J.R. Hasty's Time is Now

Anticipation was in the air, as fans hastened to stake out their seats two hours prior to kickoff. This was back in November 2004, in what was to be a high school playoff showdown between No. 1 Bellevue and Timberline.

Underlining the intrigue was the fact that the state's top two running backs would be squaring off. Three-time state champion Bellevue had J.R. Hasty, while Timberline countered with the state's all-time leading rusher in Jonathan Stewart.

Stewart had already tabbed the University of Oregon as his college of choice, spurning the Washington Huskies in the process. Undoubtedly he wished to finish his senior season of high school in a blaze of glory.

However, Stewart's final game was more akin to General Custer at the Little Big Horn. It was Bellevue's J.R. Hasty who rushed 16 times for an eye-popping 314 yards and six touchdowns, as the Wolverines blasted Stewart's Timberline team 49-9. It was the second year in a row that Bellevue had knocked Timberline out of the playoffs. It also soon became the fourth consecutive season that Bellevue captured the state championship.

"We just had to step up and show them," said Hasty. "When you call us out, you better be careful what you wish for."

Stewart carried 21 times for 120 yards, and left the field choking back tears. "We gave it all we got, we're not going to make excuses," he said, cutting tape from his ankles in the locker room afterward. "I'd still rather play for the team I play for than the team across the field."

Since that fateful night, Stewart has bolstered the Oregon Duck running game, amassing over 1,800 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns. Meanwhile, J.R. Hasty entered Washington in 2005 as the crown jewel of Tyrone Willingham's first recruiting class. However, to this point he has been a non-factor.

Early on in the 2005 campaign, Hasty seemed so promising in practice. Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham even brought him with the team to UCLA and nearly burned Hasty's redshirt in order to get him on the field. However, the call never came. Hasty ultimately redshirted, and was named the Huskies' Scout Team Player of the Year.

Expectations for Hasty were high going into the 2006 season. But suddenly during training camp, news came that he was academically ineligible. His father, James Hasty, implored the Washington coaching staff to go hard on his son. As the Huskies slogged their way through a 5-7 campaign, thoughts of Hasty began to fade from the fan base's collective consciousness.

Five games now into his third season at Washington, Hasty has managed one carry for a mere six yards. He has been awaiting his opportunity while nursing a sore ankle. Meanwhile, the Husky running game is as meek as ever. While it's true that Washington is 5th in the Pac-10 in rushing at 160.2 yards per game, 82.2 of those yards come from quarterback Jake Locker. With Locker's stats removed from the equation, the Huskies are averaging an anemic 78 yards per game on the ground. Furthermore, they are dead-last in the conference in total offense. Assessing Washington's ground game, the struggles stem from poor push from the offensive line and running back Louis Rankin's unwillingness to run north-south, as well as an offensive philosophy that de-emphasizes dishing out physical punishment.

If there was ever a time that Washington needed J.R. Hasty to emerge, it is now. As the Huskies prepare to head to Tempe to take on the undefeated Arizona State Sun Devils, there are insinuations in the air that Hasty might finally play. UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano told reporters this past Tuesday that Hasty has looked good in practice and could get a look.

In terms of running back play, the Huskies need less Mikhail Baryshnikov and more Larry Csonka. They need less shotgun read-option, and more traditional I-formation power. The running game needs a resurrection. There have been too many downs thrown away on no-gainers. Hasty's tough-nosed style could be just the tonic to combat Arizona State's stout rush defense.

It would do this writer's heart good to see quarterback Jake Locker line up behind center, take the snap, and hand off to Hasty on an off-tackle smash, with battering ram fullback Paul Homer as the lead blocker. Even if Hasty is hit at the line of scrimmage but manages to drive the pile forward for a mere three-yard gain, it will be a triumph. It will be a step forward for an offense so desperately needing a physical presence — and a new weapon.

As Hasty stated in 2004, after outrushing Timberline's Jonathan Stewart 316-121, "We just had to step up and show them."
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

His website is www.derekjohnsonbooks.com

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