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Washington WR Aaron Fuller becoming a leader

Growing up in Texas, football was everything. That’s how Washington wide receiver Aaron Fuller explains his tendency to spend hours alone watching film.

His father was also a football coach, so some of it is habit. When his coaching staff would get together to watch film, Fuller would be right there with him. It’s a mindset he had no intention of changing, so it’s carried over to his career at UW.

“It’s just something that’s been pushed on me,” he said, “and something I grew up in that’s helped me out at the end of the day.”

Matt Lubick, the Huskies’ co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, said Fuller’s commitment to watching film helped turn him into the Huskies’ leading receiver in 2018.

Due to NCAA rules, coaches can only spend so many hours with the players. It’s what they do outside that time that really shapes them, Lubick said.

“To really take that next step, you got to do stuff on your own,” he said. “You’ve got to study film. You’ve got to work hard in the offseason. He’s really done all of those things and we’ve seen the results on the field.”

Fuller has caught 30 passes for 474 yards and three touchdowns this season. In the 35-7 win over BYU, he had a team-high eight receptions for 107 yards.

Like nearly all of UW’s receiver, he’s made his fair share of eye-catching receptions. Take the Huskies’ first touchdown in the victory over Arizona State when Fuller, wide open, made a leaping catch to haul in Jake Browning’s pass in the end zone.

“He’s a tremendous worker,” Lubick said, “and he’s very smart. He’s one of the smartest football players I’ve ever been around.”

Consistent was the word offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan chose to describe Fuller. In fact, he called him one of the most consistent players he’s coached at UW.

“A lot of trust in him,” Hamdan said. “He knows what he’s doing. He leads by example. Guys like that don’t come along very often and I think for those young receivers to see what it’s supposed to look like is invaluable.”

That leadership has been passed down in the receiving room from year to year, Lubick said.

Entering this season, there were a lot of question marks surrounding a group of mostly untested receivers. Fuller was the Huskies’ third-leading receiver last year, finishing with 26 receptions for 291 yards.

Perhaps the bigger hole left behind was unquantifiable, but just as significant: Leadership. Dante Pettis was not only UW’s top receiver in 2017 — he caught 63 passes for 761 yards and seven touchdowns — but he was also the leader in the room.

Coming into the season, Fuller knew that job would fall to him. Because he’s on the quiet side, head coach Chris Petersen said, he tends to lead more by example.

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“Everybody could feel that in the offseason,” Petersen said. “Everybody’s kind of going through the grind right now and doing the same things, but I think he’s made a lot of strides in the offseason with his teammates.”

Because he’s the most experienced player in the room, Fuller felt a responsibility to help guide the younger receivers. He’s capable of being a vocal leader, he said, but there’s still a learning curve.

“That’s definitely something I had to work on is just expressing myself more,” Fuller said. “I think when I’m on the field it’s easier, but off the field and stuff like that, it’s something I had to work on for sure.”

He learned a lot about how to lead from Pettis and John Ross, both of whom are now in the NFL. Not only did Fuller take aspects of their game to use in his own, but he also paid attention to how they handled themselves.

“Just as a character, who they are,” Fuller said, “that helped progress this team and the unit that you play in. Having people like Ross and Dante come before me is great for my game.”

While he’s been working on his leadership skills and growing more confident in his role on the team, Fuller has also been developing physically. Hamdan said that’s the biggest change he’s seen in him.

“I really do think that he’s turned himself from a physical standpoint into one of our more elite athletes,” Hamdan said. “He’s a guy that from the day he got here, he had a knack for playing. He was a great football player, maybe he was a little undersized when he came in.

“The work that he’s done … with the (strength) program and now you’re kind of combining this really elite football player with a great athlete. I think that’s what you’re seeing now.”

Part of his breakout season, Lubick said, is just getting more opportunities. He’s been the leading receiver in all but one game.

Given the chance for an expanded role in the offense, Fuller took advantage. That dedication to growth is a familiar sight for Lubick. It was there in players like Pettis.

“I think all those guys were very good players,” he said, “but they weren’t just good players by accident. They worked really hard and the younger guys saw how they worked.

“It’s not just about being an athlete, it’s about working to develop those skills and I think that’s really rubbed off on our younger guys. Hopefully, it will keep going.”

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