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From junior high through high school, Sam Whittingham beat nearby Oak Ridge every year except one.

That was eighth grade — the one year Jake Browning played for Oak Ridge, and not Whittingham's team.

Utah's walk-on freshman linebacker has known Washington's true freshman quarterback for more than eight years, winning the state title last year at Folsom High. Browning was the "cool older quarterback," held back a year during junior high, who never seemed to know it. Laid-back. Humble. Possibly the best quarterback in California.

He threw for 5,790 yards and 91 touchdowns in 2014, both national records, and it's no surprise to Whittingham that he's now starting for Washington, fresh off a game in which he accounted for five touchdowns.

"He's always been very confident in what he's doing," said Whittingham, a tailback as a junior at Folsom who then primarily played linebacker after an injury. "I knew when he got up to the next level it might take a little time for him to adjust, but I knew he'd get back into the swing of things, because he just has that confidence and that poise to be successful."

Browning is the first true freshman to start a season opener for Washington and just the second to start any game. Marques Tuiasosopo is the other.

Browning has had struggles. He threw two interceptions in a loss to Cal. He's passed for less than 200 yards four times.

But he most recently carved Arizona apart after sitting out the Huskies' only multiple-score loss, against Stanford, due to a shoulder injury. His final line: 263 yards, four passing touchdowns and his first career rushing score.

Not many true freshmen quarterbacks have had days like that, but then, how many quarterbacks threw for 10 touchdowns in their high school debut?

Tutored in the fine points of quarterbacking by Folsom head coach and former Cal signal caller Troy Taylor, Browning was rated as a top-10 quarterback by every major recruiting service.

Among those with a front-row seat was freshman backup left guard Darrin Paulo, whose Grant High team fell 52-21 in the playoffs last year.

Paulo sighs at the memory.

"Yeah, we played him," he said. "And he was good. He kind of picked us apart."

His talents aren't news to Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, either. He's closely followed Browning since 10th grade, he said, while keeping an eye on his nephew.

"It's not surprising to me, at all, how he's doing and how well he's played as a true freshman, just because I've known about him for a long time," he said.

Folsom's 2015 senior class also included players at Arizona, Boise State, UNLV, Cincinnati, San Jose State and Harvard, and they keep in touch through a group text.

Last week, as Browning prepared to face off against the Wildcats and former Utah target Cody Creason, Browning told Creason, "I'm not even talking to you. We're enemies this week."

Whittingham said Monday that they have yet to go to war with words, but "It'll start." He also expects that Utah's defensive coaches will ask him if he has any tips. But it can only help so much, he said, because "he's just deadly."

"You have to be on all your receivers like white on rice, because he can get it in that tiny window and he's got such good touch and everything. It can be frustrating. But if you have the right defensive scheme and the right players, he can be stopped. Like anyone, he can be stopped."

Whittingham just hasn't seen it happen very often. Twitter: @matthew_piper —

Utah at Washington

P Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MST

TV • Ch. 13 —

Jake Browning

Vitals • 6-foot-2, 206 pounds, No. 3

2015 stats • 127 for 203, 62.6 completion percentage, 1,595 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, five interceptions, 17 sacks, one rushing touchdown.

High school • Holds national record for touchdowns in a season (91) and career touchdowns (229) after three years starting at Folsom High. Finished his career with 16,775 yards, also a California state record. No Bulldog opponent finished within 31 points of them on their way to a state title last season.