Friendship Can Wait

2003 was supposed to be Joe Lobendahn's breakout year, but instead it just ended up being a break - one he wasn't looking for. After seven tackles against Ohio State, the 5-10.5, 228-pound insider linebacker, the junior from Honolulu came back to Seattle ready to show the Indiana Hoosiers more of the same, but an ACL tear early on took Joe out of the game, and out of a very promising season.

"It feels great," Lobendahn told Dawgman.com about the status of his repaired right knee. "It's 110 percent and I'm ready to go and I'm excited to be back on the field hitting someone. I've been going this whole summer, running on it. I feel great."

You think of the names, just since the beginning of the Don James era alone - Dan Lloyd, Michael Jackson, Bruce Harrell, Ken Driscoll, Mark Jerue, Tim Meamber, Joe Kelly, David Rill, Ricky Andrews, Chico Fraley, James Clifford, Dave Hoffman, Jamie Fields, Hilary Butler, Ink Aleaga, John Fiala, Jerry Jensen, Lester Towns, Derrell Daniels, Ben Mahdavi - and you can see just how important middle linebackers have been to the success of the Washington football program over the past 25 years.

Expect to add Joe Lobendahn's name to that list when he finishes his Husky career after the 2005 season. One of the reasons? He can't have it any other way.

"It's my job to be a starter, so I'm going to try and keep my spot," Joe said, matter-of-factly. "It's a job. On the field there's no friends. Off the field we are friends. So on the field, I'm going to do my thing. I'm going to start, that's it."

In talking to Washington Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow, you start to understand how important Joe's expected contribution is to the coaches' defensive plans this fall. "One of the issues was that we wern't strong up the middle last year - meaning the two tackles, the middle backer and the two safeties," said Snow. "So we get Joe back which is big, and that's also why I wanted to coach the safeties."

Joe's career at Washington started with a bang, as you would expect for someone with his prep credentials. Lobendahn was groomed at Saint Louis, the most well-known of the Hawaii high school football factories. Lobendahn was a big part of why the Crusaders' won three state titles from 1997 to 1999. He was a three-year all-ILH selection in high school and the 2000 all-ILH defensive player of the year.

Lobendahn doesn't like to lose. He wasn't brought up that way and it's not considered an option. That's why a knee injury - something that might have been a deal-breaker for a lot of players - was never going to stop Joe from getting back on the field and achieving the kind of success he's used to.

"I should be faster, I hope I am," he said. "I feel like I am. There's some stiffness in the morning, but that goes away once I start walking around, it gets loosened up. "

Not that Lobendahn needed another obstacle to overcome, but the UW linebacking coaching carousel has been trying. Tom Williams, Cornell Jackson and Tim Hundley have all had the pleasure of coaching Joe while he's been at Montlake, so he shouldn't have been shocked to find that another coach - Chris Tormey - would be coaching him this past spring. In fact, not having a new coach would have messed up the routine.

"I've been through a lot and a lot of transitions, so it comes easy now," Joe said. "I was a little worried (about a new coach) because of the things I had heard, but when he came in he was straightforward and down to earth. I met his family and his girls and he's got a really nice family. He's great. I like him a lot."

"I'm excited about my group," Tormey said. "I think it's a group that has a chance to be an impact group if they continue to make progress. Right now, they look to me that they are a group that is athletic enough that can play at a high level in this league and is deep enough to be able to get through a tough season."

For Joe Lobendahn, depth is fine - as long as they stay on the bench while he's out on the football field, doing what he does best. After all, it's not about being friends.

That's for later.

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