Ask coach Baird

Summer is almost over, and football is here! Here is what I found in my mailbox while I was on vacation . . .

From Jonathan Marsh
: I'm in your boat on being optimistic about the Dawgs and this coming 2005 season. I also enjoy your presence at Alumni events as you jazz it up. 2 questions - 1) - based on the spring game, field goal kicking appeared weak, punting was marginal, and kickoffs appeared OK though "not inside the 10". Is this an area that needs to step up? 2) - I sense the current coaches put more emphasis into player fundamentals, unit work fundamentals, and team fundamentals - player units and the whole team "acting as one". Anything to say on this? Thanks.

A: Good question with regard to the specialists and how that part of the game was developing in spring. I agree that the kicking game is critical to the Huskies turning around their program and record. Coach Willingham hired Bob Simmons, the ex-head coach of Oklahoma State to direct and organize the kicking game. He then brought his kicker from Notre Dame with him and he will serve as a GA (graduate assistant) and work specifically with the specialists. I think that is a great idea because they are a different breed and could really develop with some specific coaching. That puts two people in charge kicking and as far as the kids are concerned I appraise it like this; Evan Knudson is a great team player and has been a hard worker, is a senior and has been real loyal to the program. He will have to be beaten out but I'm not sure it will be Braunstein and it more likely it will be incoming Ryan Perkins. Sean Douglas is a good punter. Mike Mapu improved tremendously as a snapper as has the younger Benn, Jason. With the specific attention they will be given I can only believe the kicking game will make great improvement. Protection is key though, as the Huskies had a number of punts blocked last year and a couple by Notre Dame if I'm not mistaken. That and PAT/FG protection are critical. Their organization of all aspects is sound and I really look for improvement
From John Phillips
Dear Coach Baird,
: Below is an excerpt taken from the Northwest Football League history Any memories that you'd like to share with semi-pro football fans would be greatly appreciated!

From the article: NIFL/Sea-Tac Flyers (information provided by Tim Robinson)
By 1972 Elmo Hudgens, a used car sales manager at Westlake Chevrolet, was the king of Northwest football. In 1949 he had started the Seattle Cavaliers out of Issaquah. He had an on-going yearly game with Simon Fraser University in B.C. and picked up additional games where he could. He had plenty of good players through those years. By 1973 the number of semi-pro football players had grown around the Northwest. A plan was hatched to re-develop the NIFL at a meeting in Canada. The B.C. Lions, Burnaby Barons, Skagit Valley Raiders, Whatcom County Lakers, Seattle Cavaliers, Kirkland Bulldogs (Seattle Bulldogs) were the main teams. Monroe Reformatory also had a team in the league. Simon Fraser was not technically in the league. The prisoners at Monroe had it great. If they got hurt in a game, they only had to go back to their cells (or the infirmary) on Monday morning.
) A friend of mine stopped me at Southcenter Mall in January of 1973 and said he was heading north in a few weeks to join the league. I tagged along with another friend. We met the guys in a hotel in Vancouver and paid a "league" fee. I think it was $300 to join the league. We had no team. The Pierce County Bengals attended the same meeting. They had already formed a committee with Ed Bemis and Walt Tupper. Steve Harshman would be their player coach along with Bemis. The Whidbey Islanders joined too.
A bona-fide league schedule was drawn up. We went to a Denny's in Blaine to hatch a plan. I picked the team colors based on the Union 76 station across the street (orange, blue and white). I picked the team name based on my years of military service in Wiesbaden, Germany. The Wiesbaden Flyers became the Sea-Tac Flyers. (We were close to the airport)
This was pre-Seahawks so we were the only game in town, except the Huskies. We rallied the boys and girls club to sell tickets. We bought billboards in Burien. We sold a program and raffled off a side of beef. We had 3,500 people for our opener against the dreaded Seattle Cavaliers. They were big, tough and fast. They had years of experience and we had NONE. They also had Bob Cason, the fastest, best athlete I ever saw play in the league next to Ron Baines. Bob could throw a bullet falling down. He could run a 10-flat hundred and was built like a wide receiver. Cason was a big fish in a little pond. He threw so accurately and so hard that many balls bounced off the chests of his receivers. They caught enough to whip us 28-0 before our home crowd. Not an auspicious start.
Cason had a tryout with the Washington Redskins in the strike-shortened 1972 season. They wanted to make him a wide-receiver as they had Sonny Jurgensen. He did not make the cut after that
Installment Two of the NIFL: 1973-1978
When the big day came on August 18, 1973, we weren't ready. We had to play the game in our practice jerseys (white with blue numbers) because our budget was small and we couldn't order our newer jerseys until late July. They hadn't arrived in time for the game. We had purchased all our gear through Bill Hatch Sporting Goods for approximately $4,000. A new type of helmet had come out. We apparently were naive enough to believe it would help us. They were "water-filled" helmet and were heavy as the dickens. As far as I know, we were the only team to try them. They did not last more than a few games. Guys were getting neck stingers and breaking the liners. That was fun, as a glycerin type gel drained down their faces like dripping egg whites. Mike Crotty, our bona-fide All-American safety from Notre Dame (and later the Ottawa Roughriders) asked for a suspension helmet. I bought it for $48 with most of my paycheck that week because I needed him.
I mentioned we raffled off a side of beef as a fund raiser. Players were not exempt and Dick Barnes's wife held the winning ticket. Barnes was our 56 year old kicker, who had spent years with Elmo Hudgens of the Cavaliers. Dick once told me when he got too old to kick he wanted to play offensive line. We let him play later in the season. Dick was a terrific guy and later a state rep in Olympia. He had the honor of sitting in the Illinois locker room, in pads at halftime while Red Grange gave a pep talk to the team.
About midway through the '73 season, we traveled up to Monroe to play the reformatory guys. They had a dirt field inside the walls. We were checked through fairly tight security and given a small locker room to change. Elmo Hudgens had given us some old pads from the late 40's to supplement our newer gear as we needed all we could get. There were leather knee pads, thigh pads, old beater chin straps and a few shoulder pads with leather padding. Not much, but better than nothing.
We met the inmates on the field. George Jugum was a coach for them. He had been sent up for punching a guy to death in a parking lot in West Seattle after the guy insulted him. George was a tough guy who had played for Jim Owens prior to that. Linebacker, I think.
The inmates were mostly a hodgepodge of athletes with no central focus. They had lots of arguing and finger-pointing in their huddles. We rolled over them fairly easily, but not before Crotty was rolled on and hammered at the 5 yard line. The field was so poorly marked that you could not tell where the end zone began and ended. Crotty, our starting running back, ran around right end and eased up as he crossed the pseudo goal line. Smack! He was hit and hit again as a couple of inmates hammered him. We almost came to a riot inside the prison walls. Better judgment prevailed as we knew those guys did not have to get up in the morning. We left with our victory and never played there again.
1973 featured some notable people. Dave Sabey, of Sabey Construction, teamed up with Gene Armstrong, both Highline High School friends, to form the Iron Curtain defense. We had our moments. We started the season with Randy Thomason at QB, but by mid-season we switched to a wilder and freer wheeling offense with Randy Kramer taking a few snaps. Thomason was a weight lifter who had played QB in the army. He was built like a linebacker and pretty tough. He threw of lot of dying quails, but ran the offense okay. Kramer is a fireman in Bellevue. He had the body of Adonis, 6-5, 230 lbs. He could throw the ball a mile, but had no previous training at the position. Still, he was better and more agile than Thomason. He teamed up with Tom Frank a few long bombs that first year.
As we developed the team we acquired Rob Gehring, Dave Belmondo, Dick Illian, Larry Farmer, Craig Lindstrom, Dick Baird, Steve Cagwin, Rod Gott, Steve Neilsen, and more I will name later. Neilsen was 6-7, 240 and athletic. He was a pretty good defensive end, down lineman and could catch the ball. We threw a few to him on offense when he played tight end. It was our version of the Alley-Oop play made famous by Y.A. Tittle and R.C. Owens for the '49'ers back in the 50's.
Neilsen played college ball at Linfield College in McMinnville, OR as a tight end and was signed and later released as a free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs during the Hank Stram era. He also had contact with the Oilers and Jets but elected not to pay his own way to their camps to be fodder for them. The Seahawks also gave him a look and said that he was big enough, strong enough, and fast enough - but was not mean enough. "Well, we all had to go to work on Monday so what are you going to do?" commented Neilsen. When he came to the Flyers he told them that he was a defensive end and left the tight end part out. As a defensive end he scored several touchdowns either through intercepted passes or blocked kicks. He also scored several TD's as a fill in tight end and even worked out a street ball play in the grass against the Fort Lewis entry with QB Dave Lutes. They scored one the play and used it successfully in a couple of other games as well. He also ended up being the holder for PAT's and Field Goals for kicker Dick Barnes. "I think we only had one bad snap all year and that was the only kick we missed all year as well." In a later game program he was credited with knocking down a league record number of passes at the line of scrimmage although as it was put "no such records were kept". He even filled in as the punter for a few games until the Flyers found a real one. "We had some good players as the team progressed and although we may not have always been the best we were very good and blessed with many great athletes. It was a great time in my life and one I will treasure always."

A: This is a wonderful history of the sport of football here in the northwest. There are a lot of names who did much to promote and enhance the sport of football in this area. I found it interesting and the only addition I could think of was the Seattle Rangers of the CFL during the 1968 and 69 seasons. It was professional though and may not qualify. Thanks for the memories.
From Aloha Mike
Coach Baird,
: How are your parents doing? Family matters are, in fact, more important than anything. The Huskies got two commits, big ones. The big people are the first place to start building for the future. Are the Dawgs focusing on finding tall and fast wide-outs? Can you state who they are?

A: Yeah it was good to see that the Huskies got some linemen to start their recruiting class. Having both from eastern Washington also was good and it's obvious Randy Hart has been all over that side of the state. I would guess he's going to get a few more. I also talked with Eric Yarber and he told me there are some good looking big receivers in the LA area but I'd take a good look at Mayes there as well as at safety. He is the look I like and just because ODea doesn't throw a lot doesn't mean he can't catch. I totally agree with the idea of getting a good BIG receiver. My parents are doing good, thank you.
From Taft Ring
Coach Baird,
: How do you see the OC running game evolve now that it appears the O line will be able to do more than pass block. If #4 turns out to be the starter, how do you see Isaiah Stanback's quick feet being exploited? Option? When do you see the TE becoming an offensive weapon again? Hope that you will be able to get some insights from behind the purple curtain which may be shared with us during fall practice.

A: I think the running game will be the best it's been in years. I believe that based on two things; First is that the running backs are one of the strengths of the team personnel wise and second is they have emphasized it more and work on it more. If Stanback is the quarterback, or better put, when Stanback is in at quarterback then I would think that things like shotgun draw, play action bootlegs, and maybe a designed QB sweep would seem natural elements that could change up a defense. This would further enhance the running game. I believe we will see sweep, power, iso, lead, trap, draw trap, counter, and counter draw besides the good old fullback dive and trap. Essentially we will see the line using more angles in blocking and this team will run first and pass second. I really believe teams that can run the ball win more consistently than those who pass all the time. And of course that requires a good punter.
From Anthony Kirby
Coach Baird,
: Concerning recruiting, we all know how important it is to retain the best talent here in Washington State. Realistically, how good of chance do we have to sign Taylor Mays, and that big offensive lineman from Bellevue High? It also appears we will need a lot of help in the linebacker position in the future and I am wondering who the Huskies are recruiting for that position. I really think we will have one of the best defenses in the Pac-10 next season especially against the run. How do you think our corners will shape up and what kind of defensive passing scheme will Willingham deploy.

A: Washington is going to get it's share of the top in-state prospects. Cameron Elisara and Jake Locker are good illustrations of this. I really believe Tyrone and his staff will the back the state and dominate its recruiting again. You will see the majority of good in-state players going back to Washington. It has top do with emphasis and working the state hard and making a commitment to this state first. That hasn't been the case for years. The corners will prove to be very good in their man to man coverage and I am positive that Chris Handy and Roy Lewis have the feet and leaping ability to be shut down corners. Fountaine is ready now and should be a regular. I would guess that those three will form the rotation and hopefully Freeman and or Taylor provide depth. columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.

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