Denbrock battles back

Washington football has seen this before. They have seen one of their own writhe in pain and agony as they suffer through a bout of debilitating inflammatory bowel disease, something that might sound funny to those that don't have it but there's nothing funny about ulcerative colitis or Crohn's Disease, an illness Washington offensive line coach Mike Denbrock was diagnosed with back in the summer of 2005.

Yet Denbrock went about his work coaching up the Huskies offensive line without word of his condition leaking out to media and fans outside the program. Incredibly enough, he was able to function normally with Crohn's - a disease that is characterized by the inflammation of the intestinal wall - with proper diet and medication. But just before he was supposed to go on a vacation to Mexico with his wife Dianne during Washington's spring break, but it flared up again, cancelling the trip and putting his involvement in spring football in jeopardy.

"I don't plan on it being a problem again, but you never know," Denbrock said Tuesday, his second day back in full capacity as Washington's offensive line coach. "The problem with it is that you don't have to do a lot of modification with your diet, they just tell you to stay away from things that bother you. Well, the problem with that is that you don't know what bothers you until after you eat it.

"It's a trial and error thing with the medication they put you on. They try to get it to the point where you won't have any flare-up or any reaction to anything you eat. I must have done something wrong, because it flared up at one of the most inopportune times. Now they've got me on some new medication and back on the straight and narrow."

Denbrock admits that, for the busy life of a football coach - 80-plus hour workweeks are pretty standard, especially during the fall - he's had to take extra steps to make sure his illness is regulated. "I have to do a lot more planning ahead than I used to, especially around meal time," he said. "It's something that sticks with you."

It certainly has stuck with Taylor Barton. Barton, a former Washington quarterback, was diagnosed with Colitis during his time on Montlake, but amazingly played with the disease during his junior and senior seasons. It nearly cost him his life, and Denbrock can sympathize. But now both are on the path back to good health, and anxious to get back to work.

The coaches did what they could to keep Denbrock in the game, getting him daily cut-ups that he could watch at home. It clearly wasn't the same. "But it was good in the way that I could at least provide feedback and write up notes and discuss them with Coach (Kyle) Benn," Denbrock said. "We were in constant communication. With Coach Simmons helping, it turned out to be as good a situation as you could hope for, for me not being able to be here physically."

Every day on the speakerphone - up to seven times a day - Denbrock would talk with the offensive coaches, passing along his film notes and Benn would handle the on-the-field chores. "I don't think it was ever a situation where they (offensive linemen) weren't getting instruction for me or not getting the proper corrections," he said. "But it's always a little different when you aren't out there when the bullets are flying. It'll help our situation a lot that I'll be back this week and get three solid practices in before Spring Game."

And roughly ten days ago, Denbrock starting feeling well enough to commute to practice, but per NCAA rules he was not allowed to double-up with Benn on their responsibilities. "We've been meeting with the players in the morning to stay away from class conflicts," Denbrock said. "So I've been in the meetings and have been handling those. They allowed us to work in conjunction with one another, so when I was feeling well enough to do so, I handled the meetings and Coach Benn and I discussed things and he would carry out our wishes on the field until yesterday."

Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham loves continuity, and that's what he got when he hired Kyle Benn as interim offensive line coach. Benn was Denbrock's graduate assistant in 2005. "The offensive linemen feel really comfortable with Coach Benn, and Coach Benn understood exactly how I like things to be done, so there was a continuity there that helped the situation," Denbrock said.

Denbrock was eager to talk about his players and what he had seen so far this spring on film. "We've got a tremendous amount of work to do, but I love their attitude," he said of the Washington offensive line. "Their work ethic puts them in a position to make strides very quickly, but we're as green as the grass. We're young up front in a lot of places. Some of it is going to be ugly sometimes, but once they get it and understand it, I think you'll have a group of players that play with the type of attitude that Husky Nation is used to watching. There's enough talent there that, while we're young, we can establish ourselves and get done the things we want to get done."

He then talked about particular players, and where they are at. "I think Clay Walker has had a good spring," said Denbrock. "I like a lot of the things he's done. Juan Garcia is coming. We're putting him in a position where he's playing some center for us now and we put a lot on our centers. He's got a lot of responsibilities and sometimes it overwhelms him. I watch him get better every day. Stan Daniels is as close to a rock and a solid player as we've got up front. Chad Macklin is learning. He's got some things he needs to work on, but I like the direction he's headed. We've got a nice, competitive situation going on at left tackle with Ben Ossai and Nate Flowers. Ben, for being really a true freshman, I think he has made as much improvement as anybody has. I like the direction a lot of those young guys are going right now."

The direction is being helped by these 'chalk talks' Denbrock put together while regaining his health. "Our defense likes to do a lot of different things, and it's invaluable for us to be in the situation we're in," he said. "We're getting a lot of things thrown at us on the practice field. Some of the best teaching is going to happen in the meeting room for us, because they are going to get a chance to see it. Sometimes they miss it when it happens to them so fast on the field because they hadn't seen it before. They've done a good job over the course of the spring of learning and adjusting. They are getting to the point where things aren't surprising them anymore, and that's as valuable as anything else."

It's a valuable lesson to learn in life too, as Husky nation hopes Crohn's will not be surprising Mike Denbrock again anytime soon.


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