Mr. Special Teams

Washington backup linebacker Fred Wiggs has found his niche in the Huskies' lineup, but it wasn't easy. It required a position switch, as well as a focus on a part of the game that most people completely overlook - yet it often spells the difference between winning or losing the game. And when it comes to this weekend's game against BYU, Wiggs is preparing to make a difference.

The former O'Dea star arrived at Montlake as a walk-on defensive end but switched to linebacker in 2006, his first year on the team. His brother Sekou was a three-year letterman for the Huskies as a defensive lineman over ten years ago, but Fred wasn't blessed with Sekou's frame. "It was necessary at the college level," Wiggs told Dawgman.com Wednesday. "At six-foot, 205 pounds, you're not going to play much end in college. You need a lot of natural ability, which is something I don't see myself possessing. At linebacker at 225 pounds you can play the game,"

One of the most unnoticed positions on a football team is blocking and tackling on special teams. Some guys take pride in that role, and one of those players is Chris Stevens. Stevens has blocked kicks and returned them for touchdowns during his UW career. Along with his main role as a linebacker, he's also been a special teams standout. Another Husky that has taken to special teams like a dawg to a bone is Fred Wiggs. In fact, Wiggs has embraced his role with enthusiasm.

"I'm happy to be one of those guys, and hopefully we can make a difference in some of the ball games this year," said Wiggs. "It's part of the game of football."

You won't see Wiggs in many highlight reels or Sports Center Top-10 plays, but he's always there and his teammates know it. "I just try to play hard, play as hard as I can," he said. "As a walk-on, not getting paid for anything, you try to set an example for everybody else; let everyone know football is still fun. You don't have to play just because you're getting paid. I bring work ethic and humor to the team."

Wiggs described his humor as situational and non-scripted when pressed for a joke. And based on some impromptu responses in the hall around the media room by Hec Ed, it's clear Fred is a team favorite and a great guy. "That's the man right there," cornerback Quinton Richardson proclaimed as he walked past Fred. He's the team jokester. Coaches love to have him around to keep morale up when spirits are sagging.

"Freddy brings juice to the team," added new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. "He's always an upbeat guy. He's a guy that finds a way to run down a wedge, block a kick, and hold a guy up. He takes a lot of pride in that role on this team. He also backs up the linebackers."

"The energy he brings on kickoffs is kind of special," added UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham.  "And hopefully he'll expand that role to other roles in special teams and continue his growth as a linebacker."

Wiggs continues to learn his new position on defense and feels his special teams role has helped develop him into a better 'backer. "It's one play, but at the same time you're doing a lot of the same stuff as linebackers do - making quick reads, shuffling over plays, shedding blocks, hitting people," Wiggs said of the carryover from special teams to defense. "It's violent, its quick - like linebacker, just a little bit shorter."

"The fundamentals you use in special teams can be used at another position," Willingham added. "All those things are transferable."

For the upcoming football game versus BYU Wiggs thinks the biggest improvement on special teams will be getting the ball out quicker on punts. Hopefully with that adjustment in place, punt coverage will become more consistent, allowing the Huskies to pin the visitors on their side of the field. It's a key piece to a part of the football game that did not treat the Huskies kindly last Saturday at Oregon. Punts were shanked, kickoff returns were muffed, coverages were blown. Overall, Washington's special teams were less than special.

Coach Willingham talked Wednesday about the idea of special teams, and how it's a great opportunity for players to get extra reps, to work on game speed, to work on taking proper angles, to work on blocking and shedding those blocks. "The opportunity is nice, but you can't afford to have the opportunity if it weakens your football team," he said.

Wiggs plans on turning an apparent weakness into a strength the Huskies can count on against the Cougars.


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