Chambers looks to keep it all in the family

The time was the fall of 1990. Several incoming freshman were working their way into the ranks at the University of Washington, including one from Lake Stevens. His name was Richie Chambers. His younger brother Craig was 4 at the time and had some idea what big brother was up to, but not a lot.

"When Richie was going to U-Dub, I got to go to the locker rooms and see everything up close," Craig told "When he was there, it was like I was going there. U-Dub definitely has a special spot in my heart."

Now, at the ripe age of 16, Craig Chambers is now ready to experience what Richie did 12 years ago. And while Craig may end up following big brother, don't expect him to do it the way Richie did.

"I'd say things are a lot more stable for Craig," the elder Chambers told last week. "Things weren't very settled when I was going through the process and it was really important that I get a scholarship. With him, his options are wide open."

Richie declared early for Washington over the likes of Washington State, California and Oregon. His thoughts towards the Ducks have done an about-face as he's seen the school to the south emerge as a national force to be reckoned with. "The family will always support him, in whatever decision he makes," Richie said. "There's only one school he can't go to...Oregon. If he's looking at Oregon, I'll fight him on it tooth and nail." (laughs)

But let's get back to the beginning. Back in the early 90's, all Craig needed to worry about was watching Richie at games and on television. He still has very fond memories of Richie's exploits on September, 24, 1994.

"I'd say the Whammy in Miami is the thing I remember the most," Craig said. "I watched it on TV and I remember it being very intense. I was pretty young. I knew a lot about football, but not everything. I just remember when he got the interception and got defensive MVP and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In fact, he still has a copy of that upstairs."

Now let's move up to today. Craig lives with his Mother Sue in Mill Creek and plays football for Mill Creek (Wash.) Jackson. He is 6-5 and weighs 190 pounds. He runs a 4.45 40. He has a 37-inch vertical jump. He was one of only two juniors to be named to the Seattle Times All-State team. (Bethel's David Lewis is the other one.) He was also All WesCo 4A, Seattle Times All-Area and also a Student Sports Junior All-American.

In short, he's a hot shot prospect who is quickly getting a 'can't miss' tag applied to him, months before his senior season even begins.

Richie can empathize. He was named the Snohomish County Athlete of the Year and the Everett Herald Athlete of the Year in 1989 after earning All-WesCo honors in football, first in state in wrestling at 190 pounds and the state titleholder in both the 110 and 300 Class AA hurdles.

But more importantly for Craig is the fact that Richie has been there, done that. It's something the younger Chambers is going to use to his benefit as the coaches come calling in May. "I know I can trust him and Mr. (Curt) Marsh one-hunded percent when it comes to giving me good advice and being unbiased," Craig said. "I know that they would love for me to go to U-Dub, but they aren't pushing it on me at all. At least not yet."

So why the hoopla? What is it about the Jackson receiver that has Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State, USC, Tennessee, UCLA, BYU, Penn State, Florida, LSU, Boston College and Georgia Tech already sending letters to Mill Creek?

As a junior, Craig caught 35 passes for 863 yards and 8 touchdowns, but that's not the whole story. He's been playing varsity since 9th grade, but that's only another piece of the puzzle. Craig has his own thoughts about how he has separated himself from the pack.

"I think it's because I'm so tall," he said. "Most DB's are short, so I can always out-jump them. If the DB is taller, they aren't going to be faster, so I can out-run them. I feel like I should always have an advantage."

But there's a small part of him that has always tried to forge his own path, his own destiny, a part that has driven him to excel on his own terms. "I remember one time when I was at a camp and we were in a passing league and we ended up going against Lake Stevens, the school my brother used to go to," Craig said. "There was a little scuffle between the guys, nothing that big, but one of the guys on their team decided to toss this thing in about how I was just a name and wasn't that good. But really, I don't mind being compared to my brother. He was a great player."

He also acknowledges the input from his quarterback, senior-to-be Jason Morris, a first-team all-WesCo pick in his own right. "We really communicate well. For example, if the DB is short, he can throw the fade up so only I can get it, and if the DB is taller, he knows to throw it out there so I can go after it. I just like going up for the ball. I feel I can use my athleticism and really concentrate to make the catch."

Morris and Chambers connected this past fall on a pass that went down as one of the more remarkable plays of the season. "I'd say my best game was against Shorewood," Craig said. "I had 185 yards receiving, but I scored on a 77-yard pass play on the last play of the game."

He also had a 267-yard receiving game against Edmonds-Woodway, the 16th-best game by a prep receiver last year in the United States. Those kind of stats will get you noticed in a hurry.

The other key to Chambers' success is the guidance supplied by his position coach. His coach also happens to be his brother.

"The nice thing about having my brother be my coach is that he keeps it all on the field. Once the game is over and we go home, we don't talk about football at all. I think the biggest thing he's taught me is not to talk too much, be subtle and low-key," Craig said about Richie's influence as both brother and coach. "He said that there's no reason to brag about things. When I was younger I was really into basketball, so I was always talking, but now I've grown up a bit and I don't really want people to know what I'm doing or what's going on. Someone will see me with a letter or something at school and they'll ask and I'll be like, 'It's nothing. No big deal.'"

For Richie's part, he admits that he's got it good when it comes to mentoring Craig. "I think the biggest part has just been being like a father figure," Richie said. "Unfortunately Craig was pretty young when I went to U-Dub, so it's better that I'm around more often. I just try to show him by the way I carry myself. I don't try to be too vocal about things."

Besides coaching at Jackson for Head Coach Joel Vincent, Chambers also works for ATT Wireless in Edmonds. Even in the off-season, the Chambers brothers still keep their relationship on the front burner.

"I talk to him quite often, two or three times a week," Richie said. "Just to find out what's going on, give him some guidance when it's needed."

Richie is also going to try his best to help Craig and the rest of the Jackson Timberwolves achieve their goals this fall. "I think the team can make state and be a #1 seed," Craig said. "We can go undefeated. We should be able to go to the semis at least, we have enough talent to do it. We are all best friends. CJ (Marsh) and I, we're really close. His dad is Uncle Curt to me."

Craig knows he'll be counted on to make the big play, and it's a role he accepts with gusto. "Well, it's different for me," he said. "During the games, I'm really intense and off by myself sometimes, but it also depends on what's going on in the game. But during practice I'm mostly calm and laid-back, not trying to be too intense. But I'm the kind of guy who wants the ball at the end of the game. I want that pressure."

With his success on the gridiron, there's no question he can handle that kind of pressure. The bigger question is, will he be able to handle the full-court press and traps college coaches are sure to apply as he weaves his way through the recruiting process? He will with his big brother by his side.

"I know there are going to be coaches that are going to want to force his hand early, but he's one of the top receivers on the West Coast," Richie said of his younger brother. "He doesn't have to do that. There will be a scholarship for him no matter how long he waits."

It's only March, and Craig has had enough of the inevitable questions that have already been volleyed his way. "I'm already sick of that question!" he said. "I go to basketball games and people are always asking me, 'Are you going to U-Dub?' If I decide not to go to U-Dub and people get upset at me, then they aren't true fans of me. My closest friends don't ask and don't care where I go. They just want me to go to the place that's best for me."

Back during last season, a story in the Everett Herald ran that put Chambers in the purple and gold, no if's and's or but's. "I think my thoughts on that have changed," he said. "I'm still high on U-Dub, but I'm high on other schools too. Getting all of these letters has really opened my eyes. I know I want to take a couple of trips for sure before I do anything. I'm not saying no to anybody just yet."

Richie is currently playing the time-honored role of the brother who said 'I told you so'. "I knew it would happen to him and told him that he was going to be able to go anywhere he wants, but it's something he had to see for himself."

While Craig doesn't have any offers yet, expect them to materialize when the May evaluation period rolls around. He's been thinking about some of the other schools he wants to visit. "I want to look at Washington State because they are close to home, and USC," he said.

"I went to see the U-Dub-USC game at Husky Stadium last year and I noticed that USC didn't have any outstanding receivers. I followed recruiting this past year and they didn't really recruit any big receivers either, so I'm interested in them. Oregon is just a short flight from Seattle, and that's important. That way, my Mom (Sue) can come to all the games. That's pretty important to me. And Tennessee too. Growing up, I always thought of Tennessee as a good program, a powerhouse."

Talking to Richie and Curt Marsh has made Craig the foremost 16-year old authority on recruiting in the greater Seattle area. "The one thing that will really disappoint me is if coaches deceive me," he said. "I'll transfer if that happens. That's why I'm high on a school like Penn State, for example. After reading some things about how they recruit, I like how they've been honest and straightforward, even if it meant they lost some players they could have gotten. I like that."

One thing is for sure; the comparisons between Chambers and former Lakes receiver Reggie Williams are going to be inevitable. "It doesn't bother me at all," Craig said of the comparison. "In fact, it makes me feel good. I know that I'm my own player, but Reggie was the best receiver to come out of high school a couple of years ago. That's what I want to be."

Craig has made it clear that where he ends up signing is going to be his decision. But he also knows that people are going to be affected, not only within his immediate family, but also within his circle of friends.

"I do have a girlfriend that I've been going out with for over a year," said Chambers. "We've actually known each other since the 7th grade. Being close to her is going to be important. There's not one thing that's going to determine where I go, but there are going to be a lot of small things, like being close to her and my family that are going to be important factors to consider."

Richie puts in his two cents. "If I could do it all over again, I would have wanted to take some trips," he said. "I do regret not having that chance. Washington was always the place I wanted to go, but it would have been nice to get wined and dined."

His brother puts a more pragmatic spin on things. "I'll go to the place where I feel at home," Craig said. "I have to like the campus and fall in love with it. Right now, I don't know anything but U-Dub. I've never been to any other campuses besides U-Dub and Washington State. The trips will be very important."

One thing Craig will be doing this summer is getting a sneak peek at those official trips, taking some 'unofficial' ones while he hits the camp circuit. "I'll be going to Western (Washington) for sure. That's our team camp. I love that camp. And all of us (Jackson players) are going down to the Oregon (Nike) camp too. There's a slight chance I might go to the U-Dub camp."

When talk turns to the local school, Craig can't help but comment on Rick Neuheisel. With all that's been said about Neuheisel, Chambers seems to have formulated a favorable impression up to this point. "I've never met Coach Neuheisel before, but I've heard that he tries to fill you up with false hope," he said. "I don't know if that's true, but I would rather a coach be positive and do that rather than always putting you down all the time. That's why I would never play for a coach like Bobby Knight. I want a positive coach."

For those people that think Craig Chambers is going to Washington should hedge their bets. That may have been the case six months ago, but his eyes have been opened by the attention he's getting. "One of the things that would be nice about going away is that I would be starting my own thing. If I went to U-Dub, it's still going to be the school that my brother went to. One of the things that would really hurt U-Dub is if Coach Neuheisel or Coach Gilbertson left. That would be tough."

But Oregon? That's when the sibling rivalry starts to pick up steam. "Well, if that's how he (Richie) feels, I might just have to move them up on my list to give him a hard time!" Craig said, laughing. "My uncle Mark might disown me too if I went to Oregon. Actually, the thing that first struck me about them were their uniforms. I like their style. They are tight. And their main receiver, Keenan Howry, is going to be gone by the time I get there, so I think I could play there."

But as my conversation with Craig ended, he left me with this. "I still feel the same way about U-Dub as I always have."

Will he still feel that way on 2/5/2003? Only time will tell if Craig Chambers wants to keep it all in the family. Top Stories