For Hayden Schuh, it would have been easy to let his dream die. Back in 2013, he was a freshman. He was a kicker who was raised a Washington fan. He was a teenager with a goal, an athlete looking for an opportunity. But that first attempt, well, it didn't go according to plan. He wasn't able to earn a spot on the roster.
He was faced with a choice.
"I wasn't ready to hang up the cleats, but I really didn't want to kick anymore," he said.
As he tried to look toward the future, he decided to keep working. He started training. He thought his best chance to earn a spot on the roster was to go through the walk-on tryouts as a defensive back.
"If I make it, I make it," he thought at the time.
So, with nothing to lose, he made an impression. When defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake approached him at the end of the tryout with a wide smile, Schuh knew "something decent happened out there." He made the team. Now he is a senior, a member of one of the conference's most talented position groups.
"It's pretty awesome," he said. "They are the best in the business. It's an opportunity to make myself better, watch them and learn from them."
For Schuh, each day provides another memory, a new page in a story that started as a childhood dream. He was still a baby when he went to his first Washington football game. He has been watching ever since. From Napoleon Kaufman and Lincoln Kennedy to Jake Locker, he has been a fan through tough times and trips to the Rose Bowl.
"To be able to put on this uniform, the same purple and gold, it's awesome," he said. "I always wanted to be a Dawg, and now I'm a Dawg."
When Schuh first joined the team, there was something new every day. At meetings and workouts, the walk-on was "all big eyes and smiles." But he set goals. He wanted to contribute. He worked on scout team and special teams. He did whatever he was asked. Then he was rewarded. Late in Washington's 45-14 win over Georgia State in 2014, Schuh was standing on the sideline when he hear his name.
"Where's Schuh at?"
His response was a shout of excitement – a few words not quite fit to repeat. He was sent in for a kickoff. He was a little shaky, doing the "jitter bug" with butterflies in his stomach. But he composed himself. Then he made the tackle.
"It was just surreal," he said. "I knew my parents were sitting there in the stands. My dad's got it on video. He dropped his phone."
His first play. His first tackle. That moment put Schuh in the stat sheet.
"I'm in the records," he said with a smile. "I'll be there forever."
But that one moment is simply the most vivid of many.
"I used to be an outsider, but now I'm immersed in the culture," he said. "Now I'm part of the everyday grind, so I get to embrace it. These are all my homies, all my friends."
There was a time when Schuh considered giving up football. He wasn't sure if could take another tryout that didn't end with a spot on the team. But he put in the work. He made the team. Now he does whatever he is asked, whether that is giving the starters a good look on scout team or making a play on special teams.
"Everyone has a role," he said. "This is my niche. I just have to do the best I can with the chance I've been given."
As fall camp begins, Schuh's dream continues.
"I just love the game," he said.