UW football notebook: Denzel Boston’s improvement, Voi Tunuufi’s position switch and more

By Mike Vorel
Seattle Times staff reporter
Perhaps Washington’s most noticeable wide receiver in its first week of preseason practice was not Rome Odunze or Jalen McMillan or Ja’Lynn Polk.
It was Denzel Boston.
The same Denzel Boston who was ranked as a fairly anonymous three-star recruit out of Emerald Ridge High School in 2022; who 247Sports considered the No. 17 player in the state of Washington and the No. 146 wide receiver in his class; who managed two catches for 15 yards and a 2-yard rushing touchdown in four games last fall; who arrived with an ocean of untapped potential.
“The kid just came in and he didn’t have a great grasp of football in general, just to be honest about it,” UW associate head coach and wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard said Saturday. “He didn’t understand any of the nuances of playing the position, let alone how to be a good receiver using the tools that he had. He was trying to do stuff that other guys were doing, instead of using the things he has available.
“He’s a tough, big, strong, physical kid. You can’t be J-Mac [Jalen McMillan], I’m sorry Denzel. You don’t have the ability to be J-Mac in every situation. But you can be Denzel, and Denzel can be a high-level player. He’s embodied that recently. And I told him, ‘Guess what? In this conference, Utah runs the conference. They won the Pac the last two years. Why? They’re the most physical team. So I need you to bring that type of physicality to our group.’ And he does it every day, and I love it.”
Granted, that physicality has been incrementally earned. The 6-foot-4, 207-pound wideout gained 22 pounds of punch this offseason, and has improved his squat by 80 pounds (325 to 405) since arriving last summer. The Puyallup product exceeded 22 mph (hitting 22.3 mph, via GPS trackers each player wears during practice) for the first time last week as well.
(“He can run, man,” Shephard said with a grin. “I didn’t realize how well he could run.”)
The result is a player who piled up 71- and 50-yard receptions from quarterback Michael Penix Jr. last week, after also impressing — to the tune of two touchdowns — in April’s Spring Preview.
Who, after devoting himself to UW’s playbook, is confident — and capable of stealing the show.
“My goodness!” Shephard exclaimed, when asked about the redshirt freshman’s seismic strides. “I’m super excited and fired up right now for him. He’s been doing a lot of things really well. He seems like he’s dove into the playbook and really came out this fall camp to show he can be a viable piece of this offense.
“Obviously with the loss of Taj Davis and bringing in Germie Bernard, some alarms start to go off a little bit for the kid. ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ He’s done nothing but try to improve every single day … and he has. Even the other day he was a little sick, got up in the morning and texted me that he was using the bathroom a little extra. He came out here and killed it at practice. So I’m super excited about his continued development.”
Still, it’s unclear how that development will affect UW’s depth chart. Odunze and McMillan became the first Husky teammates to simultaneously surpass 1,000 receiving yards last fall and were named Monday to the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to college football’s premier receiver. Even without Davis — who transferred to Cal this offseason — Polk, senior Giles Jackson and sophomore Germie Bernard are expected to contribute as well.
There may be more mouths than available meals.
But Boston looks mighty hungry.
Tunuufi hits the edge
Voi Tunuufi is a football player, which is all he’s ever wanted to be.
Still, if you’re determined to drill down on details, Tunuufi is undergoing a position switch this summer. The 6-1, 260-pound junior has shifted outside, after producing 28 tackles and eight sacks in two seasons as an interior defensive lineman. Beyond starters Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui, UW’s lack of edge depth necessitated the switch.
But Tunuufi shrugged Friday and offered: “It doesn’t feel different to me.”
“I never dropped [into coverage] in my life, I’ll tell you that right now,” he added with a laugh. “I never played in the open space or none of that. But I think it’s just natural for me. I was given this gift to play the game that I love. At this point, I’m just doing what I love to do.
“There’s some things I’m still unclear about, but I just love to play this game. The coaches always tell us even if we don’t know, go at 100%. Make a mistake at 100%. So that’s what I try to do.”
Of course, the South Jordan, Utah, product would certainly prefer to minimize mistakes.
But effort is not an issue.
“The disruption and him being able to get in the backfield is what excites you a lot about him,” said UW edge coach Eric Schmidt. “He’s just a motor guy. He really takes it personal if he gets blocked. He really fights hard and plays with a lot of effort. The drop [coverage] stuff he’s just starting with right now. He has a natural feel.
“I think that’s always been a little bit of a challenge, where you’re trying to take some of these bigger guys and drop them underneath in coverage and stuff like that. A lot of people at times will want to sub guys out and want to get different body types in. It’s hard right now with this day and age of college football to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be able to sub when the other team subs.’ Well they might not sub for six, seven, eight, nine plays. You’re going to get caught out there with guys and you’re only going to play one defense or two defenses.”
Which is why Washington wants waves of versatile football players.
Extra points
How does Penix — who started 17 games across four seasons at Indiana, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2020 — feel the Huskies will fare in their new home? “Oh man, I’m excited for the guys,” the sixth-year senior said. “Obviously I won’t be here, but I know we’re definitely going to be ready for whatever comes at us. For me being in that league, I was able to play a lot of those teams, and we’re definitely a great team. I’ll just say that.”
UW was ranked No. 11 in the preseason USA Today Sports AFCA football coaches poll, which was released Monday. The Pac-12 was also represented by No. 6 USC, No. 14 Utah, No. 15 Oregon and No. 18 Oregon State.
The Huskies return for their fifth preseason practice at 9:20 a.m. on Tuesday.

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