Jason Shelley started for the Washington football team and briefly led the Huskies in receiving, but the high-profile player couldn’t stay out of trouble and was asked to leave.
Twenty-five years later, another Jason Shelley is a dual-threat quarterback for the No. 17 Utah Utes, showing plenty of staying power while giving 10th-ranked UW something to worry about entering Friday’s Pac-12 championship game in Santa Clara, Calif.
These Shelleys are father and son—one wore purple and gold for a season and a half while his namesake will try to spoil the postseason plans for the guys now pulling on that color combination.
One thing is clear: the younger Jason Shelley is taking his college football career far more serious than his father did in the early stages.
A month ago, Utah called on Shelley, a redshirt freshman QB in waiting, to replace junior Tyler Huntley, who was lost for the season with a broken collarbone against Arizona State. He’s played sensationally since, starting and winning games against Oregon, Colorado and BYU, to put the Utes in the league title showcase when everything easily could have been lost along with Huntley.
Shelly, who played as a high schooler in football-crazy Frisco, Texas, ran for a pair of touchdowns against the Ducks, passed for two scores against the Buffaloes, and rushed and passed for TDs in bringing Utah back from a 20-0 deficit against the Cougars. He does it all and he’s dedicated to his craft.
“You’ve got to go out there and earn your spot,” Shelley said after taking over. “It’s not given to you.”
If only his father had heeded that advice in 1993. The older Jason Shelley was a sophomore starter for the Huskies, someone with NFL potential. As a freshman, he caught three passes for 100 yards against Michigan in the Rose Bowl. He let it all get away from him. The Vallejo, Calif., product and Don James recruit was arrested three times in 10 months, thrown off the team and tossed out of school.
His infractions involved sucker-punching another player during a pick-up game at the UW’s Intramural Building; trying to flee police riding bicycles after he was spotted as an underage drinker in a car traveling through the University District; and, along with two other Husky athletes, exposing himself to a pair of Oregon female students in a dorm room in Eugene. He paid fines and served jail time.
Shelley, who caught 40 passes for 752 yards and 4 TDs in his 12 games with the Huskies, transferred to NAIA Central State in Ohio and turned his life around. He started two seasons and earned invitations to play in the Hula Bowl and East-West Shrine Game. He spent three summers playing minor-league baseball in the Atlanta Braves’ organization.
Pursuing an NFL career, Shelley was stymied, getting cut by the Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts. Yet he came up with a personal football highlight when he caught a 60-yard touchdown pass for Dallas from current Cowboys coach Jason Garrett near the end of an exhibition game against the Oakland Raiders, who were quarterbacked by ex-Husky Billy Joe Hobert.
Shelley later played in NFL Europe, the XFL and the Arena Football League. In a game for the Dallas Desperadoes, he caught three TD passes and ran for a fourth score.
The Shelleys are just one example in a wave of descendants of former Washington football players now turning up as Huskies or, in this case, as opponents. Jaxson Kirkland, son of ex-offensive guard Dean Kirkland, is a redshirt freshman who has started all 12 games at guard for the UW and will be in the lineup against Utah on Friday night. Highly rated quarterback Sam Huard, a Kennedy Catholic recruit with two prep seasons left to play and the son of former UW QB Damon Huard, recently announced plans to accept a scholarship from the Huskies. And now the second Jason Shelley, who sat out the first meeting between Utah and the UW as the back-up, comes into view as the starter.
His dad showed him how to be a wide receiver but the younger Shelley had different football plans. He's very much his own player.
“He always wanted to be the leader and I knew he wanted to be a quarterback right away,” Jason Shelley said when his son became a top recruit. “So we got him signed up at 4 and he played quarterback for a little flag football team in Arlington and it was funny how serious he was about playing.”
Being serious about football from the beginning -- as the son has showed the father -- can be a very good thing.