Home Grown Husky

There are plenty of other places that Ty Eriks could have been this fall. The freshman from O'Dea High School graduated with a 4.0 grade point average to go along with his 3,090 yards and 45 touchdowns.

Eriks had the opportunity to attend many of the most prestigious universities across the country.

He could have very easily been in Los Angeles, California, attending UCLA, or in Palo Alto at Stanford, or even in Berkeley as a California Bear. But this August, Eriks found himself just a car ride from home, having chosen to stay local and attend the University of Washington.

"It's good to be in my home town," Eriks said. "It played a big role in me coming here."

With the weight of the recruiting process off his shoulders and the decision to don the purple and gold in the rear-view mirror, Eriks' focus shifted to learning a new position, improving as a football player, and helping the Huskies win.

When the team headed down to Olympia for two-a-day practices in mid-August, Eriks had a lot to prove. Coming out of the football powerhouse of O'Dea, he was widely regarded as one of the top running back prospects in the entire west coast. SuperPrep Magazine had him pegged as the second rated recruit at any position in the entire Northwest. Only Reggie Williams, a fellow Husky signee to the 2000 recruiting class, ranked ahead of him.

The accolades didn't stop there. He ranked 77th nationally in Prep Football Report's listing of the nation's top 100 recruits at all positions, was one of four of the Seattle Times' "Blue Chip Recruits," and earned first-team selection to the Long Beach Press-Telegram's "Best in the West" team.

In high school he was used primarily as a fullback because that's where the O'Dea Fighting Irish needed him. However, his true passion was always to play behind the fullback and be the main option in the backfield. Rick Neuheisel promised that he'd get that chance if he came to Washington and that is where Eriks has been working all fall.

The transition to tailback started off a bit rough for the 6-2, 220 pounder during two-a-days. He was overwhelmed with learning new schemes and plays, and anxious to make an early impression on running backs coach Tony Alford.

That translated into some dropped passes out of the backfield early in camp, a tell-tell sign that he was simply trying too hard.

"Ty (Eriks) thinks the world is coming to an end when he drops a pass," said Alford in Olympia. "I think it's just nerves. He is thinking so much that he is not just playing and reacting to things. There's going to be many, many more passes dropped in practice, it's not going to be the first or last that he's ever dropped in his life."

Slowly throughout training camp Eriks started to show improvement. He became more comfortable with his team; the coaches, the players, the offensive scheme. And the veteran players gave him some pointers as well.

"They helped me whenever I needed to be helped," Eriks said of veterans Willie Hurst, Rich Alexis, and Braxton Cleman. "They are great guys. They really took me in and let me know what I needed."

One night after a long day of practice in Olympia, one Husky veteran with a flare for hair care made sure that the wide-eyed freshman felt like a part of the team.

The proof?

Eriks showed up on the practice field the following morning with the words, "I Love #8," shaved into the back of his head, courtesy of Willie Hurst.

So Eriks got mad, right? He felt mistreated, right?

Wrong. "It made me feel like a part of the team."

Eriks also developed a strong relationship with coach Alford in Olympia. Alford, a former running back at Colorado State University, was someone that the freshman could relate to. He is very capable of taking a raw freshman's game to the next level.

"Coach Alford will push you when you need to be pushed, but he'll also tell you what you need to fix," Eriks said. "He's a real good coach, and I enjoy being with him."

Less than a month after first joining the team, Eriks is upbeat about where he stands. Sure the difficulties of learning a complex offense and adjusting to a new way of life in college have been tough, but the former O'Dea star is happy with the way his new life is unfolding so far.

"It's obviously hard physically, and mentally it's just getting into a new groove, getting within a new team, and getting within the mix," Eriks said.

"Every day that I spend here, though, I feel more comfortable. It's a pretty short amount of time to learn as much as we have to learn, but I feel like I'm doing pretty well."

Eriks had a difficult first scrimmage but he is showing a more aggressive running style. A lot of the freshman tentativeness he exhibited in Olympia is gone. With the start of the Husky season less than a week away, it's hard to say whether or not he'll redshirt in his first season to preserve a year of eligibility. With Hurst a senior, Alexis a veteran sophomore, and senior Braxton Cleman available for both tailback and fullback duties, Washington may have the luxury of sitting Eriks in 2001. That would move him up the depth chart two places and he'd still have four years of eligibility left.

It all depends on the health of the position, and whether or not Special Teams Coach Bobby Hauck wishes to use him on kickoff and punt teams. The same goes for fellow freshman tailback Chris Singleton.

Of his two freshman running backs, head coach Rick Neuheisel said: "We're glad we gave them both scholarships because we think both are going to be outstanding players. We're deep at that position right now, so I'd say that neither would probably get a lot of playing time early in the season. But if they continue to progress, it's not unheard of that they might participate this year."

Eriks doesn't appear to be worried about his role this season. Whatever the coaches have in mind is fine with him. He has his eye on the big picture.

"I'm just trying to do whatever I can for the team," he said. "The rest is up to the coaches."

While he may have gotten more playing time and quite possibly have seen the field earlier in his college career at other schools, Eriks believes that he made the right decision to attend UW. It's a place where he can make the short drive to see his parents. It's somewhere that his parents can come see him play. It's not far for his father, Bob, to come and watch practice. The idea of being able to see all of his little brother's football games at O'Dea also makes him smile.

These are parts of his life that would have been missing had he left for a college out of this state. To Ty Eriks, Washington is home.

And that, after all, is where he wants to be.
Joe Kaiser is the Associate Editor for Sports Washington Magazine. He can be reached at joek@dawgman.com.

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