Players Benefiting from Clean Slate

SEATTLE - E.J. Savannah admits he's made mistakes along the way. He broke his arm last summer and didn't participate in voluntary practice sessions. But the linebacker, who was Washington's leading tackler in 2007, tried his hardest to make his way back. He did everything that was asked of him.

But when it came time to play, he never got the call. And he never understood why.

"I've been wondering the same thing," Savannah told Dawgman.com during fall camp, now back in the Huskies' good graces. "He (former UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham) never gave me an answer. "I wasn't an angel. I did miss summer workouts. That was my fault, but it wasn't anything different than I had done the summer before."

Savannah, who is on his way toward earning a degree in American Ethnic Studies, insists that he was fully eligible last fall, despite the public announcements by Willingham that certainly seemed to suggest otherwise.

He took the fall off. He skipped the quarter, weighing his options. He thought about chucking it altogether and going somewhere else. But he stuck with it, hoping a new head coach would give him one last chance to prove his worth.

His wish was granted by Steve Sarkisian.

"They are enjoying the opportunity," he said of his 'clean slate' policy. "These are still kids of a sort - 18,19, 20-year guys. Everybody can make a mistake here or there and you're still finding your way. Sometimes you feel that you made so many wrong decisions that it's doom and gloom. And sometimes when you get a ray of hope or an opportunity, it can motivate you. We've got quite a few guys that have been motivated to the point where they know they have an opportunity and they're making the most of it."

While Savannah is probably the most celebrated of Sarkisian's parolees from Willlingham's doghouse, there are plenty of others. Tight end Chris Izbicki is another clear example of what happened under Willingham's tenure when you didn't play by his rules.

Izbicki found himself behind doghouse bars after he faced misdemeanor charges in conjunction with behavior at the KUBE Summer Jam Concert at the White River Amphitheater. He was supposed to be suspended for the Huskies first game in 2008, against Oregon.

But when starting TE Michael Gottlieb was injured, Izbicki's suspension was lifted. But after that first game - a game where he didn't play - he never saw the field again.

"I did everything I could on the scout team, but it made no difference," Izbicki told Dawgman.com, equating the situation to a 'don't ask, don't tell' scenario. "It was like they went their separate ways."

Izbicki ballooned to 250 pounds, much heavier than he had ever played before. His future, once so promising as a top recruit coming out of Lake Washington High School, was now shrouded in mystery and uncertainty.

Sarkisian changed all that when he wiped the slate with Izbicki clean. "When coach Sark came in, it was a best-case scenario to me," he said. "I realized I could take full opportunity of the chance that I was given, and I feel like I've put my best foot forward to accomplish my goals. When I found out the type of offense he was bringing in, I was ecstatic."

Izbicki is now locked in battle with Kavario Middleton and Dorson Boyce for significant playing time.

"We have a lot of guys that put some things on film last year, especially the second half of the year, that they would be the first to tell you they aren't proud of," Sarkisian said. "They aren't proud of the effort they played with. We wiped the slate clean of that, and we're going to give them every opportunity to show who they are on this field every day."

Sarkisian mentioned Ben Ossai as another one of those players that is benefiting from a new start. "He's a guy that's kind of been beaten up a little bit mentally," Sarkisian said of the senior lineman from Bakersfield. "I've enjoyed what he's done for us here. In a sense, Chris Polk is in that boat. There was so much hype for him last year, and he didn't live up to the expectations. Now he's got a clean slate to go after it again."

Polk, who suffered a shoulder injury in the Huskies' second game of the season in 2008, admitted he is loving the fresh approach and new mentality.

"I wasn't into it, I'll be the first to admit it," he said. "I had surgery and I was out and we were losing, so I wanted to give up. But I talked to my Mom and she told me that everything happens for a reason. I might as well stick with it because I know it's not going to be like this for all my four years. I'm glad I did.

Now Polk is right in the mix for the starting tailback spot, and things are looking up. "He makes us care for each other and that's what we really need, because close teams win games," he said of Sarkisian. "And we're going to be out there having each other's back. The biggest difference is that we're way more close. Last year, it was really segregated. We didn't integrate much. But now we're almost brothers. I've been talking to guys now that I didn't even know were on the team!"

Savannah has risen to the occasion, putting himself firmly in the first team linebacking rotation with Donald Butler and Mason Foster, despite breaking a bone in his left hand. "He's given me free reign," Savannah said of Sarkisian. "I didn't have to run the stadium or anything like that. It feels great. I finally feel like I'm in playing shape. I shook off my rust last spring."

With the birth of his first son, Edward Thomas Savannah III, Savannah feels he now has some much needed perspective. "It makes me that much more hungry," he said. "I have a little one I have to provide for. When I go home, he relies on me."

Edward was born 9 pounds, 3 oz. and 22 inches long, and it's unknown whether or not Sarkisian put a letter of intent in his crib. "I like to brag about that, because he's a big boy," Savannah said with a smile.

"I commend our football team since the day we got here," Sarkisian said. "They've been great on the field and they've been great off the field."


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