The start of fall camp has finally arrived, and it has been pretty close to a decade since Husky fans approached the coming of the football season with this type of optimism, and excitement. Jake Locker returns for his final season leading what should be one of the top offenses in the West. With a successful season Jake could end up being the first Husky in the history of the school to win the coveted Heisman Trophy.
Only twenty months ago this was a beaten football program coming off an 0-12 season. Four years of Tyrone Willingham (11-37) and five under AD Todd Turner had taken most of the life out of the program. Washington football was on the critical list. The loyal fan base had grown apathetic. The stadium was crumbling from age as season ticket sales fell from a high in the 60,000 range during the glory days to a low of 39,000.
Washington started a national coaching search after the 2008 season. Names such as Jim Mora Jr, Mike Riley, Mike Leach, and Chris Petersen were mentioned as candidates with Mora being the favorite of Husky fans. One by one the big names fell off the list and most fans including me were stunned when USC assistant Steve Sarkisian was named head coach.
Sarkisian wowed the fan base in his first enthusiastic press conference and set a positive tone for the program by immediately jumping into a car to make recruiting visits after it was finished. He assembled what he called the best coaching staff in America and poached good friend Nick Holt from USC to rebuild the defense.
An immediate problem that needed to be addressed was the physical fitness of the program. When Sark arrived Washington was one of the most poorly conditioned football programs in the country. For example QB Jake Locker could bench and squat more weight than any of his offensive linemen.
Offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto spelled it out on the Dawgman Show this past Saturday where his unit was when he took them over in 2009.
"There was nobody who could bench 400 pounds. That's unbelievable. And the squats were embarrassing. ... I know we were a heck of a lot stronger than when I first came back here. More guys (benching) in the high (300s), fours. The biggest concern I always have is with legs. Want a minimum of 500-pound squatters --- we've got guys who can do that now.''
One of the most important additions was strength coach Ivan Lewis who swore that he was going to make his players as tough as nails while they were in the program. It takes time to completely transform a football team but in twenty months Coach Ivan has these kids in the best physical shape of their lives.
Sarkisian commented in his press conference this past week that his 2010 team looks like a great football team from a physical standpoint and a year ago he wouldn't have been able to honestly say that. Despite the squad not being in top form he was still able to coax five victories from this group in 2009 and with a little luck it could have been as many as eight.
"You know, what I cared about last year was being competitive. I wanted to see our guys fight, battle, claw, scratch. I wanted to make sure when the opponents walked off the field they knew they played the Huskies."
That was the ultimate goal last year. Now we need to play well and we need to play well at the critical moments in the fourth quarter --- that is the next step, those critical moments, fourth quarter, on the road, hostile environment, we've got the ball, 3 minutes left, what's going to happen?
The most cherished tradition in Husky football is a reputation for being the toughest team on the field regardless of the outcome. It is a tradition that dates back to 1957 when a young unknown named Jim Owens took over the program and led it to three Rose Bowls and a national championship back in the 1960's. That tradition continued under Don James and Jim Lambright but faded under Neuheisel, Gilbertson, and Willingham.
The Huskies may not win every game they play this year, and are realistically a few more recruiting classes away from being a perennial title contender, but every team on this years schedule is going to feel the pain that playing the Huskies brings. Toughness is back at Washington.
The first official practice is today at 3 p.m. Practices will remain open to the public, press, family of players, members of Tyee Club, Monday through Thursday. All visitors to practice must enter via the northeast corner, field level, near Husky Softball Stadium.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins visited Austin, Texas this past weekend and picked up an offer from the Longhorns. Austin says it is now down to Washington and Texas. He plans to make his announcement at the Gig Harbor Yacht Club on August 16th. Even though Texas has offered the smart money is on Sefarian-Jenkins staying home and going to Washington. Austin has spent a lot of time at Montlake and he has built a good relationship with the coaching staff. Another factor is staying local will make it easier for family and friends to watch him play over the next four years. It isn't cheap to fly to Texas from Seattle seven times per year.
The big news late Friday was a press release that Washington had selected a contractor for the Husky Stadium project and that they were going to start construction after the 2011 season. Washington would play in Qwest in 2012 and move back to Montlake in 2013.
One interesting aspect will be the demolition and rebuilding of the South upper deck built in 1950. Most of us thought that they were going to retrofit and remodel it but I think it came down to the old adage that even if you put lipstick on a pig at the end of the day it is still just a pig.
The South deck was becoming a major maintenance problem so starting over from scratch even though it may have cost more money initially will result in savings down the road. When construction is complete the oldest part of the stadium will be the North side which was built in 1987.
Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton confirmed Friday that "there's a possibility we will get a letter of inquiry" from the NCAA regarding potential recruiting violations committed during Lane Kiffin's 13-month tenure as the Volunteers' head coach.
A source close to the investigation said such actions could be considered secondary in nature "but if you look at it all together, [it] looks like there was not a sense of adhering to all the rules all of the time," which could result in a "major violation" classification.
In other USC related news FB Stan Havilli is back at practice after taking a few days off after breaking a teammates cheek bone in a fight that erupted at an informal workout.
Florida Closes Practices
Urban Meyer has closed practices to the public, citing problems with agents, internet people, and autograph hounds, the Palm Beach Post reported. Florida is one of several schools in the news this summer for allegations of improper athlete-agent relationships.
"I’m concerned about the stuff where you get NCAA violations and scumbags that are involved that shouldn’t be involved," he said. "One way to control it and that’s ‘get out. We can't live the players' lives, but we can certainly do the best we can," he told the newspaper. "You should have the right as a player to walk from here to there without being bothered.