Michael Penix Jr., Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan chasing championship in return to Huskies
SEATTLE - After a breakout season that saw the Washington Huskies go 11-2 with an Alamo Bowl victory over Texas, the trio of quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and wide receivers Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan all could have elected to head to the NFL.
Instead, the trio all decided to return to Washington for another season in search of greater accomplishments on Montlake.
"Championships," Penix said of what lies ahead for the Huskies in an exclusive interview with FOX 13's Alyssa Charlston. "I feel like this team, we definitely bound for one and I can’t wait for it."
Penix was college football's leading passer with a school record 4,641 yards as he finished eighth in Heisman Trophy voting in his first season under center for the Huskies.
Odunze was a third-team All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 selection as he led the conference in receiving yards with 1,145, which also ranked fifth-most in UW history.
McMillan was an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention that led the Huskies in receiving touchdowns with nine in addition to his 1,098 receiving yards for the season.
They believe the team returning for the Huskies this fall has enormous potential and wanted to create something special.
"Obviously it’s going to take a lot of work," Penix said. "Obviously none of our wins from last year and going to carry over this year, so we know what we’ve got to do to make sure that we go achieve what we want to achieve this year. Just being able to be in that position that we were last year, coming out 11-2, being able to flip the program around, it’s definitely a wonderful thing and it’s something that we’re going to continue to build up."
Winning a Pac-12 championship would be a very good season for the Huskies and a great accomplishment. But that's not the type of goal Penix, Odunze and McMillan are looking to chase. Their sights are set much higher.
"National (championship)," Penix said.
"The biggest one," Odunze echoed. "I mean, we’re not going to sell ourselves short. We know what the team has the potential to do. I mean, shoot, you all see our OC (Ryan Grubb) being recruited by Alabama (laughs). But yeah, I mean, with this staff, offense, defense, with (Kalen) DeBoer as a head coach, it was just a glimpse of our potential last season and knowing that we can put something together like that again, we’re going to go out there and we’re not going to take any of it for granted and start strong and finish strong. If we do that, we should come out on top."
Penix led the way for the Huskies' resurgence last year after transferring to Washington from Indiana. UW became one of the most explosive teams in college football as they finished second in yards per game behind only Tennessee at 515.8 yards per game.
Odunze and McMillan led the receiving efforts that helped propel the Huskies passing attack to become the country's most productive at 369.8 yards per game.
Penix could have been one of the top quarterbacks in this year's NFL draft class should he have elected to turn pro. Instead, Penix announced at the team's award banquet in December that he'd be returning for another season.
"Just thinking about the potential that we have and the level we can be at coming up next year just being with this coaching staff for another year and having a lot of key guys back is definitely something to be excited for," Penix said.
McMillan announced his decision to return just two weeks after Penix's announcement.
"I just knew I had way more potential," McMillan said. "I knew I had some plays left on the field that I wanted to finish and I feel like this team could be something really special. So it was easy for me to come back."
Odunze then followed in January.
"Bringing the trio back together is something special for sure to go have another season to run it all back and accomplish more things," Odunze said. "It was definitely a process how I was going through a lot of things, so having their support all the way through the process and was really a key factor of me coming back and I’m thankful to be here."
The group knows of the history of the 1991 team and their split national championship with the University of Miami. They've had former members of that squad speak to the team and coaching staffs show highlights of the best team in school history. It's company Penix, Odunze and McMillan want to join in their return with Washington this fall.
"I want to be remembered as the greatest of all time to come through here. I also want to honor the ones before us, uphold that standard that they created, "McMillan said.
"We just want to be a part of that legacy," said Odunze. "We want to be that standard that people are like, ‘remember that 2023 team? Remember what they did? Remember all the work that they put in?’ Have us come in when we’re old and talk to the guys when it’s their turn. And yeah, I just think being in that light would be awesome and having that on my resume forever and make Husky Nation proud and remember that we gave it all to the program."