The Initiation of Paul Arnold

Former Husky Paul Arnold was a scintillating prospect coming out of Kennedy High School in Burien. During his senior year of 1998, the tailback's phone rang more than 1,200 times from coaches across the country. He also received more than 1,000 recruiting letters.

"We've had some great athletes come through here," said Arnold's high school coach Bob Bourgette at the time. "But overall, from top to bottom, there's never been another athlete at this school with his credentials, not that I've seen in 30 years. Paul has done it all."

It was author Cyril Connolly who once said "Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call promising." That sentiment sums up Arnold's freshman year in college, especially during fall camp in August 1999.

Arnold arrived at Washington as the crown jewel of coach Rick Neuheisel's first recruiting class. Those were halcyon days for the program, with a fresh new coach and high expectations. For several months, the media hype machine worked overtime, churning out stories about the imminent arrival of the savior running back. By the time the Huskies traveled to Olympia's Evergreen State College for fall camp, everyone was optimistic — except for the defense, which fumed.

"The problem was that a lot of Neuheisel's young recruits didn't have it mentally," recalled former UW linebacker Anthony Kelley. "They didn't want to have to earn anything, but have it handed to them because of all the big stories about them. Like Paul Arnold. He was supposed to be the next big thing for us. We were like, `Yea, whatever. We'll see what happens when the pads get put on.'"

Setting aside the question whether the soft-spoken Arnold expected to be catered to, he certainly experienced culture shock in those first two weeks. As the players settled into the Evergreen dorms and got ready for bed, the intimidation began. The booming voice of maniacal linebacker Jeremiah Pharms rang out through the hallways. He shouted out the names of the young running backs, with promises of bodily harm in the coming days. Pharms threatened Braxton Cleman, Willie Hurst, Mathias Wilson, and then shouted, "PAUL ARNOLD… I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!"

Paul Arnold was recently asked about his experience at that time.

"Jeremiah let me know he was welcoming me to Husky football," he said. "Coming in, I was highly recruited and I am from the Seattle area. I grew up here, so I got a lot of press. I was one of the highest-rated recruits to enter Washington in a long time. The guys had been reading about me for a long time. From the first moment I arrived, they were on me. I heard that in scrimmages, the defense would be in the huddle, and they'd say, `4-3, Cover 2, be sure to hit Paul. Ready, break'

"There was a mark on me," said Arnold. "At Washington, freshmen were to be seen and not heard. I had never experienced that before in playing team sports. I had always been a team guy and you pick each other up. I was definitely confused. This guy Jeremiah was one of the biggest guys I had ever seen. On the day before pads, we were running plays. I ran downfield with the ball and Jeremiah sprinted up behind me and yelled, 'I'M GONNA KILL YOU WHEN WE PUT ON PADS!' I was like, `Whoa, easy there. What is this guy doing?'"

When the inevitable time came to put on pads, the violence commenced. "That night before we went through freshman initiation, later that night, Jeremiah was howling my name," said Arnold. "The next day we were wearing pads. We ran a counter play. I was running behind Chad Ward, who was an All-American. I figured he would be able to save me. Jeremiah stood Chad up with one arm, and I thought I could sneak by them. But Jeremiah reached out with his other arm and clothes-lined me. My legs went above my head and fell backwards on my head.

"After practice, Big T (mountainous defensive tackle Toalei Mulitauaopele) shouted at me, `HEY PAUL! J.P. LOST HIS WATCH. WHY DON'T YOU CHECK YOUR SHOULDER PADS!' I started to look and couldn't find any watch, and then I got it. I was like, 'Yeah, alright…'

"The guys were definitely on me and giving me a hard time," said Arnold. "That was part of my struggle. I had never been through anything like that before. I felt like if they didn't want me to be on the team then I didn't want to be there. I didn't really talk to anybody. I thought they didn't want me there. The only guy I talked to was Kevin Ware, and that was because he was my roommate. I would go and show up and be a part of everything, but I was an observer. The only person on the entire team that gave me any encouragement was Curtis Williams.

"As time went on that I started to see that it wasn't anything personal," said Arnold. "It was that we were all going to war and they wanted to make sure I could make it. Once I got that perspective, it became a lot easier. I started to feel part of the team. By the end of the camp I realized they weren't against me. I finally felt like a true Husky."

For the next four years, a persistent back injury limited Paul Arnold's playing time, and eventually necessitated a move to wide receiver, where he was productive but not a star. But his career did have several shining moments; the second game of his freshman year versus Air Force he set a Husky record that will never be broken.

"It was our first big game at Husky Stadium," said Arnold. "We were losing and I was back there with Joe Jarzynka to return a kickoff. Joe was known for being crazy and not fair-catching punts. I was six or seven yards in the end zone when I caught the ball. Joe was supposed to stop me from coming out. He was shouting, `C'MON! LET'S GO!' As I ran out, I was stunned to see how deep I was in the end zone. But I ran it all the way back for a touchdown. We had a great time with that. That gave me confidence."

Nearly a decade after his experience at fall camp in Olympia, Arnold is asked if the public's high expectations were a burden.

"Oh yeah, I definitely felt like it was a burden," he said. "The newspapers were writing so many crazy things, like I was going to come in and be the team's savior. I was like, `Whoa! I haven't even played a down of college football yet.' Between my teammates reading that stuff and being asked questions about me, I'm sure they got as sick of hearing about me as I did.

"I'm generally an observer," he added. "I'm kind of quiet and observe and as I get comfortable then I begin to mesh and be a part of things. Once I felt accepted, I became comfortable. I never disliked any of the guys, but I always wondered why J.P. (Pharms) was picking on me. But once I understood why, it was gravy. J.P. was a guy that got me the most, but he was also one of the guys I looked at that embodied the way that the Huskies played."


Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

His website is www.derekjohnsonbooks.com


Dawgman.com Top Stories