The added storyline was that the Buffalo fans were still in a frothing tizzy over the manner of Neuheisel's departure from Boulder the previous January.
In Washington's first two losses against BYU and Air Force, the Huskies took to the air with great frequency, and the production left something to be desired. As Neuheisel looked on in dismay, Washington was trounced (at home) by the Air Force Falcons 31-21. His new QB Marques Tuiasosopo completed 21 of 44 passes for 195 yards. The straight drop-back philosophy didn't seem to be gelling for this ball club. So he and his coaching cohorts implemented the option attack, and surprised Colorado with it. The Tui legend was born with his first (of many) great 4th-quarter performance, and Washington's season and overall fortunes turned around that Saturday, 31-24.
As my Dad happily exclaimed to me at the after-game 5th Quarter party, "well my Son, we are once again a team to contend with... Now it's time to bring on those dreaded Ducks of Oregon!" (Whom Washington went on to beat 34-20).
While all of this was going on, a young man by the name of Rich Alexis was in the state of Florida pondering his future. Having only played one game in his first three years of high school, Rich manage to persuade his Dad to let him onto the gridiron for his senior year. Despite injuries that limited him to nine games, he rushed for 700 yards and 13 touchdowns. Subsequently he was rated the third-best running back in his home state by Florida Blue chips Report.
As soon as his former teammate and Husky kicker John Anderson began giving his spiel to Neuheisel regarding him, as well showing game footage on the VCR, the Alexis' home began receiving phone calls. When asked why he came to Washington, Alexis commented ""I chose to come here because of the coaches. Every coach that I talked to from the University of Washington seemed very sincere. It seemed like they really wanted me to come here. They showed me I was wanted. The previous coaches I had talked to from other schools, said `Yes Rich, we want you here..." and that was it. But Coach Neuheisel, Coach Hauck and Coach Moses continued to call me and talk to me. They would just call me to say `What's up?' That is what made me come out here."
He burst onto the scene with as much surprise and ferocity as any player in recent Husky memory. With Washington playing his hometown Miami Hurricanes and leading 21-9 in the 3rd quarter, Neuheisel inserted Alexis for one play. The coach later said he had simply wanted Rich's parents to see that he was OK, as he had been battling some homesickness.
On a textbook option play executed to perfection, Tuiasosopo was leveled just as he pitched the ball. Alexis snared it and rambled 50 yards down the sidelines and into the end zone. It electrified the stadium crowd, it was exhilarating to his family back home, and it made the ESPN Sportscenter highlights that evening.
He was a Godsend to the Husky option attack of 2000. Spearheaded by the great Tuiasosopo, opposing defenses had fits trying to disrupt the impeccable timing of Washington's field general. When the time came that he decided to pitch, there was big #24, Rich Alexis. A young man at once, as fast as a gazelle and as powerful as a charging bull. Alexis went on to rush for 738 yards and 9 touchdowns, sporting a startling 6.2 yards-per-carry average. Big things were predicted for the young man from Florida.
As the fall of 2001 approached, much of the workload seemed destined for his broad shoulders. He was clearly the most talented of the running backs, and widely-anointed for supreme greatness.
As Neuheisel has been pointing out recently, the option game has been severely limited this fall due to injury and youth on the offensive line. Alexis' difficulties have been exposed to be the inability to run with precision and decisiveness in between the tackles. Willie Hurst has been such a force on the ground, playing with incredible heart and running with ferocity and calculated abandon. Reading blocks, zipping to daylight, breaking tackles, and dragging tacklers. He has carried the Washington ground game upon his shoulders.
Some people have publicly questioned and even have gotten a bit down on the young sophomore Alexis. Not only is the criticism a bit disheartening, it is also not fair. Alexis has played football for a total of 2.5 years, including high school.
However, the past is always prologue. In looking back at the 1998 season, Freshman Willie Hurst had the dubious nickname of "One-Yard Willie". He would run up between the tackles, and instead of lowering a shoulder and forging ahead for tough yards, he would begin pirouetting like a purple whirling dervish. And he would take some ferocious hits and go right down in a heap. But through a series of trials, criticisms, and learning, he has become a tremendous running back. He now hits the hole like a freight train, has assuredness and confidence, holds onto the ball, and fights for the tough yards. Even in a season where the blocking at times has been spotty at best, Hurst has churned and battled for a 5.0 yards per carry average.
Alexis will follow the same path. He is watching Willie's decisiveness and learning from it. He knows that it is a model for what he needs to become. He is listening to coach Alford's constructive criticisms and encouragements. He will spend all next summer watching game films, lifting weights, running, and imagining himself as one of the top running backs in the country.
Come November of next year, Rich Alexis will be hailed as a truly great running back, and a key figure on one of the greatest offenses in Husky history. We can all see the big picture taking form here, with the maturation of Pickett, Barton, Arnold, Williams, Eriks, Ware and Toledo.
And from all of this, Rich Alexis will personally be able to take heart, as the same people who are critical of him now, will be comparing him to the great Corey Dillon.
Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall
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