Dawgbytes - 4/14

It appears as if there's been as much attention paid to the outside image of the University of Washington football team as there has been attention paid to the product that's being put on the field. With the invitation of over 150 former players to an earlier practice and the 'Return of the Dawgs' advertising campaign already in place, new Head Coach Tyrone Willingham is now setting his sights squarely on securing the blessings of upper campus.

With previous stints at Stanford and Notre Dame, Willingham understand how important the education of a player is to the player's overall college 'experience'. To that end, he invited current Washington faculty to Husky Stadium Thursday to watch practice and 'break bread' with the team afterwards. He's expecting 50 to 60 Faculty invited to attend practice

"Part of our plan is to have an even better relationship with the faculty," Willingham said. "We want our young men to participate in all facets of this University."

The head coach understands the inherent issues surrounding universities and their normal tenuous association with athletics. "I think there's always been a lack of trust between the academic environment and the academic environment in trying to ensure that the athletic side lives up to the values of the academic side," said Willingham. "We are keenly interested in the success of our players in the classroom."

He's hoping the faculty will see this outreach as just the beginning of a new era in cooperation between the two campuses. "I think they see a real respect for what we do in our program," Willingham said of the faculty.

Willingham even did his own research, dropping in on a math class this spring. "We'll continue to do that," he said. "I might pick up on something. There might be something in that professor's presentation that will also help me be a better coach."

But math may not have been the best first subject to 'rediscover'. "I remembered how much I have forgotten since that time, which is a lot," he said jokingly.

Willingham also pointed out the assistants' role in bridging the divide between athletics and academics. "They want more for them than just a walk across the field, so they will be actively involved in that process," he said.

Coinciding with this effort is the grand opening of the Student Services Center. The Center, which will also act as the school's crewhouse and athletics dining hall, will be open May 6th, the Saturday of the Windemere Cup for Crew.

"The facility enhances all that we do," Willingham said. "It's the 'shiny car', and young people love shiny cars. It gets them in and helps them be better students." It has also been used extensively in recruiting efforts this winter and spring.

One facility the football team hasn't seen so far this spring is the Dempsey Indoor Facility. "It's not the right time for us to get into it yet. The conditions have been OK to be outside," said Willingham, also noting that his Notre Dame teams never used their indoor facility except as a safety measure during thunderstorms.

"When we can't get the work in that we need to, that's when we'll need some type of shelter, but that hasn't happened yet so we're in good shape," he added.

Faces in the crowd: Besides the faculty, former UW Head Coach Jim Lambright was also in attendance Thursday, as well as UW signee Tyrone Davis from Olympia. His older brother Desmond recently transferred from Central Washington to UW and is practicing with the football team this spring. Coaches and players from Aberdeen were also seen checking out practice.

Two times for Tui: Thursday marked the second practice in which Trenton Tuiasosopo attended. Willingham was not sure when the linebacker from Mariner High will get cleared to play again. "We'll probably get some sort of sign-off in the next six weeks and move him to another level of participation and see how things evolve," said Willingham, adding that he's hopeful Trenton will be available in the fall. "I think he gives us a larger presence in our linebacker corps and that would be a plus to have," said Willingham.

The Yellow will remain: Willingham said that he's decided not to have the quarterbacks go live this spring. He's still hopeful that he'll have enough bodies to play a regular spring game, but didn't go that far when asked what he would do if the spring game was this coming Saturday. "I'd let you know on Friday," he said.

Double Duty: James Sims, Jr. and Johnie Kirton have been getting reps at both fullback and halfback, but Willingham wouldn't say whether they were auditioning for new positions or just creating depth. "It's to make sure we have the best player at their best spot for the team," he said. He would not give his opinion as to the best position right now for either Sims or Kirton.

Looking for 'Mr. Everything': It appears as if the tight end position battle will go long into fall camp as Willingham and staff can find a player capable of doing what they want their tight end to do. "There's been some progress, but not enough," he said of the work put in by Robert Lewis, Dash Crutchley, Michael Gottlieb and Jared Bronson. "The young men have done some good things, but we're seeking consistency. And it's not just tight ends, it's all across the board."

So what is Willingham looking for in a tight end? In a word - everything. "I would love a guy that can stretch the field, run the routes, but also give you that anchor that you need on the offense line," he said. "The teams that have those good players can do all those roles. And that's what we're looking for - a guy that can do everything. It forces the defense to change their structure."

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