A visit with Louis Rankin

It was back in October 2004, as the final seconds ticked off the clock at Husky Stadium. Washington had just defeated San Jose State 21-6, for its only win of the season. As the Husky players and coaches advanced onto the field in muted celebration, freshman tailback Louis Rankin jogged by himself toward the tunnel. He looked pissed off.

A few weeks later, then-Coach Keith Gilbertson hobbled into the media room to take questions following a dismal loss to Arizona. I asked him if there was any chance that Louis Rankin would have a chance to play some tailback. Gilbertson shook his head and said, "There is more to playing tailback than running the football. Louis has a lot of work to do."

It's been nearly two years since Gilbertson made that remark, and things at Washington have certainly changed. Gilbertson is long gone, Tyrone Willingham is entering his second year as Head Coach, and Louis Rankin is no longer a semi-bitter freshman. Instead, Rankin is a fourth-year junior with playing experience under his belt and professional aspirations in his future. Rankin was recently asked to look back at his freshman year, and describe what Gilbertson wanted from him insofar as improving as a running back.

"Coach Gilbertson wanted me to work on my pass blocking and the way I held the ball," said Rankin. "I used to hold the ball the way I did in high school. I held the ball low and swung it around. He didn't want me to do that. I used to do it all the time and he used to always correct me on it. He corrected me over and over. And my pass-blocking wasn't up to what it should have been. He wanted to wait to put me out there (in games) until I was fully developed, and not put me on the field until I was ready to take on that type of responsibility.

"At that time, I was frustrated and I didn't really understand," he added. "I knew what he was saying, but I felt I was good enough to go out there and do it. But now that I look back at it, I'm glad that he did it. I got a chance to work at it and get better at it."

Rankin finally had the opportunity to play regularly in 2005. He started the first seven games of the season, and eclipsed the 100-yard mark three times. In all, he rushed for 485 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. I asked him what the best and worst moments were for him last season.

"My best moment was when I ran that (50-yard) touchdown at UCLA," he said with a simultaneous smile and shake of the head. "But then it got called back on a holding penalty. So it was pretty much the best and the worst at the same time. I started off down the middle of the field, then went down the sideline, then came back (to the middle.) Some people said it was a hold, some people didn't. I didn't think it was a hold, but in any case the (UCLA defender that was held) wouldn't have made the play anyway.

"But I think that the most difficult loss for the whole season was probably the Air Force loss," he added. "It was our first game and we had worked so hard. We felt like it was our game and we were about to start off the season undefeated, and then we lost a couple of breaks and we ended up losing the game. If we would have won that game it would have been an entirely different season. We would have been 1-0, and our confidence would have been a lot better than it ended up being."

Now, there are just a few days left before the 2006 season opener, and the Huskies are working hard in preparing once again for San Jose State. Compared to two years ago when the Spartans last visited Seattle, it's a different Louis Rankin that will step onto the field for Washington. This is due to a new perspective Rankin gained after suffering a painful toe injury late last season.

He concluded the interview with an explanation.

"The thing that jumped out and surprised me was the injury I had," he said. "It's never good to get hurt. But I'm glad I was, because I was able to look back and see what was going on with myself. I was so focused on going over 1,000 yards. I was like, `OK, I didn't get to play my first two years, so if I get over 1,000 yards this year I will get seen.' That was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be seen. You know, when I got hurt, at first I was like `Why did I get hurt?' After awhile I started to realize that God allows stuff to happen so we can learn. I realized that I was being selfish and that I was focusing too much on myself and not enough on the team. I realized that I needed to do things differently. I started focusing on putting the team first.

"So in that regard, getting hurt turned out to be a pretty good thing," Rankin added. "I feel like I have gotten better from where I was last year. So it's pretty good."
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnson1@verizon.net

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