Carrying the torch

When people glance through the depth charts on the 2003 Husky football team, they will likely point to tight end as one of the most worrisome positions. Gone are the familiar faces from recent years. Kevin Ware's four-year tenure in Seattle is already over.

Jerramy Stevens now plays three miles down Interstate-5 as a member of the Seahawks of the National Football League. In their place is a cast of new faces, five to be exact, who hope to continue the storied tradition of Husky tight ends.

Joe Toledo, who will be a third-year sophomore in 2003, is the lone returner with any game experience under his belt. But is out for spring recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. That leaves four others – Ben Bandel, Jon Lyon, Andy Heater, and Jason Benn – battling to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff and a high spot on the depth chart.

As it stands now, two of the four look to have moved ahead of the pack. Through four days of spring practices, no two players have been more impressive than Bandel and Lyon. Both have sure-hands and the size to play plenty of downs in 2003. Bandel, a physical specimen at 6-foot-7, 270-pounds, is a solid blocker who needs to improve his route-running abilities. Lyon, a 6-5, 250-pound highly-touted junior college transfer, carries his weight amazingly well and is quick on his feet. He says his focus this Spring is on improving his blocking.

Lyon says he's enjoyed his first few practices as a Husky, and can't say enough about coaches Keith Gilbertson and Dan Cozzetto.

"Coach Gilbertson is intense," said the junior. "For the smallest thing he'll get after you but at the same time two seconds later if you do something right he's loving you. He's a great coach and one of the big reasons why I came here. Coach Cozzeto has been a big help as well."

Bandel, who redshirted in his first year at Washington in 2002, says the coaching of Gilbertson helped his game immensely. The muscular tight end credits Gilby with improving his blocking abilities and route-running.

"When I'm having trouble learning the offense and I need to study the playbook more he'll get on me," said Bandel.

Bandel says he's added 15 pounds to his bench press and 50 pounds to his squat since arriving to Seattle in August, and is the latest Husky football player to rave about the results of Steve Emtman and Pete Kaligas' strength and conditioning program.

"They work you to the point where you can still work out the next day," laughed Bandel.

In Lyon, Husky quarterback Cody Pickett has a sure-handed target who runs more like a receiver than a tight end. In Bandel, he's got a hard-nosed blocker and a player with that brings back that Jerramy Stevens-like size who can catch the jump-ball pass.

Add Toledo back to the mix in the fall and the Huskies will have plenty of competition for playing time by the season-opener in Columbus, Ohio. That, according to Lyon, isn't necessary a bad thing.

"It helps having people behind you to push you to be better," said Lyon. I think competition is a good thing. The shot is there for anyone who can take it."

In all likelihood, the job will go to one of the top three – Toledo, Bandel, and Lyon. And, from the looks of it right now, that hardly appears to be a position of weakness. Top Stories