Chris Petersen was honest with Kaleb McGary.
When the Washington Huskies coach was recruiting the former Fife High School star, he made it clear he thought his best fit was as an offensive lineman.
But McGary, who played defensive line and tight end in his final two seasons at Fife, told Petersen that he wanted to play defense in college.
That was where former UW coach Steve Sarkisian was recruiting him to play, and, at the time, it was where McGary wanted to be.
“He didn’t make a big deal of it,” McGary said after UW’s practice on Monday. “He was like: ‘You know what? Go for it. If you do well, and that’s where you decide your heart really is and you want to stay, then we’ll leave you there.’ And he let me.”
“Well, I play O-line now,” McGary said. “So that should tell you a little bit.”
That he will likely begin this season as UW’s starting right tackle probably tells you a little more.
After spending the 2014 season redshirting with the defensive scout team, then starting six games at right tackle last year, McGary, a former four-star recruit, enters this season as one of the Huskies’ most important offensive linemen.
“Looking at him now as opposed to where he was a year ago,” UW offensive line coach Chris Strausser said, “he’s a long way ahead.”
McGary began fall camp working mostly with the No. 2 offensive line unit behind Andrew Kirkland, who started seven games last season, five of them at right tackle. But McGary moved into the starting lineup after about a week, and at 6-foot-7 and 308 pounds, he gives the Huskies a legitimate bookend complement to hulking left tackle Trey Adams (6-foot-8, 309 pounds).
McGary said he spent the offseason trying to shore up what he calls “rookie mistakes” that showed up too often during his redshirt freshman season.
“I had a very productive offseason,” McGary said. “I tried really hard to analyze myself, and really take coaching and listen to what Coach Strausser is telling me, (and) asking other guys who are more experienced on the line about stuff if I’m not sure.”
For example, he says: “I was terrible about stepping and getting on my toes and stuff, and this year I’ve been much better about stepping with a flat foot, because I was really conscious about trying to correct that.”
He wasn’t alone in his inexperience last season. That, Strausser said, led to a good bit of confusion in pass protection, and mistakes that veterans don’t often make.
But the Huskies’ projected No. 1 offensive line no longer features any players who haven’t started a college game. Adams and fifth-year senior Jake Eldrenkamp form the left side; fourth-year junior Coleman Shelton, a 20-game starter, is now the starting center; and alongside McGary at right guard will be either fifth-year senior Shane Brostek, third-year sophomore Matt James, or Kirkland — all of whom have starting experience.
They can go three-deep with healthy bodies, too, which is not something Strausser could say in either of the past two seasons.
“A year ago, a lot of these guys did not see the bigger picture,” Strausser said. “They saw the guy lined up on them and were surprised when the guy (blitzed) inside on them. I think we’ve made progress in terms of better understanding of the whole picture.”
McGary is a big part of that.
“Last year, I’d get the job done, but a lot of times it wouldn’t be pretty,” he said. “This year, I feel like I get myself into much better position to make a clean block. I feel like my blocks will be a lot cleaner this year.”