Dawgbytes - 9/27

It's hard enough for a football coach searching for the big 'W' to add more distractions to his team, but one inevitable change is about to hit Tyrone Willingham's team starting Wednesday. With school starting at the University of Washington, the Husky football players will finally be putting the 'student' in front of 'student-athlete' after playing their first four games with no academic distractions.

"You add another dimension to their lives, life becomes more complex now," said Willingham Tuesday when asked about the impact of school starting on his team's weekly routine. "It was simpler when it was just football and football. Now you've got classes you have to navigate and responsibilities in that area. We're not the only team that has that going on. Some teams in our conference - UCLA is one - that are starting this week also. It's a difficulty you embrace, but it's one you would have liked to embrace at another date."

There's no question Willingham stresses academics as the foundation of his players' college experience. He's even been known to pop into class from time to time to check up on his players and also to learn something new. "Our guys should know how important it is and they don't have the same time luxuries that other students have," he said. "It's very much to their betterment if they are in class all the time. And I hope they understand that."

To add school to their load, the Huskies also travel outside of Seattle for the first time this year, to Los Angeles to face UCLA. Willingham sees opportunity on a number of levels when asked about playing in the City of Angels. "It gives them some hype for them, a little energy," he said, referring to the twenty-two current Washington players that either come from the greater-Los Angeles or San Diego areas. "That's a very positive thing if you can control it and not lose your focus and not be distracted.

"Because it is a very fertile area to recruit, it's always nice to go there and do well," Willingham added, noting the importance of Los Angeles to the Huskies' 'second season'. "It should provide some guys an opportunity that maybe don't get up there (Seattle) because of their football schedules to see us."

And then there is the lure of playing in the Rose Bowl. For Pac-10 teams, there's no bigger venue, and it's something Willingham is keenly aware of this week. "That's the place where if you have a regular-season game, you always talk about playing twice at," he said.

With so many players coming from the area, Willingham is sensitive to his players' needs in terms of spending time with family. "It's pretty easy," he said when asked about the logistics to make that happen. "We have in our itinerary times that our guys have free. Hopefully the families know where their young men are and when they are available and allow them to spend those times together."

And with a 7:15 PM start time on Saturday night, it should give those players ample time to see friends and loved ones. But with that comes the inevitable headaches that come with trying to keep one-hundred-plus young men focused and ready to go while they wait to play a game they normally play seven hours earlier during the day.

"We do some minor things, things to keep them moving around a little bit," said Willingham when asked about playing a night game. "You don't want them to lay around all day. Most guys are accustomed to doing that because it's like going back to high school. It's like playing on Friday night. It's going back to their roots and they like it - they just don't like the wait for it. I think they like to get up, get to the game and go. For me, I just take what comes. If it means I have to wait additional hours in terms of preparation, I gear myself to do that."

Injury Update: There was little new to report Tuesday on injuries. Matt Fountaine was questionable to practice Tuesday. His status for Saturday's game is still wide-open at this point. Trenton Tuiasosopo was on the sidelines for the Notre Dame game wearing a brace on his leg. He recently had some patella tendonitis repaired and is out 'for the forseeable future', according to Willingham.

To redshirt or not to redshirt: Willingham admitted that it's starting to get at that point in the season where decisions about redshirting players will start to happen. But he's not there yet. "You have to look at it and you have to be honest about what's in the best interests of the team and what's in the best interests of the individual," he said. "It's about that time, it's starting to get to that point where the value starts to diminish a little bit for having them ready to play - if it's not in the best interests of the team." He was also unsure of the number of players in the group that would be looked at for potential redshirts.

Frosh update: With Chris Stevens and Darrion Jones getting playing time so far this season, Willingham was asked about the other players that make up his first recruiting class at Washington and how they are doing so far this year. "It's so hard for most of them," he said. "At this point in the year, you're game-planning. And if they aren't involved in the game-plan...yes you see them work and you hope there's continued improvement, but you still don't have that concentrated effort and focus on them. So it's difficult to talk about them. J.R. (Hasty) has been one that's been a little bit different, he's been involved in some degree in terms of some degree in terms of being on that bubble of being ready to go. I can tell you that I've been delighted at what I've seen from him - his improvement and his progress."

Harris poll debut: The newly-formed Harris Interactive poll, one of eight polls that helps to decide the BCS pecking order, came out for the first time this week and already shows signs of having some credibility issues. For one thing, Idaho received five votes, and it was reported that one voter had them 20th on their ballot. "It wasn't me," said Willingham when asked for his comment on the new poll. "I don't think I have a vote in that one."

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