It’s finally here.
The finish line is within reach for Jake Browning, off in the distance some six months and untold journeys ahead.
The quarterback who always competed beyond his years, dating to his Folsom youth, and one who never came across as unhinged or even the least bit nervous, is a college senior now. Where did the time go?
Browning is the first four-year starter in Washington Huskies program history, and his focus remains immediate and singular.
Browning won’t dare talk about where he will be this time next year – likely in an NFL training camp. He won’t even look past Washington’s opener against Auburn on Sept. 1. Sometimes, he won’t even peer ahead 10 minutes.
But he does size up his career and admits to being satisfied. That’s not easy for Browning to do, as a highly self-critical person.
He was that way when he set national passing and touchdown records at Folsom High School from 2012-14, always wondering how he missed that guy on the slant, never mind the forearm in his own facemask. He’s been that way since he started his first game at Washington, including flinching and nearly losing his lunch in disgust with a four-interception effort against Cal as a freshman.
Learn and get better, Browning has always told himself, even as he’s become the face of the Huskies. Though he prefers to blend in with a crowd rather than stand out, he’s represented the program at the last two Pacific-12 Conference media days, putting his dry wit on display in Los Angeles.
“I know I look miserable doing this right now at media day,” Browning said last month, with a laugh. “I’ve had times to reflect, and these have been the best years of my life. I’ve had great teammates and coaches. I feel like I’ve done it the right way.”
In an effort to recharge, Browning spent two weeks a home in Northern California this summer.
“I went back to the paradise of Sacramento, California,” Browning said, with a laugh. “Went boating ... it was the most time I’ve spent at home since high school.”
Said Folsom coach Kris Richardson, “Jake always feels good after visiting family. He’s ready for a special year. He’s had a special career.”
But a senior? Already?
“Can’t believe it,” said Browning, who was voted captain for the second consecutive season by his teammates. “I’ve got some senior-year fear a little. It’s my last go-around. There might be a little more energy from me, not that I haven’t always worked hard and prepared hard. But it’s my last year. It’s here.”
Bounce-back year for Browning, Washington?
Browning flourished as a sophomore at Washington, earning Pac-12 Player of the Year honors after tossing a conference-record 43 touchdowns with a school-record passer rating of 167.5 to go with 3,430 yards.
He is the first to admit that he took a dip in 2017, passing for 19 touchdowns and 2,719 yards with a good but not stellar 152.1 quarterback rating.
Browning anticipates a bounce back to form for his entire team. Washington made the College Football Playoff in 2016 but fell short of it last season. The Huskies return 16 regular starters from a 10-3 team, so expectations are as high as the Space Needle towering over Seattle.
He said he wants to be smarter with the ball, to feel the game better. No one doubts his preparation. He is a film-room guru who takes notes and asks questions as if the season depends on it.
Browning can be best defined by how serious he takes his role and how much he puts into it. During spring drills, Browning told local media that it wasn’t his job to coach up the heralded new quarterback recruits. He was just being honest, said Petersen, who called Browning “a true leader of this team.”
“Our new quarterbacks’ job is to watch Jake,” Petersen said. “How he prepares – just do that. Just pay attention to what he does. There’s no secret to it.”
Browning already holds Washington’s record for career passing touchdowns with 78. His 9,104 career passing yards are second on the school’s all-time list behind Cody Pickett, who went for 10,220 from 1999-2003. Browning has gone 28-11 at Washington, including 22-5 the last two seasons.
A good career? A great career? Coach?
“Heck yeah, he’s had a great career,” said Petersen, a Yuba City native who played at UC Davis, where he got his coaching start. “The most important year of his career is now. He’s had a great three years. We wouldn’t be where we are today without Jake Browning.”
A different skill set
Browning said that he is heavier and stronger than before at 6-foot-3 and 215. Though he may never have a cannon arm, he can thread the ball, read defenses and feel the game. Browning said he is in the “best shape of my life” while insisting he won’t ever look “like Superman.”
He added, “If you look at me, I look like a lot of the people who are critiquing me. You have some guys - look at (former Washington quarterbacks) Brock and Damon Huard. They still look like they could throw the ball 80 yards.
“My skill set is a little different. What I do is a little different. If I see ‘Meathead’ in the street, he’s going to think, ’Oh, I’m better than you.’ All right, that’s great. Let’s play football. I’m not ever going to be someone that goes and kills a seven-on-seven camp or anything, but when there’s live bullets flying and people actually getting hit and it’s time to really figure out who’s going to fight, I think people would pick me pretty high.”
And for those not high on him, Browning refuses to engage in social media banter. His high profile has made him a target.
“People use it as a platform to say things,” Browning said. “I’m not going to get on Twitter. People are crazy. People say crazy stuff and there’s no credibility to it. They’ll say, ‘You’re the worst person ever.’
“Well, I relate it to parents – they’re sane until they talk about their own kid. Same with Twitter. It’s weird to have someone you don’t know say they hate you. OK, I hate you too! I just ignore it. I’m just going to be me.”