Joe Jarzynka won Husky football fans’ hearts with fearless play

Joe Jarzynka returned kicks and played wide receiver for the UW football team.

At first glance, Joe Jarzynka did not look like a Husky football legend. The 5-foot-7 walk-on from Gig Harbor High School joined the Huskies in 1995 and played like a special-teams wild man as a kickoff and punt returner, refusing to call for fair catches. He volunteered to handle the team’s placekicking duties when two Husky kickers left the squad. And he earned the opportunity to play as a wide receiver, his long blond hair flowing out of the back of his helmet as he raced down the field.

He was so popular that he had his own fan club, with the motto “Joe, Joe, he’s our guy, give him the ball and he will fly.” The Daily even came up with a nickname for the Olympic Peninsula dynamo: Mo’ Joe. Husky fans everywhere were devastated to learn that Jarzynka, only 45 years old, died March 5 while fishing on the Sol Duc River on the Olympic Peninsula.

As a junior in 1998, Jarzynka—who walked on at UW instead of accepting his only recruiting offer to play at Eastern Washington University—had his best season. He was named to the All-Pac-10 first team as an all-purpose player, recognizing his ability to return kicks and to make them. When two kickers left the Huskies, Jarzynka, a high school soccer star, stepped in to make six of eight field goals, including a 44-yard kick that helped the Huskies beat WSU, 16-9, in the Apple Cup and secure a berth in a bowl game. He was named the team’s most valuable player.

Jarzynka’s best performance came that season in Husky Stadium against Cal, when he returned a punt 91 years for a touchdown. He was so excited that after he made it into the end zone, he ran to the fence behind it and vigorously gave it a shake in his attempt to be noticed by ESPN.

Former UW assistant coach Dick Baird said it best: Jarzynka “just refused not to play.” His Husky spirit will live on.