K.J. Carta-Samuels could have left.
It would have been understandable, considering the transfer climate within collegiate athletics. He battled gamely last year for the Washington Huskies’ starting quarterback position, but the job ultimately went to then-freshman Jake Browning, and Carta-Samuels could have been forgiven for using that decision as a reason to transfer to a school at which he might be able to start.
But he didn’t. And he said Wednesday that he never really considered it, his reasoning as simple as can be.
“I’m happy here,” said the third-year sophomore. “That’s all that matters at the end of the day, is being happy here and really just working to be the best player that I can be. That’s all I care about.”
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It’s not that he’s content, necessarily. He readily admits that he badly wanted to win the starting job, that it weighed on him when he didn’t, that late-night phone calls with his parents and his brother — Austyn, a former quarterback at Wyoming and Vanderbilt — helped him navigate the frustration of finishing second.
He calls it a learning experience.
“Obviously, your pride is talking to you,” Carta-Samuels said. “You’re working for the starting job. You want to be the starter. And everyone feels that way. Everyone wants to be that starting guy.
“But you know what? That was a big moment for me to realize that it’s not all about that and I can’t just crumble because of that. I have to be able to pick up from where I left off and be able to keep working and keep getting better, because you never know what could happen.”
If that was his attitude when last season began, it proved useful. Browning injured his shoulder in an Oct. 17 loss to Oregon and didn’t heal in time to start the following week’s game at Stanford. It was Carta-Samuels’ turn.
The native of Saratoga, California, said he was excited to make his first career start at Stanford Stadium, where his late grandfather used to take him to watch games as a kid.
“It was a surreal moment just to be there and play there,” Carta-Samuels said.
Cool as it was, the game was forgettable. The Huskies lost, 31-14, and Carta-Samuels completed 9 of 21 passes for 118 yards, though he did rush for a touchdown. And while he appeared in four more games last season, it was all mop-up duty, and he did not attempt another pass.
So there was much for Carta-Samuels to appreciate about the Huskies’ blowouts of Rutgers and Idaho this season. He played most of the second half of each game, and he’s taken advantage of the few passing plays the Huskies have called with lopsided leads. He threw the first touchdown pass of his career in the first week, a 4-yarder to redshirt freshman receiver Andre Baccellia on his first snap. He threw another touchdown pass last week, a 26-yarder to redshirt freshman receiver Quinten Pounds. And he’s completed 6 of 7 pass attempts this season for 64 yards.
Compared with last season, Carta-Samuels said he’s “definitely more confident” within UW’s offense after quarterbacking a Bellarmine Prep (San Jose) team that operated a run-heavy offense.
His backup status heading into this season wasn’t assured. He had to fend off fourth-year junior Tony Rodriguez during fall camp to hold onto the No. 2 job. But he did, and coach Chris Petersen seems happy with what Carta-Samuels has put on film so far.
Petersen said his message in the offseason was simple.
“Our message is, there’s no starters,” he said. “I mean, K.J. and Jake, we were splitting hairs in terms of who we were going to play, and we ended up going with Jake, and he kept building on that. But we’re always one play away, especially at that position, which we’ve seen. And you better be ready to help us win.
“Everybody’s going to get their chance. That’s always the message. So if you like it here, and you’re into building skill and getting your game better, we’re going to always pay attention. And you can help us win. That’s the message.”
Petersen said it doesn’t quite qualify as “a relief” when a backup quarterback decides to stay put instead of transferring, because he thinks there is more to the UW football experience than whether a player starts.
Regardless, he’s glad to have Carta-Samuels.
“If it was just about football, OK,” he said of backup quarterbacks wanting to transfer. “But I think this place is more than just football. Not everybody’s going to see it that way. I get that. But I’m proud of those guys for hanging in there and battling. I like watching them. I think they’ve all gotten better, and I think it’s awesome to watch K.J. play at a high level when he’s gotten in there. That’s impressive.”