Recruiting, Conditioning and Admissions

SEATTLE - Winning is being brought back to Washington, and after watching 11 of their 15 practices this spring I personally think it will happen this coming season. This team is going to win games. That number will probably be determined by staying injury-free and getting all their 2009 signees admitted so they can help right away.

If five or six of the 19 signed kids can get on the field, especially if those players are the ones signed from junior colleges, it will greatly enhance this team's chances of winning games. Washington's plan is to get as many of them into the summer school bridge program and thereby be allowed to be involved with workouts prior to the start of training camp. That is why academic admissions is such a key to the makeover of Washington football. They will wait as long as they can on any kid who is good enough, but it is critical to get the new kids working with coach Ivan Lewis as soon as possible.

Lewis, the new weight and strength coach, will take care of the conditioning with his staff, and the months of May, June and July will be spent trying to get this team bigger, faster and stronger. Well, maybe not bigger but certainly quicker and better conditioned. These kids realize now what this summer means. I will be surprised if the whole team does not stay in Seattle all summer. If the team makes as much progress over these next months as it did the first three months with Lewis and assistant strength and conditioning coach Charr Gahagan, then they will be a lot closer to matching up with LSU, their first opponent of the 2009 season.

The Husky players are expecting to win that game. They are probably the only ones besides their coaches who do.

But there is simply a different feel about the program, and sooner or later there is going to be a breakthrough game. How cool would it be to have them win two of their first three games, especially considering LSU and USC are playing in two of those games? Of course, right now it would be cool just to win a game but at least the kids are thinking they can and that is a major step in getting there. Besides, if they do go two out of three, it will mean they have beaten either the Tigers or Trojans, and that right there would be the best thing to happen since the 2001 Rose Bowl.

I have always thought that beating the Trojans is the benchmark for a successful Husky football program. If UW continues to improve between now and fall then that too may also become a reality. It certainly is more of a reality now than it has been for over five years, and arguably longer than that.

Having signed six junior college kids, it is obvious the UW coaches expect them to immediately help the competition for playing time. Getting those players admitted is a high priority, and realistically if they can bolster the depth with a couple of freshmen mixed in, the Huskies could pull off an early upset or two.

Coach Steve Sarkisian has literally changed everything about this program and it has been both refreshing and well received. It was wonderful for me to be able to follow their drills this spring and to check out literally every position area. I watched every single kid on the team, including all the walk-ons, to look for improvement.

I concentrated on the defense. To see them assign two coaches to coach the front and two to coach the secondary further shows that Sarkisian gets the big picture. To attend their clinic and see how well received they were by the high school coaches and then to see how they brought back and embraced the former players and coaches was almost over the top. It was also overdue, unfortunately.

Beating yourself 33-0 in a spring game means nothing, but how they did it was again the difference. They attacked on defense, they ran the ball on offense and Jake Locker played exactly how you'd like to see him play in the fall.

Locker looked comfortable when in the pocket and under control. The coaches also moved him out of the pocket, giving him the run/pass option. He showed flashes of his great running ability and teams will have to stay at home on the backside or he'll burn them with that bootleg option. He really has improved his throwing on the run.

There were noticeable changes in how Washington's coaches did things this spring: They increased the squad size to its highest spring total in six years; they moved kids continually, trying to bolster depth on both sides of the ball; they hustled everywhere and their bodies even looked different; they addressed depth needs at every position area.

Even the back-up safeties look like a couple of war-daddies in the making and they are bringing in some JC kids to further help depth in the secondary. No question the move of Alvin Logan from receiver to defense was the best move for both Logan and the program. Nate Williams has become the Huskies' anchor in the deep third, and Greg Walker proved he was good enough to start. Johri Fogerson and Victor Aiyewa have playing experience, and hopefully Jason Wells can join the mix come fall. David Batts, who is coming to UW from El Camino College in California, could be a real wild card here.

The corner play improved because there are no less than seven competing for time - Quinton Richardson, Vonzell McDowell, Matt Mosley, Justin Glenn, Marquis Persley, Adam Long and Anthony Gobern - with a JC kid (Dominique Gaisie) adding to the mix come fall.

Once a problem area for the defense, the secondary position now looks like great competition from top to bottom. These kinds of players are so valuable on special teams and it is obvious they will be using starters there as well.

Up front defensively, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was his usual self. He is one of the best players on the team, as well as in the conference, and hopefully he continues to prove it again this upcoming season. Te'o-Nesheim, Cameron Elisara, Everrette Thompson, Alameda Ta'amu, Darion Jones and De'shon Matthews are all veterans who were hardened under the previous line coach, Randy Hart, and now are getting twice as much coaching under Johnny Nansen and Nick Holt.

Nothing is really set in the DL rotation, except there is continued competition and there will always be Te'o-Nesheim, the man with the biggest motor in college football. He will be a force next year and eventually be the first Husky to be drafted in three years, as crazy as that sounds.

Mason Foster emerged as potential pass rusher similar to the ones at USC and Oregon State, and Donald Butler took charge of the defense from his middle linebacker position. The junior Butler is firmly their leader and he has improved his game considerably throughout the spring. E.J. Savannah is another really good proven linebacker, and if those three stay healthy, Washington will be much better on defense. To have two older kids like Matt Houston and Trenton Tuiasosopo as back-ups gives them some much-needed veteran depth at linebacker.

The biggest position mystery is probably at the punter and kicker spots. Erik Folk got better but regularly missed kicks, including two of four extra points in the spring game. That just can't happen in a real game.

The Huskies are bringing in a JC punter, Will Mahan, out of Bakersfield College, so they have already addressed competition there.

Washington has lots of returners to pick from, and after his great spring it is hard to imagine that Jordan Polk isn't right in the hunt for either kickoff or punt returns. Cody Bruns has good hands and was used a bunch with the punt return game this spring, and running backs Chris Polk, Curtis Shaw and David Freeman have that top gear. Gaisie is also a returner, so again the competition will result in opportunities for many of these kids.

Again, it was a great spring, covering lots of areas of the program. There is still plenty of work ahead, but for the first time in many years the players and fans are starting to see the light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel. It's as though the program is finally coming out of the wilderness. It was just so special to see all the fans returning to practices, but the best was seeing the old players come back, feeling that Husky pride once again.

Coach Sarkisian has been on a whirlwind mission of change. He has everything happening on the run, but more than that, he has everything happening with a smile. This spring, Husky football became fun again: Getting a couple of early season wins will do a lot to keep that grin plastered on his face for a while. Top Stories