Coach's Corner

It wasn't pretty and it wasn't easy, but when it was all said and done, the senior players for the Washington Huskies led their teammates to a second consecutive victory over their cross state rivals, the WSU Cougars. In doing so they set up a re-match with the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Holiday Bowl in sunny San Diego.

After four or five long years these senior Dawgs are finally going bowling and they certainly deserve it.

Led by Mason Foster, Victor Aiyewa and of course, Nate Williams on defense and Jake Locker, D'Andre Goodwin, Cody Habben, Austin Sylvester, Greg Christine and Ryan Tolar on offense, the Huskies earned their holiday trip the old-fashioned way; they worked for it. They led their teammates back to respectability, back to a bowl game, and back into college football relevancy.

They endured, they spent hours in the weight room, and they simply believed in their coaches, their plan, and most of all in themselves. They brought this Husky football program back on its feet and back into a bowl game. It doesn't make any difference that their opponent - Washington State - had only won two games on the season. They beat the Cougars on the scoreboard, and in doing so completed their three-game trifecta and secured a trip to southern California for the holidays.

Never mind their lopsided early season loss to their bowl opponent, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Those points don't carry over to this game and to be given a second shot at redemption is almost a gift in itself. And never mind Washington only has a 6-6 record and had to win their last three games to qualify; these Huskies belong and they will give the mighty Cornhuskers a lot different look this time around.

They will be playing to win this time around and even though they will be missing some parts, like Semisi Tokolahi and Cody Bruns, who were both injured in the Apple Cup, they will be game and they will be focused and they have intentions of putting an exclamation point on their turnaround season.

These seniors helped turn the corner for this once-proud program and to see them celebrate their win over the Cougars was like watching kids at a birthday party. They had crawled back from a 3-6 record on guts and determination. Having been knocked down after big losses to Arizona, Stanford and Oregon, the seniors lifted themselves and their teammates off the canvas and won a split decision at 6-6. They were champions of their own state, third in their conference and they were winners in their own minds.

I was lucky enough to score a locker room pass and be part of their Apple Cup presentation and celebration. I immediately ran into Steve Emtman, and we had as much fun as the kids did. We were there to witness the importance of that winning moment. So were all the coaches' wives, all the managers, trainers, doctors, administrators and red-shirted or injured players. They were all part of the turnaround. Everyone got to celebrate the turning of the page.

Everyone got to be part of one of the biggest wins in recent Husky history at the same place that marked the lowest point in Husky history just two years prior. In 2008 they lost 16-13 to a Cougar team that was so bad, but they were better than the Huskies that day. It was by far the biggest win of the Paul Wulff era at WSU and one of the worst losses ever in Husky football. It completed a winless season, and you can't get any worse than that. They were one of the worst teams in America.

Scott Woodward plucked Steve Sarkisian off the USC staff and they began a remodel. Many players off that team are no longer with the program and at least 50 new ones have replaced them. More important though was the replacing of the attitude it took to win games. A renewal of Husky toughness and many, many hours of hard work and commitment resulted in gradual but steady progress.

The surviving seniors not only bought into Sark and his enthusiasm but they bought into each other. They had been to hell and back and now they wanted to go out winners, they wanted to believe! Last Saturday they did just that. They had set out to be a bowl-eligible team when their season started and they never gave up on their goal. They never lost the belief.

Even after Nebraska pounded them in their own stadium, even after they dropped three in a row in mid-season to some of the best teams in America, they never lost their belief. They just kept working hard, stayed with their system and believed in one another.

No question they stumbled out of the gate losing to a BYU team they should've beaten. But that didn't stop them from taking care of business the following week against a Syacuse team that ended up pretty good in the Big East.

Then after beating the USC Trojans for the second year in a row (wouldn't that streak be cool to keep going?), they lost four of their next five games, including a disappointing loss to Arizona State, then to Arizona, and then back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon, arguably two of the best teams in the country.

Just when it looked like they were going to fall back into the same pattern as 2009 when they lost six of seven games in the middle of their schedule, the Huskies used a bye week and took stock. They proved they were indeed winners by running the table against UCLA, California, and WSU - with the final two coming on the road. Just as they did the previous year, they finished the season with consecutive wins, last year with two and this time with a three-game winning streak.

Red-shirt senior Cameron Elisara couldn't play Saturday, but he was working just as hard as anyone on the sidelines to will his team to victory. Guys like Matt Houston and DeShon Matthews stepped up when injuries occurred to play some quality minutes in the win. Guys like Vonzell McDowell, who didn't suit up because of injury but who along with Foster, Williams, and Aiyewa all played as true freshmen, suffered through that 0-12 season together. But they are all on course to complete their degrees this quarter or next. They finished what they started on and off the field because they refused to quit. They finished because they kept their belief in everything they were doing.

Guys like receiver D'Andre Goodwin, who had a fantastic senior season after suffering through injuries for almost two years. Goodwin is a guy who believed so strongly in himself, he came back to play a key role in this resurgence. This season was his own personal redemption, and he played like a winner all season long. He was ready to lead, and together with the senior linemen Habben, Tolar, and Christine - who came to UW as a walk-on - gave the offensive huddle a maturity and steadiness because they were in this thing together.

Of UW's 2006 signing class, nine washed out or never entered the program. Five played and moved on, and seven remained: Seven red-shirt seniors who simply kept the faith; led the workouts at 6 am in the dead of winter; refused to quit; determined to leave with their degrees and with bowl rings; and who were united behind their class leader from the start - quarterback and captain Jake Locker.

The Apple Cup belonged in the hands of Locker, just as the game belonged in the hands of running back Chris Polk and receiver Jermaine Kearse. In the end, the Cup belongs to the seniors - as it always does - because that's who led this team. They did the heavy lifting. They led this team on an incredible quest for redemption. They had brought themselves back behind Locker's leadership and he played like only vintage Jake could.

Imagine will you if they hadn't taken his 77-yard touchdown off the board in the first quarter. He would have finished with 332 total yards and accounted for four touchdowns. He was definitely the best number 10 on the field that day.

Simply put, Locker was the leader of this program the minute he decided to be a Husky. His legacy will be debated forever, his decisions questioned, his motives scrutinized and his performances criticized. Never once did he seek attention for himself, never once did he question his teammates or his coaches, and never once did he quit believing in himself or his team.

He always conducted himself with integrity and honesty, and has been humble and shy about being a celebrity. He has been an excellent role model for youngsters and always took time for the kids. He was always responsive to the media demands and always gave credit to his teammates. Jake Locker was a winner when he came to Washington, and he'll leave Washington a winner. He just needed to show it on the field, and he proved it with that last touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse. It was a fitting finale to his career as a Husky quarterback. His name will remain all over the record book but his legacy will be as the leader of a group of young men who were determined to change the fortunes of Husky football. There are more number 10 jerseys being worn in the Seattle area than any Seahawk, Mariner, or Sounder jersey. He is a Northwest legend already.

Now that the Huskies know where they are bowling, they get yet another unbelievable shot at redemption, a chance to play a team that they simply couldn't compete with back in the month of September. But they have a shot because they kept the faith.

They can win this time around by playing their very best, and talk about making a statement if they do! They will no doubt enter the Holiday Bowl as one of the biggest underdogs of all the bowls. No one will be giving them a shot but that doesn't matter. They have some playmakers and they just happen to be at running back, receiver and most importantly, at quarterback. They are also a much better defensive team, are more solid in their kicking game, and can run the football.

No one believed in them after losing four out of five games in the middle of the season. No one believed they would run the table and still get into a bowl. No one believed them when they were out-scored 138-30 in that terrible three-game stretch. It didn't matter because the only ones that needed to believe was the team. Now they have one more chance to prove it's for real.

The program gets 15 more days of preparation and development as a bonus for making a bowl game - 15 chances to continue to grow and get better as a team for both the immediate future against Nebraska and for the future in the newly aligned northern division of the Pac-12.

The win against WSU left them 2-1 versus their Northwest rivals and they have now moved by Oregon State into the upper division of the conference. Right now their losses to Stanford and Oregon are minimized by the fact that those two teams were a combined 23-1 this year and playing in BCS games.

Could a BCS game be on the horizon for the Washington Huskies? Could a return to the top of the conference, a return to beating the Oregon Ducks and the Stanford Cardinal and a return to the Rose Bowl be in the works? It will happen soon under Steve Sarkisian, and if they continue to recruit like they have over the past two years, it just may happen even sooner. I think I remember that being said just two years ago.

To go from 0-12 to a bowl game in two years is a testimony to the Husky seniors, as well as a staff that got them off the mat and believing in themselves. They turned the corner and when they beat Nebraska, so will the program. Top Stories