Former Husky looking for make-or-break season

Willie Hurst was always known for his personality and perseverance, especially during his years at Washington, where he will always be known as the guy that put the whammy on Arizona's Joe Tafoya, doing a full 360 spin en route to six to help the Dawgs come from behind to beat the Wildcats in Seattle. That play was so spectacular it earned CNN/SI National Play of the Week Honors.

Now the 5-9, 200-pound running back from Los Angeles is getting ready to prove himself all over again. Last year, after failing to sign on as a free agent in the NFL, Willie took his skills north to British Columbia, where he played for the Lions.

"I was playing pretty well, but after the NFL draft and the workouts everything happened pretty quickly," Willie told Dawgman.com yesterday when we caught up with him during Washington's pro-timing day workouts. He was in town to catch up with old friends.

"I was working out but I wasn't really preparing for a season. I got a call from the Lions on a Saturday and they wanted me up there on Tuesday, so I jumped right into a season without my body really being ready and finally the wear and tear caught up with my body."

Willie ran 55 times for 288 yards in 8 games for the Lions, with a high of 164 yards against the Toronto Argonauts and had the only kickoff return for touchdown in the CFL last year, a 99-yarder against Edmonton. He also had 7 catches for 85 yards.

Hurst wasn't the only Husky playing for BC, as receiver Gerald Harris also was on the Lions' squad in 2002 after signing with them in October. Harris was in Seattle with Hurst Thursday to run for NFL scouts, clocking a low of 4.59 in the 40.

It was Willie's hope that he would be running for the scouts as well, but his body had other things to say about that.

"I was just overdoing it on an ab workout," he said, referring to a muscle tear on his left side. "I did a sprint workout and my abs were way too tight and I tore my oblique. That only lasted about two weeks, but those were two crucial weeks I needed for my training. So instead of putting a bad 40 time out there and give the scouts more fuel, I decided not to run it."

Right now Hurst is claiming a 40 time in the low 4.5's, 'possibly high 4.4's'.

When his knee gave out, any chances Hurst had of impressing NFL scouts last year went down the drain. "I had some interest, but once I got injured I missed half the season," he said. "And when you injure a knee, there's going to be questions about it. So they wanted me to play more games and see how the knee is. I came back for our playoff game, but that was short-lived because we lost that game and got booted from the playoffs. But that's what I plan to do this year - play a lot of games and stay healthy.

"One team I know for sure that was interested was Indianapolis. I worked out with them before B.C. called. But my agent didn't really tell me who else because he wanted me to just get focused for my season. I just have to go back up to Canada, play my hardest, hopefully have a good season and someone will see my talent and try to pick me up."

It's not just a new season for Willie, but it's also a new beginning for the Lions, who have a new head coach. Wally Buono takes over the reins after 13 years and six Grey Cup appearances with Calgary. It's crucial for Hurst to win over his new employer, and he's pretty confident he'll be with the Lions at the start of the fall.

"I'm in my option year of my contract, so hopefully we'll come to some type of an agreement pretty soon so I can get ready to play," Willie said. "I talked to the head coach (Buono) and he said he watched my last playoff game and told me he can't wait for me to come in next year. He's heard some good things about me and I've played against him. He knows about me."

So how is Hurst adjusting to football, Canadian-style? "It's pretty much the same," he said. "The field is 110 yards and there's about 5-7 yards extra on the sidelines. The goalposts are in the front of the endzone, there are 12 players and there's only three downs, but other than that it's the same game. It's still football, but you have to learn how to play it up there. You can have up to 4 guys in motion at once. Once you learn all the rules, it's still just football.

"Playing in that league you have to be able to catch the ball. They use you a lot that way. Like, in the I-formation, I'll motion out into the slot and run routes where I'm matched up against linebackers in that big field."

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