Dawgman Diary - Air Force

Paging Woodward and Bernstein. Mark Felt does not live in Seattle, but it seems as if there must be a 'Deep Throat' out there besides Tyrone Willingham that knows who will be Washington's starting quarterback this Saturday against Air Force at Qwest Field. I won't be privvy to the conversation that will take place in the parking garage of the Olympic Hotel, but whatever information leaks out there's going to be at least two people that couldn't care less; Isaiah Stanback and Johnny DuRocher.

Stanback and DuRocher were named co-number-one quarterbacks during head coach Tyrone Willingham's first-ever game-week press conference Monday. And while at least one of them thought a decision might come down at the first of the week, both players acknowledge a certain fatalism built into the process, but choose not to let that alter the work they've already put in.

"My preparation and what I did at camp is done, I have a couple more days to prepare but it's in the coaches' hands now," Stanback said on Monday. And DuRocher? "I thought today would be the day, but I guess he wasn't comfortable with announcing it, so you just have to have faith in him," he said.

"I guess he wants to see how we prepare."

It's expected that Stanback may have the edge, based on his experience starting for the Huskies last year. "I don't think last year I led the team. Last year I played," said Stanback, who earned his first career start against USC in 2004. "This year I've learned to lead a lot better. Experience always helps you out. Hopefully you learn something new every time you step out on the field.

"If it comes out that I play, I hope I can have a great change and impact on the team because I feel a lot more comfortable with what I'm doing now, compared with last year. Last year I got to play and it was, 'I've got to do this', but I didn't know what everyone else should have been doing or what I should have been doing as far as decision-making.

"Last year I think it was a lack of effort. I really needed to get in there and learn my stuff. Having that season last year made me aware of that. It better prepared me for this year. This summer I really came in and grinded away at the mental aspect of the game and I'm still doing that right now. I'm totally different from last year and I can't wait to get going."

"He definitely has more experience going into this first game, but it's still football," said DuRocher. "We've been playing football for three straight weeks now and not much should change out there if we've prepared correctly. In my mind it doesn't matter to me that I haven't been on the field yet because I know what to expect. I just pay attention to what I can do and our offense and I don't pay attention to much else."

And that's one thing both agree on - being a starter is great, but being ready for the team whenever they are called on to go about their business is more important. "I'm not going to sit here and stress about it," said Stanback. "I've been through that and I've felt how that feels and it's not a great feeling, so I just don't think about it. I prepare and if it's you, be ready, and if it's not you, be ready. You have to prepare the same."

"That's what matters to the locker room too," adds DuRocher. "I think guys are just hungry to win. Guys want to be successful and make that next step and get to a big bowl game. I don't know if guys are upset or have that chip on their shoulder, so to speak, but it's a new year and you want to see how good this team can be.

"The attitude our staff has brought in has really made us believers but if we don't go out and win games...that's what we're here to do. We're not here to play well and lose in the fourth quarter. I know that's upset a lot of guys in our locker room. We have to win games."

Looking at the defense heading into fall camp, the achilles' heel appeared to be at cornerback. When Qwenton Freeman did not enroll, that just added to the depth issues out on the edges. But looking at Monday's announced two-deeps, one of the biggest surprises was that two true freshmen - Darrion Jones and Chris Stevens - were listed. Considering that the three incumbent players at the linebacking positions - Evan Benjamin, Joe Lobendahn and Scott White - had 30 combined starts out of a possible 33 in 2004, it's quite a contrast to go from a truckload of experience to the mini-van of potential.

"As freshmen, they are really good," Lobendahn said of Jones and Stevens. "When I was a freshman, it was hard because they throw everything to you at once, to see how fast you can pick it up. And they are doing a good job picking it up and executing the plays."

"They've been playing well," added Benjamin. "They've been picking it up little by little. I think they've been picking it up well. They've been working hard and they've been getting to the ball. They've been giving good effort. I don't know if they will get as much time at linebacker as they want, but definitely special teams and contributing to the team."

One lesson the veteran linebackers hope not to pass along to the newcomers is the one that comes with another disappointing season. 2004's 1-10 campaign has both Lobendahn and Benjamin looking back and moving forward at the same time.

"It was hard. Everybody tried their best and gave it their all," Lobendahn said when asked about 2004. "Someone had to lose and it was us. I came from a winning program (St. Louis), so I know how to work to win. I don't want that bad taste in my mouth again. I want to go out there and win every game that I can. Just get that feeling back and get that tradition back at Washington."

"In the back of our minds I know we want to show people that we can play," added Benjamin. "I don't think last year was us. It was definitely tough. But again we want to move on. We do have a new era with the coaches and I think it's going to be a different time."

Lobendahn won three straight titles as a Crusader at Saint Louis, so he knows what he's talking about when it comes to winning. Does he feel that winning spirit is coming back to Montlake? "A lot of guys here believe in the coaches now, believe in what they put out for us," he said. "They believe in the system and the preparation they are giving us. Everyone wants to win. It's about preparation, doing your homework."

"We saw our mistakes from last year and we'll fix 'em," said Benjamin. "And we're deep. Last year we were injury-prone, but I think now we're up to that physical and mental level where we can play a whole season. We're just ready to go, that 1-10 season is in the back of our minds."

Leadership has been a principle talked about by many in the program this fall. Benjamin led by example in 2004, leading the team in tackles. "I'm not alone, all the guys up here are leaders," he said. "I think that's the biggest thing. We're all in this together and we're all helping this team out to make sure we're going in the right direction."

Case in point - Lobendahn stepped up when Jason Benn went down and volunteered his services as a deep snapper. "I snapped in high school," said Joe. "When I first came up either I wasn't good enough or I didn't try as hard. This fall, someone (Benn) got injured and couldn't snap so I went up to coach and told him that I snapped in high school. I showed him what I had and he liked what I had. Supposedly now I'm snapping, but nothing's final. Things can always change."

Thinking of that and watching fellow seniors Ty Eriks and Brad Vanneman walk by, Benjamin made the comment that he felt his legacy in the purple and gold was in good hands, despite being a part of the worst season in UW football history. And the reason why?

"I know a lot of other guys are in the same position."

Enough said.

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