Successful spring leads to more for UW

SEATTLE - They're back. The fans, that is. Coach Steve Sarkisian has reignited the dormant fan base of the Washington Huskies. His high-energy program has kick-started the faithful, and his final spring scrimmage this past Saturday brought out a crowd of over 10,000, including hundreds of ex-Huskies in what was one of the best weekends for Husky football in the last eight years of the program.

This coach certainly gets it when it comes to implementing a system that gets fans excited about the future. He has learned from one of the best in college football in Pete Carroll, and now is on his own quest. His recruiting-comes-first philosophy has already paid early dividends with seven commitments including six of the top kids in the state of Washington.

The Huskies hosted decades of ex-players at both a Friday social and a barbeque on Saturday before the game. Then they invited them to stand on the sideline for the scrimmage. The social, organized by Elliot Silvers, the new director of the Big W club, was also attended by the coaching staff and honestly was the nicest thing done to help bring the old players back in over ten years.

Players from the 80's, 90's and those since the turn of the century dominated the turnout but there were a significant number of guys from the Jim Owens era. There was even a few who played in the 40's. They were all buzzing with the energy of the program and the hope that things have finally turned a corner.

So the spring ended with a solid performance by both the starting offense and the starting defense, as they beat the backups 33-0. There is an obvious drop off in depth from the first to the second and third units, especially in the lines, but the skill positions seemed to solidify with an excellent performance by quarterback Jake Locker, who completed 16 of 18 for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

They also got solid outings by running backs Chris Polk, Demitrius Bronson and Willie Griffin, and those three will likely be at the top of the depth chart entering fall camp, with David Freeman offering a quick change of pace.

There will still be great competition for playing time but as of now there doesn't appear to be an every-down back. That is probably good in that they can stay fresh and it's very difficult to get through a season with just one tailback anyway. Fullback Paul Homer is a football player, period. He knows his role and he is experienced and by fall may emerge as an NFL-level fullback if the Huskies have a good year.

There is also a good selection of receivers, and because of the competition they too have really improved over the course of the spring. There are no less than eight kids who are going to help come September. With top returning receiver D'Andre Goodwin out for much of spring, the others got plenty of opportunity to develop.

Speaking of opportunity, it was opportunity and competition that stood out this spring as two core qualities of the new-look UW program. Throughout the 15 practices it became apparent in how they do things and if you could describe the biggest change in the program it would be the how. What they are doing is not that much different then what many college football teams do; it is how they are going about their business that seems to have struck a chord with not only the players, but with the fans too.

The players are acting like they expect to do things, and that includes winning. This system and this group was not 0-12, and they are quick to point that out to you. They are currently undefeated and they are acting like they want to stay that way. Why not?

They expect to respond to adversity, they expect to continue to get better, and they expect to win. Everyone is buying in and even though they still have a long way to go before they can beat an LSU-type team, they are starting to think they can. If they keep it competitive, they will become competitive.

The Huskies are responding, the fan base is being brought back, recruiting has been stepped up, the high school coaches have been bought back in a well-organized clinic, the media has been brought back, and now the ex-players have been brought back. The response of the old guard based on this past weekend was so positive that that it was obvious to the team that being a Husky is a unique and special thing.

Even ex-coaches like Keith Gilbertson and Jim Lambright attended and could feel the love again. To have the greats, like Dave Hoffmann and Marques Tuiasosopo address the team only refueled the old Husky traditions. There really has not been this sort of unity in the program for years. There is such a different feel to everything that one can only wonder why it wasn't done sooner.


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