Positives Abound Around Montlake

I can't remember the last time I had this much optimism regarding the Washington football program. And for good reason. The Huskies have won nine out of their last 10 games, and are currently 3-0 in the conference as they head to Palo Alto to play the mighty Stanford Cardinal.

That is one Hell of a turnaround that has been executed by Steve Sarkisian and his staff.

Imagine what was like for Daniel Te'o-Nesheim to show up every week for practice, knowing that no matter how hard he worked, his team was going to lose on Saturday. He must've known that, yet he still toiled and toiled for a worthless coach and a helpless cause.

Now fast forward to this season. When you talk to Husky players, you hear a consistent message. They expect to work hard. They expect to perform. They expect to improve and most of all, they expect to win. This year's team is a mirror of their coach. They repeat his sayings, during the week they parrot back what they've been told in meetings and in practices.

It is year three of the Steve Sarkisian era and it is blatantly obvious that his team has bought into what he's been selling.

It is a beautiful thing to watch just two and a half seasons removed from 0-12. Kids are proud to wear their Husky gear on campus and off, and they are having fun. They are smiling, laughing, and trusting. They trust Sark, and he is delivering for them.

Washington currently sits at 5-1, 3-0 in the conference, and they are not doing this with smoke and mirrors. They are doing it with hard work, great coaching, and serious upgrades in the talent level and depth.

All you have to do is look at the current two-deeps to realize that the best years of this football program are still yet to come, but they are on an obvious upswing at the moment. The offense is proving it can score at will on just about anyone (although Saturday will certainly test that statement), the defense has strung together six good quarters of football, and if the season were to end today they would arguably have the Pac-12's offensive player of the year in Keith Price.

If you are looking for things that are wrong right now, you should probably put down the depression bong and enjoy yourself. Turnarounds like this don't happen every day. Regardless of what happens Saturday in Palo Alto, the Husky program has taken some huge steps from where they were in 2008. Celebrate that if you can, or if you can't, at least give some credit to the guys that are working so hard to give you a fun product to watch again. Improvement has been real, tangible, and shows no signs of stopping at this point.

Realistically, Washington faces a very difficult test on Saturday, not only because Stanford has an outstanding quarterback in Andrew Luck, but mostly because the offensive line they are going to face has three future NFL guys on it. Expect the Husky defense to wear down in the second half after Jonathan Martin, Sam Schwartzstein, and David DeCastro continually pound on them. Let's not be naïve – Washington is outmanned on Saturday on the defensive side of the ball. Big time. The best chance the Huskies have is turnovers and special teams big plays, because on paper, the Husky defense is going to get abused and the Stanford defense is going to be good enough to keep the Husky offense from outscoring the Cardinal offense.

But just the fact that the Huskies are considered a tough game for Stanford on Saturday should tell you something good is happening. Las Vegas picks the Huskies as 21 point underdogs but the national pundits see a competitive game. I would imagine Daniel Te'o-Nesheim would've LOVED to have had that happen while he was at Washington.

If you sneak a peak to 2012, the offensive line will return four starters next season and redshirt freshman Micah Hatchie, a weak tackle that the staff is the most excited about. That foundation is being forged along with a quarterback who is just a sophomore and may be the most accurate passer the Huskies have had since Tim Cowan was here. Price will stay in school, so the offense gets two more years of him after this one is complete. Behind him junior tailback Chris Polk is about the surest thing the Huskies have had since Corey Dillon was here for that one season. And I'm not convinced Polk won't return for his senior season. His degree is already completed so if he does return, he'd be attaining credits towards his masters degree, something his mother would definitely approve of. Fullback Jonathan Amosa returns, and is providing some fine blocking. The receiving corps will be thinned somewhat but the returning talent is well thought of. Kevin Smith, James Johnson, Kasen Williams, and Cody Bruns all return. And Tight End Austin-Seferian Jenkins will leave Montlake as an unquestionable first-round draft pick, but he won't leave until 2013 per NCAA rules. Washington is loaded for bear on offense for the next two seasons.

On defense, Washington will return three experienced tackles in Semisi Tokolahi, Lawrence Lagafuaina, and Danny Shelton. Add to that mix redshirting freshman Tani Topou and it's a good stockpile of talent. On the end Haouli Jamora will return healthy along with Josh Shirley, Andrew Hudson, and Talia Crichton to provide depth, if not promise. The linebackers all return with the exception of Cort Dennison, and the secondary will have a lot of experience in it. Although it lacks the firepower of the offense, the defense has a chance to be good next year because of the experience they will have by 2012.

There is a great deal to be excited about with the football program. It is a very powerful statement when you can be sitting at 5-1 and say "our team will be even stronger next season" with a straight face. But Husky fans can do just that. What a great time it is to be a Husky.
Odds and ends….. Watching Seferian-Jenkins make that amazing sideline catch on Saturday against Colorado not only brought me out of my seat, it made me realize that I get to watch him for at least two more seasons at Washington. And Keith Price will be the guy throwing it to him for his entire career, assuming he leaves after his junior season for the NFL. That tandem has already developed incredible rapport, and it should continue to grow with the coming seasons. Seferian-Jenkins, along with DeAnthony Thomas at Oregon, are the two brightest young stars in the Pac-12…..The NFL draft has not been kind to Washington players in recent years. That is a direct testament to poor recruiting and poor player development. Back in the 1980s, Washington had a first rounder picked in 1980 (DT Doug Martin), 1981 (OG Curt Marsh), 1985 (DT Ron Holmes), 1986 (LB Joe Kelly), and 1987 (DT Reggie Rogers). In the 1990s the Huskies had first rounders in 1990 (C Bern Brostek), 1992 (DT Steve Emtman and CB Dana Hall), 1993 (OT Lincoln Kennedy), and 1995 (TB Napoleon Kaufman and TE Mark Bruener). In the first decade of the 2000's they had but two first rounders selected - Jerramy Stevens (2002) and Reggie Williams (2004). In 2003, 2008, and 2009 not a single Husky was drafted. Hopefully Jake Locker's selection in 2011 will be the first of many first round picks to be celebrated by Husky alumni in the coming years. By the looks of ASJ, Chris Polk, and Kasen Williams, I'd say more are around the corner…..Chris Polk is about to assault the UW record books in terms of total yards for his career. After picking up 2,561 yards in his first two seasons, he sits at 728 yards this season, bringing his career total to 3,289, ranking him second in school history behind Napoleon Kaufman's 4,106. His 15 100-yard rushing games ranks second to Kaufman's 17 as well. Does anyone recall who Polk took over for as the featured UW tailback? Does the name Terrance Dailey ring any bells? His 338 yards in 2008 were tops……Keith Price is also doing a fair job of broaching the school record books. He should surpass Cody Pickett's sophomore record of 2,696 passing yards, Pickett's record of 28 touchdown passes in a season, and has a real chance at surpassing Steve Pelluer's 1983 65% completion percentage. All of those are in play…..For those of you that are making the trip to Palo Alto, I hope to see some of you. I'll be there enjoying the mid-70 degree days and hoping to entertain you with a few observations from the press box and sidelines.

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