When JoJo McIntosh speaks, everybody listens.
Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said Tuesday he didn’t have enough words to describe what McIntosh has meant to the program, but those were some of the first he chose.
He didn’t stop there. He added a lot more: About McIntosh’s teammates looking to him for leadership, about Lake leaning on him, too.
Even last year, when McIntosh was still a redshirt junior, he was the player breaking down the defensive backs before the games. He was also the one Lake turned to for help if things weren’t going right during practice.
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Now in his final season, McIntosh has transformed from a leader for the defensive backs into an example for the entire defense and the Huskies as a whole. He’s earned their respect, Lake said, not just for the way he plays but how he prepares during the week.
On Saturday when UW faces Oregon State, he’ll take the field at Husky Stadium for the last time.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears over the past four, five years from these guys,” Lake said of the senior class. “They’ve really handled everything with class and integrity on and off the football field. A lot of them already have their degrees. Everything that we’ve asked them to do, they’ve done.
“It’s a special group that won a lot of football games. It is going to be awesome to watch them run out of that tunnel. It would be even more special to send them out of the right way with a win.”
A former three-star recruit, McIntosh started contributing after sitting out his true freshman season. As a redshirt freshman in 2015, he played in all 13 games and was an honorable mention Academic All-Pac 12 selection.
The next season, he started 13 of 14 games at safety, missing just one game with an injury. As a redshirt junior in 2017, he started all 13 games and was a second-team All-Pac 12 selection.
McIntosh has also started every game this season. Before most every game, you can find him at midfield with UW’s other captains waiting for the coin toss. He’s become a staple on the Huskies’ defense, a player that Lake readily admits he relies on.
“For sure,” Lake said. “Like I said, when you have strong leaders like that, as coaches you want to lean on those guys as much as possible. It’s way different when your teammate is going to say something and not just the coach barking at you all the time.”
During UW’s more difficult stretches — a loss, a bad practice during training camp — McIntosh has so often been the player speaking up to get the Huskies back on course. UW’s defensive back room is filled with freshmen and sophomores. They looked for McIntosh for guidance in those moments, and he was always prepared to give it.
“I know those younger guys, the freshmen and sophomores, saw the way he handled it if we didn’t live up to our standard,” Lake said, “and the way he took the reins and said, ‘This is not the way we do things around here.’”
Sophomore Brandon McKinney definitely took notice. McIntosh was McKinney’s host when he visited UW on a recruiting trip, and he’s been guiding McKinney ever since.
McKinney sees a lot of himself in McIntosh. He knows that feeling is mutual. On the field, they’re both hard hitters. Off of it, they have similar personalities and can often be found together on the weekends.
When McIntosh was ejected in the first half of the victory over Stanford for targeting, it was McKinney who took his place on the field. Lake considers McKinney another starter, especially in third-down passing situations.
“He’s done an unbelievable job for us,” Lake said. “He’s very smart. He allows us to move Taylor Rapp around and do different things with him and also with JoJo McIntosh.”
There was no drop-off when McKinney had to finish the game for McIntosh, Lake said. Next year, he’ll have an even bigger role for the Huskies, not only as a player but also as a leader.
McIntosh has taught him how to handle both.
“He’s an emotional leader,” McKinney said. “He’s always saying the right things, just showing people what to do. … He leads by example. He’s going to be passionate with what he talks about. He’s mostly a physical, emotional leader.”
He’s always willing to help the younger players in the room, McKinney said. That’s something McKinney will look to pay forward in the years to come.
“Just pretty much always being there for dudes,” McKinney said. “He’s just always there for me. He’s there for people, just if people need to talk or just leading by example.”
Lake expects that senior cornerback Jordan Miller will return for Saturday’s game against Oregon State. Miller suffered a leg injury in the Huskies’ loss to Oregon on Oct. 13. He briefly saw the field against Colorado, but has missed the past two games. Keith Taylor has started in his place.