Schuh was a key special-teams player in UW’s 2016 Pac-12 championship season, and he sees many similarities with how Chris Petersen and Justin Wilcox have built their programs.
The similarities between the football programs at Washington and California struck Hayden Schuh not long after he left Seattle and arrived in Berkeley last year.
And it makes sense, right? Among the many strong ties between the two programs, Cal coach Justin Wilcox notably apprenticed under UW coach Chris Petersen for four years at Boise State. And it was UW’s veteran linebackers coach, Bob Gregory, who convinced Wilcox to get into coaching in the first place.
So, yes, Schuh quickly recognized the cultural crossovers when he began as a graduate-assistant coach on Wilcox’s staff in 2017, only months after wrapping up his career as a walk-on defensive back for the Huskies.
“Oh, absolutely,” Schuh said in a phone interview this week. “You can tell those two (Petersen and Wilcox) spent a lot of time together. Shoutout to Coach Pete for what he’s done up there at Washington. Like Coach Pete, you can tell that Coach Wilcox understands how to do this the right way.”
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Schuh is a fourth-generation Husky, first-generation Bear. His grandparents have had season tickets to Washington football since the 1950s, and some of his favorite memories as a kid growing up in Vancouver, Wash., are driving up to Husky Stadium with his family on game days.
So, yes, it was an odd and unfamiliar sensation for him last year when he arrived at Husky Stadium wearing the blue and gold of the Bears.
“Oh, you have no idea,” he said.
The blue blood is sinking in now. And when No. 15 Washington (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) heads to Berkeley for Saturday’s game against Cal (4-3, 1-3), Schuh’s parents and sister are traveling to be there. But Schuh warned them: If they show up at Memorial Stadium wearing purple, he won’t let them in.
“My family has always been great about supporting my dreams,” Schuh said.
For so long, his dream was to play for the Huskies. His first attempt to walk-on at UW? Long story short, he said, it ended in disappointment. That first tryout? It was as a kicker, and he did it in 2013 during Steve Sarkisian’s last season as the UW coach (and Wilcox’s final season as UW’s defensive coordinator).
Then Petersen arrived a few months later from Boise. Schuh saw that as a sign, a chance for fresh start with a new coaching staff and a new position. This time, he tried out as a defensive back — a 6-foot, 190-pound redheaded defensive back — and he made it. He was a Husky.
“I was so fortunate,” he said.
In three seasons playing for the Huskies, Schuh appeared in 31 games and had 15 tackles and one forced fumble. As a senior in 2016, he was a key special-teams player during the Huskies’ run to the College Football Playoff against Alabama, earning the team’s 12th Man of the Year Award. He looks back on that season with tremendous pride.
“I can’t even put into words that year,” he said. “I always think back to the Alabama game and, I’m sure a lot of people do, too, but the loss that ended it all. At the same time, I look back as a coach now and, dang, it’s really hard to win 12 games. I just think, what a blessing that was and what a wonderful opportunity that I got to experience all that.”
During Schuh’s first season with the Huskies, he became close with one of UW’s graduate-assistant coaches, Gerald Alexander, a former Boise State and NFL defensive back. Then last year, it was Alexander who, before his first season as Cal’s defensive-backs coach, called Schuh to offer him a position as a GA.
Schuh is now about six months away from completing his master’s degree in public health, and he wants to continue pursuing a coaching career. He speaks highly of Wilcox and the job he’s doing at Cal, and he feels like the Bears are right where UW was a few years ago in Petersen’s first couple seasons at UW.
“This is exactly what happened our first two years up there. We were scrapping to get to a bowl game in 2015, and that really became the turning point in the program,” he said. “This program is the same way. If we keep working, keep chipping away, there’s going to be a breakthrough on the other side.”