Willingham covers his bases

Tyrone Willingham figuratively wears a lot of hats as the Head Coach of the University of Washington football team. He has called himself a 'manager'. He's helped will all facets of game-planning and teaching. But Creative Director? Maybe that's how you might describe a fairly inventive execution of a game plan, but what about the cover of the 2007 UW football press guide?

With practice still set to go Sunday afternoon, what was there to talk about? Sure, the head coach was hoping and praying that his team had worked their tails off during the off-season, running hard and working as a group to get better. But since that was still to come, what else was there to cover?

Ah yes...the cover.

Willingham said Sunday that he was actually very involved in the creation of the cover - one that depicts a UW football player (complete with face-shield that reflects Husky Stadium back to the viewer) in the foreground, and local attractions in the back - like the Space Needle and Mount Rainier.

"You sit down and gather thoughts on what the team will be or what the challenge is or things about the team, and that gives you some things to play with," Willingham said of the cover. "The word 'challenge' comes to mind. A challenge to climb Mount Rainier, the challenge could be the imenseness of our stadium - all those kinds of things."

But upon initial inspection, it's not those things that immediately draw your attention. It's the player. Just one player.

And you really can't tell who it is. My best guess is Joe Collier, the team's Offensive Program Coordinator. The only thing Willingham would say is that it was not a current player.

"Use your imagination," Willingham said, seemingly a little perplexed at why the cover was generating so much interest.

OK, Coach. You said so.

The lone player - albeit one you can't identify - could reflect an 'every' player attitude, as if that one player represents all the players of the program.

"One team, one focus, one goal," Willingham said. "We should be one team under one banner. And that banner is Huskies. You have to ask yourself, 'Are you doing the things in this program that winners do?' And when we reach that tipping point, that's what we'll have."

So had I cracked the mystery?

Who knows.

Does the lone player signify a belief that the Huskies' have their collective back to the wall and are unifying themselves under the idea of 'Us versus the world!'???

"There's a unifying strategy, but it's not an 'Us versus the world' thing," countered Willingham.

I guess I was closer to my first guess.

"But it should have triggered that kind of reflection," he added.

So what about having a few good men on the cover? "I don't think you could have gotten the same look with many, as opposed to one," he added.

Well, we're back to square one. So if we boil the UW football team to the one person on the cover, could that 'player' be second-year quarterback whiz Jake Locker? Or maybe Willingham himself? Nah, that just seemed to be too far-fetched, and was quickly shot down.

"Why would I do that?" queried Willingham. "I think if people know anything about our team or about me know far better than that."

I think he's got it covered.
We're back: So what will the Huskies do right away, now that they are only 26 days until the Syracuse game? "It's time to take an assessment of what took place over the summer," Willingham said. "You want to see how it all fits together. It's exciting to be at that point."

Boyles and Aguilar: No, it's not the newest Seattle steakhouse. Boyles and Aguilar refer to the two incoming freshmen receivers that were supposed to be on campus right now, but did not get through the NCAA Clearinghouse. "That situation will be extended for some time," Willingham said. "We'll be patient and we know that the young men are doing all the right things. It's not beyond reason to expect one or both of them at some point."

It starts on the line: When asked about position battles, Willingham said that since the team didn't realize their 2006 stated goal of reaching a bowl game, all areas would be up for competition, but he had special words for the offensive line. "The most important position on the football team is the offensive line," he said. "It's always a concern and it's the first place I start. If it's healthy, alive and playing well, your quarterbacks play well, your running backs play well, you give your receivers a chance to play well. It makes your defense better. You control the clock, score points and keep your defense off the field.

"Competition is the invisible coach that makes everyone better. I'm a big believer in human nature. To defy human nature is what makes greatness. There will be some that work harder than others. That's human nature."

Who will play?: When asked if any of the incoming freshmen would play, Willingham deferred to the players. "They will tell us what happens more than anything else," he said. "Some of them will walk right into positions."

It's a lock: Even though Carl Bonnell had a very nice spring campaign, Willingham is sticking with the same QB he named as the Huskies starter back in April - Jake Locker. "Jake is our No. 1 starter," he said, matter of factly. "Play the best players - that's the goal. Put the best guys on the field."

Rankin' the run: So what if senior RB Louis Rankin has the breakout season he showed glimpses of during the 2006 Apple Cup? "If he has a huge season, that probably means the offensive line is doing a good job," Willingham said. "And the byproduct of that is that the quarterback is probably playing well and the receivers are probably playing well. So there's a trickle-down effect."

UW on the Atkins Diet: When asked about why JC DE Anthony Atkins would not be playing for Washington this year, Willingham would not elaborate. He would not say whether or not Atkins was still in school, saying that his academic situation would 'be determined later'.

Perkins a leg up: P/PK Ryan Perkins is expected to kick in this camp for the first time since his knee was seriously injured in the 2006 spring game. "I think he's done a tremendous job," Willingham said of Perkins' rehabilitation. "I'll be very impressed when I see him this afternoon from where he's come from."

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