SEATTLE - Before each game, John Ross leads Washington's returners onto the field. His teammates gather around the junior. They form a circle of arms draped over shoulders. They surround the receiver.
And, in that moment, Ross delivers measured words designed to get the Huskies ready to play.
On Friday night, with No. 4 Washington playing in its first Pac-12 championship game, Ross once again gathered his teammates. He told them he had never played in a championship game before. He told them he had never been on a stage quite so large.
But, now that he had arrived on the Pac-12's biggest stage, he told his teammates, "I'm going to give it all I've got."
That's exactly what he did. He caught four passes for 51 yards and a leaping, one-handed touchdown grab.
And now, well, after a 41-10 win over No. 8 Colorado, the Huskies are moving on to a bigger stage, heading to the College Football Playoff where they will play Alabama on New Years Eve in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
"I'm just grateful," Ross said. "This team is grateful. We've worked for this all year and we're going to continue to work. This is amazing. I'm just really proud to be in this position with this team. I've never been a part of something like this."
When asked to describe what it felt like to help the Huskies play their way into college football's final four, the idea still had yet to truly sink in for freshman Taylor Rapp.
"I never would have pictured this happening, but we're here for a reason and we've got to take it all in," said Rapp, who was the MVP of the Pac-12 championship game after picking off a pair of passes, one he returned for a touchdown.
For Budda Baker, putting Washington back on the map was always part of his plan when the local product pledged to play for the Huskies after a standout career at Bellevue High School.
"I knew we were struggling, but I knew with great players and great people we could bring UW back on top," he said. "This feels great. We're just excited. We're going to prep up and have a great time."
After securing the program's first conference title since 2000, Washington is heading to the playoff. The last time the Huskies won 12 games, they won a national championship and, 25 years later, the team is one of just four teams that with a chance to claim the crown.
But, while this is uncharted territory, Washington sees little reason to change the way it does business.
"It's one of those things where it's just on to the next game," said Myles Gaskin, who rushed for 159 yards on 29 carries against Colorado. "We're going to enjoy this one for 24 hours like coach Pete always says and then it's on to the next one. We've got some time to get rested up. We've got a big one coming up next."
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