The Other Legion of Boom Is Washington's Key to Upsetting Alabama

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterDecember 30, 2016

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 02:  Taylor Rapp #21 of the Washington Huskies is congratulated by Jojo McIntosh #14 after making his interception against the Colorado Buffaloes in the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi's Stadium on December 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
Robert Reiners/Getty Images

ATLANTA — Psalm Wooching searches for the appropriate words. They're in there somewhere, and he wants to get them right.

The Washington linebacker, who plays directly in front of the most dynamic secondary in the country, is trying to capture the essence of the players behind him.

"Humble, quiet beasts," he finally proclaims.

Given everything we've seen, it feels right. Only there's a catch. According to Wooching, that applies only part of the time.

Oh, they are always beasts. That part never changes. But during the week, the Washington corners and safeties do nothing to generate a reaction. They don't want your attention. No guarantees. No billboard material for someone else to build on.

"Everybody is laying low," Wooching adds. "And then when it comes to the games, they're the biggest—and I don't want to swear—talkers out there. They love to get on the field and do that talking."

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

Here we have a collection of supremely gifted human beings playing at a high level in Seattle. These players have earned a reputation by doing something other than playing offense and touching the football on almost every play, which is no small feat in these touchdown-centric times.

The comparison is too obvious and applicable to avoid, so let's get it out of the way.

Separated by a mere five miles, a straight shot down I-5, the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Huskies share the same geography and fans. They have the same DNA, too.

They love the sounds of two human beings colliding. They cherish the audible gasp a road stadium makes when a pass intended for someone else is plucked out of thin air.

The Seattle Seahawks secondary was bestowed the nickname "Legion of Boom" after a radio interview with Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, an original L.O.B. member and veritable human battering ram.

A "Legion of Boom" sign held up at a Seahawks game
A "Legion of Boom" sign held up at a Seahawks gameScott Eklund/Associated Press/Associated Press

Cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Earl Thomas and corner Brandon Browner filled out this original group, which propelled the Seahawks to yearly relevance and a Super Bowl title. It provided an inimitable personality.

It wasn't just sheer ability that led to their trademark. It was an attitude—that unmistakable edge that bordered on acceptability—and an outpouring of self-assurance that an entire city would rally behind.

It was the magnitude of the effort: not a singular person or an island or a small portion of the field. It was a legion.

So perhaps the Washington secondary isn't quite there. At least not yet. A victory over Alabama in the Peach Bowl on Saturday would help change that.

Washington's legion features safeties Budda Baker, JoJo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp, along with cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Kevin King.

"Those are the most competitive dudes I know," linebacker Keishawn Bierria says. "It's just ridiculous how hard they go in anything they do. They can't get enough of it. They're going to compete."

Like Seattle's, the Washington secondary is rife with variation. It begins with Baker, the 192-pound safety, a young man who plays so much larger than his listed weight. 

He is the center fielder. He can also be the muscle. 

"Budda is just like Earl Thomas," Jones says. "They play with the same intensity."

Baker finished this season with nine tackles for loss, tops on the team. The junior was second on the Huskies in tackles with 65. He picked off two passes and finished with five pass breakups.

There are times throughout the game when he is seemingly everywhere—a combination of grace and violence that changes an offense's entire plan.

Washington safety Budda Baker
Washington safety Budda BakerOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Facing a decision on the NFL draft once the playoff run ends, Baker is widely regarded as one of the best safeties in the junior class.

Jones, the team's top cornerback, will face that same decision. One of the top corners in this class, Jones' name is being tossed around frequently in NFL mock drafts.

Jones' role is to be Richard Sherman, which is appropriate given his length and the plethora of Sherman film he's studied over the years. 

"He's a competitor, always talking to the enemy," Jones says of Sherman. "I like his fire and his fierceness. He looks up to the big moments."

Jones has seven interceptions and 16 pass breakups over the past two seasons. While Baker is the most explosive player in the secondary, Jones regularly draws the toughest weekly assignment. 

The cornerback on the other side of the field, the elder statesman of the bunch, is the only member of the starting secondary that was not recruited by head coach Chris Petersen at Washington.

Senior Kevin King doesn't garner the same national praise as some of his counterparts, but he is a significant piece. King intercepted five passes over the past two seasons. In 2016, as teams tried to avoid Jones as much as they could, he broke up five passes.

"Everything is contagious," King says. "If we fly around to the ball, then everyone will want to fly around to the ball. It will spread like wildfire. If it's going to start with us, it'll start with us every day. We're going to pick everybody up."

Alabama coach Nick Saban knows this. A defensive back coach at heart, Saban has lost himself in film while studying the secondary his true freshman quarterback will attempt to conquer.

Even he senses the similarities between the two local groups.

"They're sort of a little bit Seattle Seahawk-like in the fact that we're going to do what we do, and we're going do it really well," Saban said. "They do a great job of executing the things that they play. They do a great job of breaking on the ball."

Washington cornerback Sidney Jones
Washington cornerback Sidney JonesStephen Brashear/Getty Images

It's a mix of scheme and attitude. The results and numbers tell a significant tale.

Over the past two seasons, Washington allowed a mere 24 passing touchdowns. Alabama, widely regarded as the most complete unit, allowed 28.

In that same time, Washington has come away with 34 interceptions, including 19 this year. Alabama has picked the ball off 33 times since 2015.

Indeed, ability plays a significant role. They are supremely gifted, but it's more than that. It's a mentality that seeps into all aspects of the program.

"Compete, compete, compete," is etched across a sign in the secondary's meeting room. It's the last thing they see when they walk out the door. 

They compete in Pingpong. In video games. In Pop-A-Shot. In practice, they created a game that has spanned across the entire season.

There are two teams made up entirely of Washington defensive backs. These teams were decided by a draft at the start of the year. Baker was the No. 1 pick, followed by Jones. The rest of the defensive backs were selected, one by one.

The name of this game is simple: make plays, intercept passes and, whatever you do, don't drop the football.

This part is important. A drop is currency in this game, and it equates to 10 pushups. The team with the fewest takeaways does 25 pushups at the end of practice . All drops are accounted for and penalties are implemented.

"I watch them do their pushups," Baker says. "I make sure they're going all the way up because if they're not, that's a half-pushup. Sidney never likes to do his pushups."

When practice ends, after all pushups are accounted for, the quiet, humble beasts watch film. They eat together. They go out together. They continue to forge a bond that has been cemented over the passage of time.

Part of what makes this group so special is time. They did not jell over the course of one offseason or a few months; they've grown close over the past three years.

They know each others' tendencies and weaknesses. They have an understanding of what it takes to be one of the best in the country. 

Washington cornerback Kevin King
Washington cornerback Kevin KingOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

One player who has had to learn such tendencies on the fly is freshman safety Taylor Rapp. Despite being thrown into the mix, he led the defense with four takeaways this fall.

Rapp is in line to receive a football with his name scribed across it—the prize given to the DB with the most interceptions in a given season. Jones was the recipient last year. Just one interception away, he has his eye on a repeat with at least one game remaining.

It will be on Rapp to carry this infectious philosophy forward once the upperclassmen—the group that laid this tremendous foundation—say farewell. In time, he will be the one pushing newcomers. He will become the official counter of pushups.

But that time is not now, not with so much still out there and a tremendous opportunity still ahead. This group, the heart and soul of an unlikely playoff participant, has come too far to worry about such things.  

"We're going to back things up with our pads," Washington defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake says of his unit. "We're not going to talk about it. We're going to be about it. We'd rather put it on tape and let everybody else decide."

Against Alabama, this secondary will have the opportunity to produce its most spectacular tape yet. It will attempt to rattle and stymie true freshman Jalen Hurts, who has looked nothing like a true freshman at times.

While mindful of Hurts' skill set and the wealth of players at his disposal, this group does not fear a team being anointed as unbeatable by most. In a game seemingly lopsided at the surface, the secondary feels comfortable on this stage and with the obstacle, as it should.  

A win over a mighty favorite would elevate this reputation of this group even further. 

A national championship? That would bring comparisons to the NFL product down the road even closer. Heck, it might even spark a new nickname.

For now, however, humble, quiet beasts will do just fine.


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