Seniors Earn Hard Won Send-off

SEATTLE - It's late, around 2:55 am Sunday morning. Maybe that makes it too early? At this point the only thing that matters to me is the story at hand, which is Washington's 37-13 win over Oregon State Saturday night. Upon first inspection, the Huskies' win in their final 2014 appearance at Husky Stadium wasn't anything special.

But if you look at all the narratives floating just beneath the surface, it's a game that meant everything to their senior class. It's a class that's gone through more than most, which makes Saturday night's win over the Beavers even more enjoyable.

I could cite Robert Frost right now, but will steer clear of saccharine sentimentality. Hauoli Kikaha did not cry while on his way to Husky Stadium for the last time, so there's certainly no reason for anyone else to stray in that direction.

It's more appropriate to acknowledge this year's seniors as the pioneers

It's hard not to look at the collection of 19 faces running through the fog and not be impressed with them as a whole. Some have floundered while many more have flourished. Some have finished their careers the way they wanted to; some rounded out their rise to reclamation with style.

The OSU win, the game that ensured bowl eligibility for Washington in 2014, should be known more for what it meant for the seniors than what it's going to mean for underclassmen set to go through 15 more practices.

This class has been there, done that, and has the sweaty, stinking t-shirt rolled up in a ball in the corner of their bedroom to prove it. They've put in the time, put in the effort - and they've had to do it with two different coaching staffs.

They started with Steve Sarkisian and finished with Petersen, a coach that probably didn't recruit them, and definitely didn't recruit them to Washington. If they are able to complete 2014 with two more wins, it will mean the 2010 recruiting class finished their Washington careers with a career record of 39-26.

Sarkisian's first full recruiting class did some pretty remarkable things on the heels of 0-12 just two years earlier. In their first season, they won three games over ranked opponents, the first time that had happened since 2001. They made it to a bowl game for the first time since 2002.

Yes, it's painful to list off those accomplishments within their rightful context; Washington Football was just plain embarrassing for the greater part of a decade. But the 2010 recruiting class, of which 11 of the 19 players that walked Saturday night were a part of - James Atoe, Jesse Callier, DiAndre Campbell, Mike Criste, Michael Hartvigson, Micah Hatchie, Andrew Hudson, Evan Hudson, Hauoli Kikaha, Ben Riva, Colin Tanigawa and John Timu - were a dozen guys that came to Montlake rated anywhere from two stars to five stars; came from places as close as Bothell to as far away as Laie, a tiny town on the North Shore of Oahu known more for its Mormon Temple and BYU-Hawaii than football and that University of Washington.

And they can now lay claim for setting the bar for Husky Football moving forward. They have shown the way for Petersen and his coaches what being at Washington and playing big boy football is all about. Those players that stayed made the decision, made the choice, to buy in - and at the same time acted as captains to give the good ship Petersen a solid push-off as it tries to navigate the shark-infested waters of the Pac-12 Conference.

How can you not look at players like Andrew Hudson and not think there was a Hollywood movie script writer in the press box? His career in tatters and left to rot a year ago, the defensive end from Redlands, Calif. was given a second chance by Petersen - and it was one of the best decisions the first-year coach could have made.

All Hudson did in his purple and gold encore Saturday night was come up with two sacks, making it 10 for the season. Between him and Kikaha's 17.5 sacks - a single-season record he continues to pile up with every quarterback that goes down - the Huskies now have two defensive players with 10 or more sacks on the same team for the first time in 32 years. Ray Cattage and Mark Stewart claimed the same feat. And Hudson's tenth sack came on his very last play at Husky Stadium, a play that kept Oregon State out of the end zone.

"He may have been the most positive guy I’ve been around on the team - and we’ve got a couple of those guys," Petersen said of Hudson. "Energy every day, every game - and really got better the whole entire season. It’s really nice when people deserve that to kind of get their due, and it was awesome to see that.”

Kikaha's meteoric rise from Kahuku Red Raider to Washington Husky to Bednarik, Butkus, and Lombardi Award semifinalist has been well documented. He's re-writing the defensive lineman record book when it comes to sacks, ripping the pen from the last defensive lineman from the islands - Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. And by the way, the last Washington player to pick up the Lombardi Trophy? Just some guy from eastern Washington named Steve who ended up being the No. 1 pick in the 1992 NFL Draft.

"It is cool to end our senior year here at Husky Stadium with a win, and in that fashion," Kikaha said after the game. "All three phases were pretty good, and I’m just happy with the way that my brothers played and it was a good fight.”

And no more performance was as conspicuous in broad daylight as that of Campbell, who provided the block on OSU cornerback Steven Nelson to spring Jaydon Mickens for a 36-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. He may not have had the hair-raising statistics of Kikaha or the Hollywood ending of Hudson, but his 2014 contribution was invaluable, especially when you consider - like Hudson - that Campbell was basically left for dead by the previous regime. All he's done so far in his senior season is catch 24 passes for 231 yards and provide a steady hand and some senior leadership for a position group that was decimated by injuries and general ineffectiveness.

It was fitting that Danny Shelton was one of the game-day captains, considering how the team literally moves to him before every game. He may not have been part of the 2010 class, but he's always been mature for his age. Between getting his guys hyped up, between the barrel-rolls and machinations that were affectionately described Saturday night by Bob Rondeau as some sort of 'Polynesian rap dancing' - Shelton has honored his family and the tragic death of his brother Skeevie by graduating the University of Washington with an Anthropology degree and has led by example on and off the field with his attitude, demeanor, and character. He will leave Montlake as arguably the most dominant nose guard to have ever played the position in the purple and gold, and it will be a blast to track his professional career. It's fitting that, as an Auburn native that area covers the 206, 253, and 360 area codes, Shelton will have Washington fans far beyond the valley cheering him on whether he lands in Seattle, San Diego, or St. Louis.

I'm sure I could write touching vignettes about each and every one of the 19 seniors that walked Saturday night, or heartfelt homilies designed to inspire and edify. But remember? No sentimentality. Sugar plum fairies and puppy dawg tails? There's no time for that. This wasn't a fairy tale; this was real life - full of hard work, sacrifice, and getting back up after getting knocked down repeatedly.

And this team still has work to do to finish off the season.

So instead, I'll just take my cues from the Cascade Front - the seven offensive linemen that were part of that 2010 recruiting class. Many are still here, like Atoe, Criste, Hatchie, Riva, and Tanigawa. Others, like Colin Porter and Erik Kohler, gave their service and sacrificed early in the UW careers to pave the way for others. All these guys do is the dirty work, the stuff others would pawn off. The only publicity they typically get is bad publicity. When things go off without a hitch, the skill players are more than happy to soak up all the credit, while the big guys simply go about their days in the shadow of the spotlight.

Criste is a perfect example of how good things come for those that deserve it. Mired for much of the year in the depth, Criste was asked to start on Senior Night. Upon initial inspection he executed flawlessly - no bad snaps, no delays, no holds. Nothing that would catch the eye other than that of a fifth-year senior stepping up and simply doing his job.

In the life of the 2010 recruiting class, their Washington careers ended up being that of one long business trip full of missed connections, lost luggage, bad airplane food. Undeterred, they eventually reached their final destination, a fifth-straight bowl appearance.

They re-set the bar for Washington Football, a bar that had been sitting on the ground for far too long. Let's see what the 2011 recruiting class can do to top them.


Dawgman.com Top Stories