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When Washington defensive tackle Steve Emtman wants to relax he goes hunting-and-fishing. Not hunting or fishing, not hunting sometimes and fishing others. He likes to go hunting-and-fishing. When he is done bucking hay or working the cattle, he'll strap on his .44 and visit one of the many ponds on or around his family's 2,000-acre farm in eastern Washington. There is no finer recreation than this, he says. "You know how those carp sometimes come to the surface to see what's going on?"
Near the town of Cheney, where curiosity does indeed kill the carp, they say the wheat fields often resound with the roar of gunfire. It's Izaak Walton as the Terminator. Somewhere, at some pond, a film of scales remains on the water, and Emtman is fully relaxed.
Not surprisingly, when it comes to playing football, Emtman also favors search-and-destroy over catch-and-release. It's a similarly brutish thing to watch, maybe more so, because quarterbacks are not even nominally protected by a wildlife commission. Emtman, who weighs 290 pounds—only 9% of it fat—and who might as well be carrying firearms as he leads the Husky defensive line, assigns quarterbacks the same rank in the food chain as he does all bottom feeders, and he destroys them with equal gusto and lack of remorse.
Against Arizona earlier this season, he nailed quarterback George Malauulu for a two-yard loss on the Wildcats' first play of the game. On the next play, he sacked Malauulu for a five-yard loss. It was like shooting fish in a...well, you know. Before the third play could commence, a horrified Malauulu called a timeout. "Shooting carp, sacking quarterbacks," says Emtman, "it's all the same thing."
This year the Washington defense has allowed 67.1 rushing yards a game, second in the nation, and ranks in the top three in all other major categories, a principal reason why the second-ranked Huskies, who beat Washington State 56-21 last Saturday, finished their season 11-0 and are headed for a second straight Rose Bowl game. Emtman, a junior who is already on the pro scouts' must-have lists, is the big reason that this defense is so fearsome. He is huge, he is strong, he is athletic, and he has that defensive lineman's temperament that, up to now, has been difficult to put into words. To put it simply, Emtman is the kind of guy who will shoot carp with hollow-point ammunition. "There's really not much left of them," he says, speaking of the fish. Last season, he began as an unheralded sophomore and ended with all manner of honors. Emtman anchored a defense that permitted a mere 67 yards per game on the ground, and he was named Pac-10 co-Defensive Player of the Year and second-team All-America. Washington went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in nine years and defeated Iowa 46-34.
Entering '91, Emtman was named to six preseason All-America teams, and was touted as a leading candidate for both the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award. Because he has performed at an even higher level than he did last year, when he had 16 tackles for losses (55 tackles altogether, a lot considering that the Husky defense doesn't exactly get dragged up and down the field), he figures to receive honors from AP, from UPI and also, presumably, from the NRA.
If he decides to enter the upcoming draft, in April, Emtman could be the No. 1 pick, according to the experts who keep track of these things. And we all know what first picks are worth—more than $2 million a year, recession or not. Nobody yet knows what Emtman will do, least of all Emtman. He says that he kind of likes college life and that the NFL is only "in the back of my mind." On the other hand, he and his family are not unmindful of the money that's lying on the table. Before this season began, Emtman purchased a $1 million insurance policy from the NCAA, at a deferred cost of $14,000, that will pay off if Emtman is injured.
Whatever the future holds for Emtman, his success proves what we have always suspected of football coaches: They don't know anything. Emtman had been lightly recruited out of Cheney High. Notre Dame did not drop by Cheney. Nor did Penn State. Or Miami. Well, who knew where Cheney was? "It's a little hard to get to," says Washington coach Don James, cheerfully.
Cheney is a town of 7,700 people and quite a few more cattle. It is situated amid rolling wheat fields with a skyline that includes an occasional silo. At 6'4", Emtman would not have been hard to find, but few looked. Though he was an honorable mention USA Today All-America and was named to several regional lists of outstanding schoolboy players, only Washington State, an hour away in Pullman, was eager to land him. Some Big Sky schools visited, and Washington invited him to its campus, but nobody in Seattle expected that he would turn out to be the perfect replacement for defensive tackle Dennis Brown, whom the Huskies lost to the San Francisco 49ers in last year's NFL draft. Says James, "We thought he'd be a decent offensive lineman in a few years."
An offensive lineman? The kind of guy who, when he goes fishing, stoops to using bait and a hook? "I just knew that's how they were thinking of me," says Emtman, in disgust, though he finally chose Washington for its tradition of fine linemen.