Will Polk Repeat History?

SEATTLE - It would be incorrect to call Chris Polk a veteran, but he feels like he is. Washington currently has seven running backs, with the oldest player being a true sophomore - Brandon Johnson. With Polk's early entrance this past winter, the seven months spent on campus has turned the former Redlands East Valley star into a player with the potential to play beyond his years.

"I consider myself in their class because that's who I hang out with," Polk admitted this week when talking about his early career at Washington. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder started his college career at receiver, learning routes and building chemistry with UW quarterback Jake Locker. But as fall camp continues, it's becoming clearer and clearer that Polk would rather be behind Locker than out wide.

"He has a history there," UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said when asked about Polk playing running back for the Huskies. And what a history it is. While at REV, he ran for 2561 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground, and caught 18 passes for 314 yards and five scores through the air. Those numbers were good enough for Polk to earn an early ride to USC, where he made a verbal commitment. It was a natural match; Polk's favorite college player? Reggie Bush. People had been making Polk-Bush comparisons since Polk's first game at REV. He was going to get a chance to follow in his idol's footsteps.

Upon reflection, Polk didn't want to be part of a backfield that already included Joe McKnight, C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson, Allen Bradford, Stanley Havili, Curtis McNeal, Marc Tyler and Broderick Green. At Washington, there was only one tailback returning with any college experience - Brandon Johnson.

"I didn't want to go somewhere where I wouldn't make an impact right away," Polk said. "I've never been second-string my whole life."

At USC, second-string wasn't just guaranteed for Polk from the outset, it was etched in stone. So he reconsidered his commitment and decided Washington offered the best package of experience, education and that chance to be first-string from the get-go.

It's come pretty easily for Polk, almost a little too easily. "A year ago I was training for our first high school game," he said. "And now I'm training for my first college game. It's way different. It came up quick."

Add to it the fact that Johnson had his knee scoped after the spring game, only to find out he had torn his PCL in high school. Johnson, when asked by Dawgman.com said he's 'still getting back' to 100 percent, but should be completely there by the end of camp.

"I'm just trying to get my mind right, getting ready to run the ball this season," he added. "He's made some good cuts (this fall), but we're working on him finishing his cuts," said Willingham. "He's a powerful runner. He needs to make a move on a safety and open up some big runs."

So with Johnson getting himself back into playing shape, running back seems such a natural fit for Polk, and also fills a huge need for the Huskies. And yet, the UW staff is not content with the obvious play. "There's experimentation going on right now," new running backs coach Steve Gervais said. "We're trying to get a better feel for what direction we want to go with Chris. It may still be a split, or only one (position). He has a lot of athletic ability and we're certainly going to try and match that potential."

"He has a great many talents, and you want to maximize those talents to the best and fullest for the football team and for him," added Willingham.

For all the pluses Polk has in his arsensal, it's his weaknesses he's been emphasizing during the summer. "You can't just run," he said when asked about the biggest differences between high school and college ball. "You have to know where you're supposed to be."

That also includes picking up blitzes and odd-man rushes. "Whoever is going to play is going to have to be physical," Gervais said. "Whoever plays alongside Jake Locker is going to have to be able to pass pro, and help Jake be successful and compliment him at the same time."

So Polk has been taking extra reps in the weight room, getting stronger so he can have Locker's back - literally. And slowly but surely he feels like the UW coaches are coming around to the idea that running back is where he needs to be. "After the second scrimmage (of the spring), after I scored - all the receivers told me I should be playing running back," he said.

But they aren't going to hand the role over to Polk on a silver platter, especially if Johnson has anything to say about it. "There's always a competition, and last year the competition really pushed me to be better," he said. "And this year is the same thing with all the new guys coming in."

That means Willie Griffin, who had 20 carries in the spring game, as well as Brandon Yakaboski. Yakaboski had a chance to be a contributor last year, but was sidelined during fall camp. It also means the other true freshmen; Terrance Dailey, Johri Fogerson and David Freeman.

"All the kids know that there's a lot of competition that might go all the way up until game time," said Gervais, ruling no one out this early. "We want to give them a look, see their strengths and weaknesses and see where they fit."

"I thought they all did well," Willingham added when asked about the new players after their fall conditioning test. "It was impressive to watch them run."

The test, which featured two 300-yard shuttle runs, got to Polk. He temporarily cramped up. Whenever things appear to be going a little too well, something trips Polk up, as if to remind him that he's still very much a first-year player. "My goal (this year) is just to play and start," he said with some humility.

Johnson, the elder statesman of the group, has bigger goals in mind. "My goal is to average at least five to seven yards a carry and rush for a thousand yards," he said. "My ultimate goal is to run for 1500.

"I just want to win," he added. "Whatever it takes to win, I just want to win."

With uncertainty surrounding his return to full strength, Johnson might have to hand over his carries in the short term to the new kid, the one they call 'Polk'.

"I think Chris Polk has definitely put himself in a position, whether at running back, receiver, special teams, wherever," said Gervais.

But will he be called 'Bush'? If history is any indicator, UW fans won't have to wait long.

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