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Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin think back to beginning

Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin took a few moments after Washington’s senior day to reminisce.

They were the last two players to leave the field after that 42-23 victory over Oregon State. As they lingered, eventually walking toward the tunnel with arms over each others shoulders, they talked about everything they’d done together.

But it wasn’t the victories they discussed. Not Pac-12 championships or New Year’s Six Bowls or even the College Football Playoff berth in 2016. Instead, they talked about the beginning.

They thought back to their freshmen season, when they went 7-6 and lost to Southern Miss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. It was brutal, Browning said, getting through all those losses. Back then, Browning and Gaskin looked toward the future, wondering how good it would feel when they were on top.

Now they know.

“Kind of the highs and the lows,” Browning said. “When you’re going through those, at least for me, I appreciate how (Gaskin) never blamed anybody or did anything like that. He was just a good, consistent, solid dude.

“I’ll always admire how he handled that and I think he’d say the same, just through some of those miserable times.”

Gaskin remembers that year a little differently. Sitting underneath Alaska Airlines Stadium two weeks ago, Gaskin grinned and shook his head when the topic was broached. He didn’t completely disagree with Browning, but he had a correction.

“I wouldn’t say we powered through,” Gaskin said. “I would say Jake powered through. At the end of the day, me and him have been on this offensive squad the past four years but Jake has always been in the main guy in my eyes just kind of setting the ways, setting the path for us.”

Every time he’s been asked about Browning this season, Gaskin has taken the opportunity to defend him. He took on that role for the final time during the week’s pre-Rose Bowl media opportunities.

Over and over again, Gaskin was asked about the criticism Browning often faces from fans. And over and over again, Gaskin emphatically proclaimed that none of it is deserved.

“I think everybody has kind of taken his leadership and fought along with him,” Gaskin said. “I think that’s why so many people don’t understand why he’s such a big piece of this program and this offense.

“Jake, by far, has set the model for myself and all these other guys that are playing. I’m really thankful to have that dude in the backfield with me.”

On Tuesday, the two will take the field together for the final time. Weeks ago, that thought had Gaskin thinking back to their first college game together: The 2015 opener against Boise State.

Gaskin carried the ball just five times in that game, and he chuckled as he recalled why. On his second attempt, he didn’t know the play.

“(Browning) just hiked the ball and just handed it to me and I got blown up,” Gaskin said, laughing at the memory. “I didn’t go back in the rest of the time. He yelled at me, too. I was like, ‘What just happened?’ After that, it’s always been good. No complaints after that.”

It’s hard to argue with Gaskin’s assessment.

He’s UW’s all-time leading rusher, the only player in Pac-12 history to rush for 1,000 yards in all four seasons.

And Browning? He’s the Huskies’ career leader in passing yards and touchdown passes and the conference’s winningest quarterback.

“It’s extremely rare,” said offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. “I look at what those two guys have done over the course of four years as being more influential to a university than any other combo maybe in a long time.

“I think the unique thing was probably where they started from the standpoint of doing whatever it took to just try to get us to bowl eligibility and now where they’ve taken this program. Those are two guys we’re going to miss in a big, big way.”

Their real legacy will be decided years from now, when time and distance allow for a more thorough review of their impact on the UW program. But when Gaskin was asked about the turnaround orchestrated by by head coach Chris Petersen and this senior class — the one that has tied the school record for wins — he turned the conversation back to Browning. His leadership set the standard, Gaskin said.

When Gaskin heads to the stadium in the morning, he usually finds Browning already in the locker room. He watches the meticulous notes Browning takes during meetings. And when they get to practice, there’s never any taking it easy. Browning makes sure of that.

“Jake is going 100 percent,” Gaskin said. “And if you’re not, he’s yelling at you. Either you’re going to listen to him or he’s going to get annoying. So pick up the pace or do whatever you need to do, whatever he’s telling you to do.

“He stays consistent everyday and I think that’s the biggest part of being a leader. Being a leader is not just a few days out of the week or just game day. I think Jake brings it every single day. On game day, he doesn’t really have to say much because he led us throughout the whole week and kind of told us things.”

As their UW careers near an end, senior tight end Drew Sample said he’s truly beginning to realize how exceptional the Browning-Gaskin combination has been.

“I think when they’re gone a lot of people will definitely see just how special those two were,” Sample said. “Just the production that both of them had in their respective positions, just the type of people they are what they’ve done for this program and everything they’ve put into it. I think it’s really special.”

Neither Browning nor Gaskin knows how this season will end. But no matter what the result of the Rose Bowl, Browning is sure of one thing.

“(Gaskin’s) somebody I’ll be close with for the rest of my life,” he said, “and I think he’s just very consistent about what he does as a running back and just coming ready to work and being ready to compete every single day.”

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