During a humiliating loss to winless Stanford at home, the Huskies had one quarterback (Isaiah Stanback) watching from the stands, recovering from foot surgery. Another (Carl Bonnell) limped off with the field with a deep thigh bruise. Yet another (Johnny DuRocher) was knocked unconscious, trying to make a tackle after throwing an interception.
On the sideline, freshman Jake Locker lobbied hard to go in. He was turned down, with a gimpy Bonnell sent back to the huddle. Locker was told his redshirt season would be preserved at all costs. His time would come. A year later, that time is now.
After four seasons without a bowl game or a winning record, Washington has entrusted its football fortunes to Locker, a hugely talented newcomer. Big and fast, he was handed the starting quarterbacking reins on the eve of spring practice, gained everyone’s confidence during those three weeks of April workouts and will be taking the center snaps when the Huskies open the season in a nationally televised game at Syracuse. “I realize there are high expectations,” he says.
In the third year of the Tyrone Willingham regime, Washington still has gaping holes as it attempts to pull out of the Pac-10's second tier and improve on a 5–7 ledger. The secondary remains a mess. Running back is dangerously thin. The kicking game has been given a complete makeover.
Locker, expected to be the latest in the Huskies’ long line of NFL-bound quarterbacks, provides hope.
“There are a lot of great things people are anticipating with Jake,” Willingham says. A killer schedule easily could hold the Huskies back, particularly early on. After their opener on the East Coast, they host Boise State, Ohio State and USC, mixed around a road trip to UCLA, all postseason participants in 2006.
After four seasons without a bowl game or a winning record, Washington has entrusted its football fortunes to Locker, a hugely talented newcomer. Big and fast, the redshirt freshman was handed the starting quarterbacking reins on the eve of spring practice and will be taking center snaps when the Huskies open the season at Syracuse.
As long as senior Louis Rankin stays healthy, the Huskies are in reasonable shape with their ground game. He’s a breakaway threat who scored from 77 yards out against Washington State, went 68 yards to the end zone against San Jose State and snapped off a 44-yard gainer against Cal. Rankin is the lone tailback who boasts any game experience.
The only returning starter among the wide receivers is Anthony Russo, coming off a 32-catch season. Underachieving Corey Williams could take Russo’s spot after enjoying a breakout spring. Senior Marcel Reece is finally looking more like a wide receiver than a linebacker after paring his weight from 265 to 240.
At tight end, juniors Michael Gottlieb and Johnie Kirton and senior Robert Lewis have shared the position. Each has started. None of them have stood out.
Locker should have the benefit of ample protection. His line is huge. Both tackles return in 6-foot-8, 300-pound senior Chad Macklin and 6-6, 300-pound Ben Ossai, as does senior center, 6-3, 315-pound Juan Garcia. The new guards are hard to see over and around. Sophomore Morgan “The House” Rosborough tips the scales at 375, junior Casey Bulyca at 340, with both standing 6-6.
The defensive front boasts the most experience of any unit on the team. All four first-team guys are back from the previous season. The ends are senior Greyson Gunheim, who will become a four-year starter, and sophomore Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. At tackle are seniors Jordan Reffett and Wilson Afoa.
The Huskies have only one first-teamer back at linebacker, but there are a host of guys with big-play potential seeking jobs. Holdover senior Dan Howell should join sophomores E.J. Savannah and Donald Butler on the first team.
The secondary has been the Huskies’ weakest area during the four-year downturn, and things might not improve much. Senior cornerback Roy Lewis and junior free safety Jason Wells will likely retain their starting jobs, while the other first-unit positions won’t be decided until all newcomers have reported in the fall.
It’s all new feet for the Huskies, with junior college transfer Jared Ballman thrust into both punting and placekicking jobs, practically by default. “I didn’t anticipate he’d be our kicker,” Willingham says of Ballman, a 40.8-yard punter in junior college. Sophomore Ryan Perkins is slowly recovering from a serious knee injury that forced him to sit out the 2006 season.
The Huskies have definitive strengths and weaknesses. They also have a killer schedule, playing Boise State, Ohio State, UCLA and USC among their first five games.
Washington could field a better team than the year before, but not have the record to show for it. In Seattle, there is only one standard measure for improvement this season.
“I want us to be a bowl team,” Willingham says. “We have to get there before we can get up the ladder.”
That climb up the ladder might have to wait.