"I gotta tell ya," says Husky coach Jim Lambright, "it feels like we're finally out of jail."
Out of the Pac-10 doghouse is more like it. Conference sanctions, brought about because boosters gave loans and summer jobs to players, precluded bowl appearances and limited scholarships the past two years. Back-to-back 7-4 seasons were fashioned out of grit and pride, but Washington went to three straight Rose Bowls (from 1991 to '93), and no one around Seattle was satisfied with the recent moral victories. The sanctions have left the Huskies lacking depth but overflowing with motivation.
"There have been some tough times around here, but now we're ready to reassert our dominance," says safety Lawyer Milloy. "The last two years UCLA and Oregon were just baby-sitting our spot in the Rose Bowl."
Milloy, the only sophomore to be named to the All—Pac 10 first team last year, is a big, swift hitter who made a team-high 106 tackles in '94. "I know it's a good thump," says Milloy, "when I hear 'em let out a little squeal." This season he hopes to improve his interception total; last fall he had only one. Chasing down fly balls shouldn't be a problem. The multitalented Milloy is the starting centerfielder for the Husky baseball team and was chosen by the Detroit Tigers in the 19th round of June's amateur draft.
The rest of the defense, led by inside linebacker Ink Aleaga, will be solid. In addition to clogging up the middle against the run and getting after the quarterback, Aleaga is responsible for calling audibles, a comical notion considering that he is the most reticent of all the Huskies. "Up till now," says cornerback Reggie Resur, "Ink has let his shoulder pads do all his talking."
The offense, which has been run-oriented the last three seasons, will live or die with the pass. Lambright has installed a shotgun attack and a multitude of three-and four-receiver sets. That's good news for senior quarterback Damon Huard, who had a brilliant spring but has had confidence problems. "I know the team is counting on me," he says, "and I'm going to do the job."
Fullback Richard Thomas will make Huard's job easier. A 5'9", 220-pound ball of muscle, Thomas spent most of his career blasting open holes for tailback Napoleon Kaufman, now an Oakland Raider. But Thomas is a reliable receiver and a surprisingly nimble runner, and he will see the ball plenty this season.
That is, if he can work football into his schedule. Having already graduated with a degree in sociology, he is working toward another degree in history. Thomas is also married and the proud father of a 22-month-old girl. "Keeping my focus can be a challenge," he says. "It's not like I'm daydreaming about grocery shopping on the football field, but sometimes I can't help it because my wife is forever calling my pager to bring home a dozen eggs."
Bear down, Richard. Surely Mrs. Thomas would enjoy some roses.