Reason to smile

Ty Eriks is smiling a little bit more this Spring than he was a year ago at this time. The third-year Husky is back at fullback, the position where he made a name for himself while playing at O'Dea High in Seattle.

Last April the coaching staff sense a lack of depth at safety, and moved Eriks there in an attempt to add athleticism to the position. The experiment was shortlived, however. Come fall camp, Eriks was on the move again, this time to linebacker. He had the size and athleticism the coaching staff coveted at the position, but still didn't quite fit the mold of a linebacker.

A week before the season opener at Michigan, he went back to fullback. That's where he's been ever since, back where he feels most comfortable.

"I really enjoy playing fullback," said Eriks after a recent practice. "When I got moved around to safety and linebacker, it was something new that I had to learn. Being back at fullback is natural for me. I played it throughout high school, and it comes easy to me."

Zach Tuiasosopo got the starting nod and played ahead of Eriks in 2002, leaving the redshirt sophomore with only limited time on the field. This spring, things have changed. Eriks is a year older, stronger, and in the best shape of his life.

A sprained ankle to Tuiasosopo in the first spring practice allowed Eriks to get reps with the starting unit, and given the opportunity to showcase his skills he's done nothing but impress.

Eriks says his skills have come a long ways since first arriving at Washington.

"I've improved in a lot of areas," he said. "I worked hard over the winter to make sure that on my blocks I stay low; I bend my knees rather than bending at the waist. That helps me make good, solid blocks. I worked on my hands a lot and catching out of the backfield. We did different routes in seven-on-seven drills to make sure that I'm really catching the ball. In the weight room I've been giving it my all, and it's helped me improve a lot in terms of strength and agility out on the field."

The results have been hard to argue with. Eriks is much quicker on his feet than Tuiasosopo, and possesses softer, more reliable hands. While still inexperienced, he's proven himself this spring as a more polished offensive force. He's caught nearly every pass thrown his way - usually about two to three per practice - and done damage running through the middle of the line.

Eriks is confident in his game and happy with where he's at right now. He admits that he doesn't know how the battle for the starting job with Tuiasosopo will shake out, but says the competition can only help.

"We are a tight-knit group," said the sophomore. "And no matter where you are out on the field competition will always make you play better."

Husky head coach Rick Neuheisel feels like the team can't go wrong with either guy.

"I think Ty Eriks has improved, and I think Zach (Tuiasosopo) knows that there is someone breathing down his neck. It will be a good position for us, I believe that."

Coming from where he was a year ago at this time, Eriks couldn't ask for anything more.

Except maybe a starting job.

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