulle, and ESPN’s Kenny Mayne, who introduced himself to me as the person who “led” Washington to the Rose Bowl in the 1977 season.

Head coach Chris Petersen informed the media yesterday that UW has released 5-star recruit Ale Kaho from his National Letter of Intent, meaning he is free to pursue other options.

The defense seems to continue to set the pace in most practices, with several interceptions, breakups and all-around disruptive play with great consistency and depth. But both of Washington’s featured backs look impressive through five days of camp.

I had the chance to catch up with both Salvon Ahmed and Heisman candidate Myles Gaskin and got to know these two roommates and wind sprint workout partners a little better.

TC: Having a year under your belt, what’s the biggest difference for you?

Salvon Ahmed: Just maturity. Just knowing what to expect coming out here. A lot of it is stress-free. I was really stressed last year just over-thinking a lot of things, and that just comes with learning experience. I think this year, I think the biggest difference is maturity.

TC: What was stressful?

SA: I mean, just trying to learn all the plays. Coach Pete always told me, I’m always trying to do something to the T, just because I want to get it down. So just a lot of over-thinking. So, maybe not stressful, but just over-thinking everything.

TC: Tell me what you think about camp so far. You guys now have pads on. How have the first five days been?

SA: The first five days have been good. You know, you got a lot of guys that have just been working on tackling. Whenever they make moves down field, you kind of get to see, and kind of get to simulate the game a lot better with pads on. So I think it just makes us better with pads on. Kind of get everyone going as a team.

TC: You’re playing, obviously, with Myles Gaskin. I wonder, what have you learned from No. 9, and having him as an upperclassman here?

SA: Work ethic. I mean, just a crazy work ethic. Always working hard. Extra work. And his patience as well throughout the game. Taking it slow when you’ve got the ball and going through all your reads. But I think the thing I take away the most is the work ethic. He works like a dog every day. So that’s what I take away from him and try to emulate that.

TC: Give me an example.

SA: I mean, every day, we’re going in the weight room, working out after practice. I mean everyone on the team does that. That’s just kind of what we do and the culture we’ve created here. But just like, off-season, on the weekends, we’ve had a hard week of training with the strength and conditioning coaches, we go hit the hills, different things like that. I mean, those are things that I do in the past, but it sort of just gives you a different tempo when you’ve got someone else with you. So it’s just those things that kind of make a difference.

TC: Let’s talk a little kick returning. I know that’s something you excelled at a year ago. Is there something especially exciting about the kickoff play in football for you?

SA: I like how you can start a game off quick. You can make a play right off the bat and kind of let the team know that the offense is ready, and your guys have come prepared and your guys are ready to play. So I just think that’s the best part about kickoff returns. You can make that the first play of the game and kind of set the tone there.

TC: What do you think about that rule change, where you can call a fair catch now and bring it out like it’s a touchback?

SA: It’s cool. I’m not really tripping over it. We get the ball, we’re going to make a difference no matter who’s back there, so… gotta just get the ball and do what we’re coached to do.

TC: Does it change how you approach it though? Does the fact that you can call a fair catch, does that change your approach?

SA:  No, not at all. It’s just another tool you can use in the kick return game. I don’t think it makes a difference in how you’re going to play it. So I don’t think it should be that much of a difference maker.

TC: What’s the key for you in being good at the kick return game?

SA:  Just taking my coaching and trying to take my game to the next level. Trying to really take what they’re saying and put that into my game. I think that will be the best part, and just kind of playing more free.

TC: Isn’t that one of the unique challenges in football? To be looking up and to have 11 guys running down at you? How do you deal with that?

SA: I mean, you do it every day at practice, so you get all the reps you need. I think punt return’s a little bit harder. Because you’ve got time when you’re on kick return. You let the ball get to you, you’ve got great blocking in front of you. It’s just something you do throughout the week, too. So you just get more practice, and there’s nothing to it.

TC: What are you studying?

SA: I’m an education major.

TC: Right on. Are you in your second year of that?

SA: Yeah, I’m in my second year. I’m enjoying it.

TC: What made you want to get into education?

SA: You know, I just always wanted to help younger kids. Help kids who don’t come from the best backgrounds. And be able to try to make a difference. Point them in the right direction.

TC: Do you want to be a coach, too?

SA: No, I don’t want to be a coach. I don’t think. I don’t know. I know I want to be some sort of educator, counselor, something to do with education and helping younger kids.

TC: Do you want to do more elementary level or high school?

SA: Yeah, elementary, junior high, high school, try to stay in that area. Probably junior high, though. I think that’s where you need to learn the most to be able to take it to the next level.

TC: What kind of stuff are you going through at UW right now that helps you prepare for that?

SA: Just the classes I’m taking, education classes. I just take the basic classes. Education 305, and things like that. Usually about the democracy of education, and so, you just learned about how socio-economic background obviously makes a difference. Coming from a background of higher education (versus) if your parents didn’t go to college, that makes a difference in how your study habits are, the things you learn at a younger age, and the work ethic kids go to school with when they don’t come from that kind of background. So that’s just the kind of stuff I learned in my classes and how much of a difference maker it is, and just after learning that stuff, I’d love to be a difference maker in that area.

TC: Was there one person in particular that made you want to major in that? Someone that maybe you looked up to, and you’d like to be that person for someone else?

SA: My high school coach (Lele Te’o). He’s a coach, but he’s also someone who helped the community, all the way from elementary to junior high to high school. He was a high school coach. He’d always have us go to elementary schools and read to the kids. That was something he set up for us back in high school just to try to get these kids good study habits, logging their reading hours. It was just good to learn that stuff at a young age. So if anyone kind of pushed me in that direction, it’d be him.

TC: I asked Salvon Ahmed what it is that he’s learned most from you, and he said “work ethic.” What is he observing in your work ethic, maybe some specifics, that you try to use as leadership?

Myles Gaskin: I think, me and him are the same body type. I think for myself, I try to focus on, like, I’m not going to get bigger. I’m not going to be the biggest dude in the world. Just being able to be smart and crafty like Coach Pete says, the biggest thing, being able to have, like, just a toolbox, a bag, whatever you want to call it, just being able to do some certain things that guys aren’t going to be expecting because we are smaller. When it comes to blocking, being able to cut a dude without him even seeing it coming, even though they expect it because we are already small. Things like that. I think we watched a lot of film this off-season. We ran hills, worked out every day. We did everything we could to get better for this camp and for this season. He pushes me just as much as I push him. So I don’t think about him like I’m bringing him along. We live together. So sometimes I’ll be laid up in my bed, I’m tired, and he’s like “let’s go! Let’s go run some hills, get some ladders.” So I wouldn’t say it’s so much me or him. It’s both of us. We try to outwork each other as much as we can.

TC: Do you have any other roommates on the team?

MG: Jordan Miller and Dustin Bush.

TC: Sounds like a pretty fun house.

MG: Yeah, man! It’s all fun and games.

TC: Are there any house competitions? Any Fortnite tournaments or Madden tournaments?

MG: I would say… I mean, Jordan and Dustin play a lot of video games. Me and Salvon, no. I think the most conversation we have is who’s a better hooper, and who’s faster. That’s the only conversation that really comes up, really ever. (Laughing)

TC: I’ve noticed you guys take a lot of pride in who’s faster. You’re joking with him a moment ago about who wins more sprints. That’s like the third time I’ve heard you in the first five days of camp argue about this. Like, it’s a big deal for you, isn’t it?

MG: Yeah, I mean… that’s like Day One competing when you’re a little kid. I mean, he came in being the fastest dude in the world when he came in, so I was like, “let me race this dude!” He’s fast. But he ain’t faster than me.

TC: What’s it like to be on the cover of all these magazines? Have you seen any of them?

MG: My mom shows them to me. I mean, it’s a blessing. I’ve never been a guy to be into a lot of things like that. I just love football. I really do. I’m really thankful for those things, though. I really am. But, I just like to play football. I like to be around these guys. I mean, they’re my brothers, to the fullest. We have fun every day. We laugh and joke in that locker room. We laugh and joke out here. Compete out here. And I think that’s what it is. I think that’s what breeds all this other stuff. Talking to you guys and being thankful for all of it. But I think most importantly, it’s just having fun playing football, and everything else will come. I think I’m just trying to take as much as I can in, but it is what it is. It’s a blessing.

TC: You have a huge senior class that’s accomplished a lot. You have a lot of guys that have been in the trenches together for a long time. Do you think that depth of brotherhood is an advantage for your team compared to other college football teams?

MG: I think so. I think with myself and Jake, especially since we’ve been together, I think I’ve noticed certain things. We’ve worked out certain things we used to have, like my freshman and sophomore year, like miscommunications. We don’t have that anymore. I think that translates to the O-line and everybody else. The DBs and all that type of stuff. I think just little things like that. Little things that can go a long way. Missed coverages, missed assignments don’t really happen so much anymore. And when they do, it’s kind of like “what just happened?” and it’s cut right then. It happens once and then it never will happen again.