SEATTLE — Maybe the buzz about Utah’s Reggie Dunn hadn’t reached Pullman, which might explain why Washington State kicked to the most dangerous return man in college football.
A week earlier, the 5-foot-10, 172-pound senior set an NCAA record when he returned two kicks 100 yards for touchdowns during a 49-27 blowout over California.
Despite that NCAA record-setting accomplishment, few outside the Wasatch Mountain range had heard of Dunn.
On their way to a blowout defeat last weekend, the Cougars tempted fate and drove a kick 5 yards into the end zone at the start of the second half, which allowed Dunn to do what he does best.
He sidestepped defenders, ran through a would-be tackler and sprinted easily along the sideline for the fourth 100-yard kick return in his career, the most in NCAA history.
“The art of returning a kickoff for a touchdown is all confidence,” he said. “You got guys running 70 yards full speed right to you and they’re gunning to hit you.
“It’s all confidence and having trust in the guys that are blocking for you. ... The whole return team, everybody is confident. They know we can score on it so everybody is willing to block as hard as they can and I’m willing to run that much harder and faster.”
When you think about the greatest returners in college football, you might remember Barry Sanders, Desmond Howard, Raghib “Rocket” Ishmail and Devin Hester.
But what about Dunn?
He’s averaging 55.4 yards, which would lead the nation. However, he has just seven attempts, which isn’t enough to give him the qualifying minimum of 1.2 per game to be eligible.
Dunn is arguably the best-kept secret in the Pac-12, but UW coach Steve Sarkisian remembers him from his time as a USC assistant.
“I’ve known Reggie now for about eight years,” Sarkisian said as he prepares for the game Saturday against Utah at CenturyLink Field. “I’ve known him since he was a little squirt running around at Verbum Dei High School.
“Reggie has always been explosive. He’s always been fast. He’s always had big-play capabilities, so we’re very aware of it. Obviously he’s been on a little bit of a roll these last couple of weeks.”
Until recently, Dunn said he’s been unproductive.
He’s started just two games and is fifth on the team with 12 receptions for 74 yards. He’s also carried 12 times for 60 yards.
“He has played a bigger role for us on offense the last few weeks, as well,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He had more snaps Saturday on offense than I think he’s had all year.”
Sarkisian sidestepped a question when asked if he plans to kick to Dunn.
“If people want to decide they don’t want to kick it to me because of what I did the past two weeks, then I’ve just got to live with that,” Dunn said. “But if they want to kick to me, then I’ll try to make the most of my opportunities.”
Even if UW doesn’t kick to Dunn, Utah will try to get the ball in his hands.
“I didn’t think (WSU) would kick to him last week, and they did,” Whittingham said. “I can’t say for sure whether (the Huskies) will kick to him, but they certainly have to think twice about it.”