Climb to Safety

It's not the easy way that makes great football players tick. It's the blood, sweat, tears and hours of toiling away in relative anonymity before notice comes, if at all. For two young safeties that are at the University of Washington, that notice may come a bit sooner than expected, but that doesn't mean the hard work stops.

"They are doing all right," Washington defensive coordinator Phil Snow told when asked about his young safeties. "But it's nowhere near the level they need to be at to play in this league. They are slow to see stuff and need to react better. But they will get better."

"Our intensity level needs to be better. Young guys don't understand that and it's my job to get them to understand that. Hopefully with each scrimmage, our intensity level will be better. It looks like they are having fun out there, which is good, but we haven't been making a lot of plays where we are supposed to be making them."

C.J. Wallace and Chris Hemphill are heeding Snow's words, as much out of respect as out of their own inner desire to improve. "The safeties haven't been pulling their weight, but we're still young and we're still learning the plays," Hemphill told "At college, it's a different level. So we need to nail down the playbook and learn from the veterans."

"It's a really positive move," Wallace said when asked about Snow also being the safeties' position coach for 2004. "He stays on us. He has a lot of knowledge and he's trying to teach us everything he knows. It's like he's trying to play the game himself through us."

Jimmy Newell is the one safety that has seen considerable action, but B.J. Newberry is a veteran who is helping the younger guys learn the ropes. "They've been around the barnyard," Chris said of seniors. "They want us to be better, so it helps to have guys like that out there."

The newcomers are aware of the legacy Washington has at the safety position, starting all the way back to Don James' first big-timer - Greg Grimes. J.C. Pearson, Tim Peoples, Eugene Burkhalter, Tommie Smith, Tony Parrish, Lawyer Milloy, Hakim Akbar and Curtis Williams are all defensive backs that have made an impact on the Huskies' program.

'Impact' might be the ideal watchword when talking about Wallace. As the number-one strong safety this spring, a lot has been put on C.J.'s shoulders but he feels like his play is well-suited for the task at hand. "We need to bring back the old tradition, coming up, hitting hard and being tough," he said. "People talk about how that's the way things used to be around here. We're bringing that back.

"If I had six tackles in one game, I'm trying to get 12 in the next game. If I get 12, then I'm trying to get 24. I'm always trying to get better. I can always get better. I feel comfortable at both because Coach Snow is teaching us the right things. I can't just be good at one thing."

Hemphill, playing behind Newell this spring, has turned heads with his ability to play in space, as well as being able to come up quickly and stick a ballcarrier when needed. "I'm an all-around player," the 6-6, 210-pounder said when asked about his game. I can come up for run support, because they know I can hit, especially for my size. I'm a great open-field tackler. And with the plays people can't get to, I can break on the ball and use my wingspan to knock balls away."

It's hard not to think about the possibilities down the road with both Wallace and Hemphill roaming the deep-third. But in talking to them, the future is right now. Could they be the best combination since peanut butter and jelly?

"That's all we talked about when we got here," Hemphill said about playing with C.J. "I used to read on all the rankings of the guys in our class coming in. When I met C.J. and saw his highlight film, he's really fierce and has a lot of tenacity. That's what we need. I feel like we're going to be a good one-two punch. We're going to be here for a while."

"We talk about going to the Rose Bowl, getting some national championship recognition," Wallace added. "We're going to take care of our business. That's why Coach Snow is trying to get us all on the right page, so there's no mistakes." Top Stories