SEATTLE — When he touched down at Sea-Tac airport on Dec. 31 following the Washington’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State, Myles Gaskin decided it was time for a change.
Never one for New Year’s Resolutions, the 5-foot-9 running back for the Huskies suddenly had the desire to attack 2018 with a different attitude. He vowed to get out of his “little bubble,” and be more adventurous. In his family — dad Scott, mom Robbie and older brother Ivan — Myles was always the one who hung back and played it safe. He was ready for a new approach.
Since then Gaskin has taken to trying a new restaurant each week (his newest Seattle favorite is The Wandering Goose, a southern comfort food stop). He enjoys going to the golf range and plans to try paddle boarding for the first time in the coming weeks. He hikes on Saturdays, taking advantage of the spring weather and trails in the Pacific Northwest.
As he’s gotten older, Gaskin better understands the importance of being well-rounded. While most players his age think only of future NFL glory and earnings, he’s thought about life after football, when he hopes to be a firefighter.
He likes to cook, too. The American Ethnic Studies major — his favorite class this term is the History of Hip Hop — got an aunt back in Atlanta to teach him, via FaceTime, how to make fried chicken from scratch. He’s almost perfected the recipe, but is not yet in a position to cook for his offensive line after a big game, mostly because he doesn’t have a big enough fryer.
The 2018 resolution to stop playing it so safe extends to the football field too, where Gaskin, a rising senior, wants to “be a more creative runner,” he told USA TODAY Sports.
He laughed when asked if he’d considered going really outside his comfort zone and requesting to play, say, defensive back.
“I’m not that far out there,” Gaskin said. “But I watch film and think, I could have taken more risk, I could have tried to be different, instead of just run out of bounds and be safe getting the first down.”
To be fair, the conservative approach has worked well for Gaskin up to this point: Heading into his final season in the local product already — Gaskin grew up in Lynnwood, about a 20-minute drive from UW’s campus — owns the school record for career record for rushing touchdowns (41) and total touchdowns (45). He’s already churned out three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
“He’s what I call a ’10-yard box guy,’ where he’s able to make guys miss in a small amount of space,” Washington running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said. “…But there are times that’s all he relies on, and he misses out on opportunities to get great vertical yards.”
A second team All-Pac-12 selection in 2017, Gaskin could have skipped his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, a common decision for running backs who tend to take a beating on the field, and typically have a short shelf life in the pros. But he opted to stay in Seattle, partly because of a deep draft class of backs who would have been selected before him.
Another factor: The Huskies should be really, really good in the fall, and are already a popular pick for the College Football Playoff. Gaskin wants to be part of that.
Washington has been a sleeping giant for most of Gaskin’s life. Between 2003 and 2008, the Huskies went a ghastly 18-53 (.254), including a winless season in 2008 that drew the worst kind of attention. But since Chris Petersen took over in 2015, Washington has gone 29-11 (.725), appearing in the 2016 CFP, where the Huskies lost 24-7 to Alabama in the Peach Bowl semifinal.
Gaskin smiles when the conference that rules college football comes up, because the Huskies kickoff the season against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta on Sept. 1. He likes the idea of knowing after Week 1 just where they will stack up in the college football landscape.
Now that everyone in purple and gold is a Petersen guy, Gaskin said, there’s a clearer understanding of what’s expected, and how to achieve those expectations. Though initially offered by previous coach Steve Sarkisian, Gaskin committed to Washington because he liked Petersen’s no-nonsense approach: Of course they wanted to stock their program good guys, Petersen told Gaskin, but they wanted those good guys to also be good at football.
In order to make it back to the postseason that matters — a task that gets considerably easier with starting quarterback Jake Browning also returning for his senior season, and much of UW’s salty defense back — Gaskin will have to be on. He likes that pressure, and has spent the offseason thinking about how he can have more impact.
“Personally, I think I can turn my 10 yard runs into touchdowns,” he said. “I’m working on getting into that second gear. The second move is great, but I want the third and fourth move, and to never get tired while running."
“Being able to transition from speed to power and power to speed, the more he can refine that technique, there it’ll help his game,” added Bhonapha.
Gaskin doesn’t necessarily believe in setting specific number goals in the offseason —like a weight he wants to bench or squat, or a 40-yard dash time he wants to run. The numbers obsession “is a young guy’s goal,” Gaskin said, adding, “you can be the strongest dude in the world and not be good at football.” He knows the next couple months are critical for both fitness foundation and team camaraderie.
Gaskin is a football junkie, and said he watches considerably more game film than TV. He’s always trying to improve his pass protection, where technique is critical for someone of Gaskin’s stature (he checks in at just 5-9, 191 pounds).
If he takes himself out of the equation, Gaskin believes the best running back in college football is Stanford’s Bryce Love, an early Heisman favorite. Gaskin studies how Love explodes into a third, fourth and sometimes fifth gear. And yet his all-time favorite player will always be former Southern California star and Heisman winner Reggie Bush.
“He could do anything,” Gaskin said, clearly in awe of Bush’s talent. “Reverse field, run backwards, all the stuff you’re not supposed to do, he did — and he did it well.”
Bush has creative flair, Gaskin acknowledged. He’d like to mimic it.
And he knows the best way to learn is to continue to get outside his comfort zone.