A new era of Husky football was on display Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium.
Gone were the familiar faces Husky fans have grown accustomed to in recent years. No Reggie Williams, no Cody Pickett, no Terry Johnson. In their place was a group of youngsters looking to turn the program around, and while that might not happen immediately in 2004, the talent is in place for the future.
The Huskies ran through more of a scrimmage than a live game – matching the offense against the defense - due to a rash of injuries to both sides of the ball, but both players and coaches came away happy after the 49-20 win by the offense.
"The tempo was really good today on both sides of the ball," said Husky coach Keith Gilbertson. "Today was probably the best the offense has looked in terms of just good plays. The defense has probably dominated the offense until today."
Gilbertson said Saturday's performance was indicative of the kind of team he has from a character standpoint.
"I think our people were really upbeat," he said. "I think that's the kind of players we have. We have guys that look forward to playing spring football. I think they enjoyed it, and I think they enjoy their coaches."
In the three-way competition at quarterback, Casey Paus, Carl Bonnell and Isaiah Stanback each connected for touchdown passes on the day. Bonnell threw the only interception, but it came on an unlucky play over the middle that bounced off a runningback's chest and into the hands of linebacker Kyle Trew.
"I did better than last week, so that's a positive," said Stanback, who finished 4-10 for 103 yards and the one score, a 69-yard pass to Chris Singleton. "That's the main thing on my mind right now, just progressing every week."
Paus, the veteran of the group heading into his fourth season with the Huskies, said the competition for the starting job has been great.
"As long as the quarterback shows confidence in the guys around him, it doesn't really matter who is in there," he said. "The guys will follow your lead and you've got to be leader to do that. Right now we are pretty focused on what we need to do."
Paus' numbers on the day: 6-11 for 112 yards and a 59-yard touchdown pass to Quintin Daniels.
Bonnell, who'll only be a redshirt freshman in 2004, was 5-11 for 63 yards with the one interception and touchdown. He said he feels that he could have done better in the final scrimmage of the spring, but remains confident in abilities nonetheless.
"I'm pretty excited," said Bonnell, the former championship quarterback at Kentwood High. "I've got a lot of things to work on this summer. I can go from here to improve myself and have a good chance next year at the starting job."
While Gilbertson maintained that nobody won the starting job outright with their performance on Saturday, he said he was pleased with the way each played.
"I thought all the quarterbacks made plays," said the Huskies' second-year head coach. "You can see how athletic Carl (Bonnell) and Isaiah (Stanback) are. They are young, and like all young guys they are going to have to get comfortable with the amount of pressure that people are going to bring at them. Once Casey got going, he did fine.
"I'm anxious to look at the video to make a determination to who is going to enter (fall) camp No. 1. I wouldn't venture a guess today. I do want to look at the video."
Quarterback's coach John Pettas echoed Gilbertson's thoughts, and added some to the uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position heading into fall camp. Pettas, like always, was up-beat about the situation.
"We feel pretty comfortable where we are, but we've still got a ways to go and we know that," he said. "I think our kids are understanding where they need to go. We've got a three-horse race, and that's a good problem to have. They are all competing and they've all got great attitudes."
As far as other positions go, Gilbertson shared his views:
On the receivers: "Today was Sonny (Shackelford's) best day. I didn't get the ball to Charles (Frederick) as much as I wanted. I'd say we'll go into camp with Corey Williams and Charles as our top two receivers. Probably Sonny or (Anthony) Russo in the slot."
On the offensive line and tight ends: "It's kind of like a MASH unit right now. We need to get Tusi (Sa'ua), we need to get Rob Meadow back, (Brad) Vanneman. (Joe) Toledo and (Ben) Bandel at tight end. That will help us. We really need a third tackle to emerge. With Bandel and Toledo and (Jon) Lyon, we'll be fine at tight end."
On the other positions: "I think defensive end is a place where a newcomer is going to have a chance. I think offensive tackle. I feel pretty solid about our play at tailback. I like our punter. I think Evan Knudson really had a fine spring kicking the ball."
Gilbertson also singled out safeties C.J. Wallace and Chris Hemphill as two players with bright futures, as well as linebacker Kyle Trew.
On the same day Reggie Williams was drafted by Jacksonville and Terry Johnson by Chicago in the NFL Draft, the Huskies found themselves back on the field in the beginning stages of forming a new team identity.
And that identity, according to linebacker Scott White, is what coach Gilbertson has been talking about ever since last season ended.
"The main thing we set out from day one to do was to be the closest team in the Pac-10," said the third-year linebacker. "I think we're doing that.
I think we were more together than we were at this point last year. It feels more like a family, there's more cohesiveness, and I think that's going to carry over to the field."
Paus says it's showed on the field this spring.
"I feel like the guys are real focused," he said. "There is a little more competition that is pushing everyone right now, and I think that's good. We're going forward."
For a Husky team mired in mediocrity over each of the past three seasons, forward is the only place they wish to go. Saturday's Spring Game was a good place to start.
Hooray for Reggie: Gilbertson said after the scrimmage that he was thrilled to hear that Reggie Williams was drafted No. 9 overall by Jacksonville in Saturday's NFL Draft. "I think it's representative of what type of athlete and player he is," he said.
Notes and Quotes
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