"I don't even think you could call it a funk," said Chambers, a product of Mill Creek's Jackson High. "It was a lot worse than that."
The highly-heralded receiver, who at 6-foot-4 showed the speed and hands to be the jewel of the Washington's 2003 recruiting class, started off slowly once training camp began last August and never was able to snap out of it. Not during the rest of fall camp. Not at any time throughout his redshirt season. And definitely not during spring practices.
"Before I hit summer, I was at rock bottom," said Chambers, appearing surprisingly upbeat as he spoke to Dawgman.com in the cafeteria at The Evergreen State College. "I was at the lowest in the depths you could ever be. I was sitting there as a fourth string receiver, and walk-ons were doing better than me. I caught one pass for zero yards in the spring game, and I was just thinking, "That isn't cutting it."
Spring wasn't an aberration; it was just another setback in a season of difficult times for the then 18-year-old freshman.
What started in fall camp as a few dropped passes snowballed into a season long slump. It affected the way he learned the playbook, it showed in the sluggish manner he ran routes, it festered deep inside of him getting progressively worse as the season wore on.
Did quitting ever enter his mind?
"A bunch of times," Chambers admitted. "I was like I don't even know if I like football that much, maybe I'm not that good, maybe I'm not that serious about it. I thought about transferring. I felt embarrassed walking by players and coaches because I felt I had disappointed them.
"But my mentality is not to give up. If I would have quit my mom would have beat my butt."
Once spring practices ended and school got out a month-and-a-half later, Chambers decided to do what most others in his position wouldn't do. Instead of devoting himself to football, he dedicated his summer months to anything and everything non-football related.
"I just took a break over the summer," he said, in a matter-of-fact tone. "I went home and didn't really do anything. I just wanted to get away from everything and see what happened.
"When I went home, I just cleared my mind. I got my mind off of football. I came back and I didn't know if it was going to work or not, because you never really know until you get out on the field."
While many other Huskies stayed near campus for the summer and worked out together, Chambers kept to himself. He didn't know what would come of 2004, if anything, but there was really no alternative. He felt taking a break from the sport was the only quick-fix answer.
"I didn't hear from anybody," said Chambers. "I came for one 7-on-7 the whole summer, and that was it. I know that probably disappointed some people, but I think I've taken a step forward instead of staying where I was at."
Even though Chambers' was intent on taking a break from football, he never lost sight of the importance of staying in shape.
"I know that I wanted to come back and pass the tests. That was really important to me," he said. "I didn't want to come back and just flop."
So, what was the average day like for the super-talented receiver?
"I wanted to chill out this summer. I wanted to have fun with people. I'd usually hang out during the day and every other day at about 11 or 12 o'clock at night I'd go work out at 24 Hour Fitness for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half. On the days where I wasn't lifting, I'd go run at Lynnwood High and I'd just do the conditioning test that we do."
Chambers said he'd lower the length of his rests in between wind sprints from the typical 45 seconds that the team uses as a bench-mark to 30 seconds.
"It seemed to help a lot," he said, now up to 205 pounds after entering 2003 at a slender 185.
"Summer kind of let me start over. When you are there all year long, you never really start over. You just carry over from the last thing you did to the next thing. Whatever you did during the season got carried over into mat drills and whatever you did there got carried into spring ball.
"I feel like I started off at a bad point and it sort of got carried into everything. When I left, I started with a clean slate and I didn't have that stuff on my mind anymore."
Chambers entered fall camp last week with what he felt was an entirely new outlook, and did so showing an improved game on the field at the same time.
He isn't someone who's going to challenge for a starting spot this season, and he knows that. He isn't ever going to be the instant-impact guy that the recruiting experts predicted. But he feels like his mind has flushed out the negativity from last season, making him ready for a breakout season in 2004.
"I think if I would have come (to train with the team) this summer, everything would have just caved back over," said Chambers. "When I removed myself, I feel like I had a chance to clear my head. Getting away kind of turned me into a new person.
"(Last year) I came in and didn't do what I was expected to do. People said I was overrated. People can say that if they want to, but the way I look at it is that I wasn't ready. I expect to be that good some day. I just didn't do it as fast as people said I was going to do. I just thought to myself that I'll show them one day that I can be that good of a player."
Each day out on the practice field over the past week, Chambers has noticed that everything is coming easier than last year. He still has to remind himself what to do during each play, but not in the drastic fashion that hampered his abilities in 2003.
He's running faster routes, showing much better quickness and hauling in nearly every pass thrown his way.
"I feel like the way I'm playing this year and the way I'm playing last year is like night and day," said the second-year receiver.
"The biggest difference between last year and this year is that last year when I was out on the field I used to tell myself, ‘Don't drop the ball, don't drop the ball, don't drop the ball. If you drop the ball you'll be put back at fifth string.' This year I don't even think about catching the ball. When I'm lining up I'm thinking I've got to sight adjust him, and I'm the blitz beater, and if this guy comes I've got to cut it off and sit here. It's coming a lot more natural.
"I've dropped the ball, but when I drop the ball it isn't the end of the world now and I go back to the huddle. That's probably the biggest difference."
With each passing day, the future is regaining the bright outlook it once had for Craig Chambers. Only one year into the Husky program, the young receiver has already experienced the wide range of ups and downs of college football, and he hopes his hard work and renewed focus will translate into positives in the not-too-distant future.
"I feel pretty good about where I'm at right now," he said. "Anybody can always do better. I didn't know what I was going to be like when I came back. I could have been exactly the same. But I'm not and I'm pretty satisfied with where I'm at. Next year I hope to make an even bigger jump and become a starter."
Chambers Leaving Tough Times Behind
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