Aug. 16, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Uh-oh.
The newest starter on the Huskies' offensive line that needs to be mean for quarterback Keith Price to successfully transition into his new job, the unit whose toughness will decide whether Chris Polk runs wild for a third consecutive season this fall, is known as ... Panda?
"Yeah," redshirt freshman left guard Colin Tanigawa said sheepishly - eh, panda-ly - before Tuesday afternoon's preseason scrimmage at Husky Stadium.
"One of the older guys gave me that nickname when I first got here, and it kinda stuck ever since."
He then shrugged his bear-like shoulders.
Fortunately for Price, Polk, very-un-Panda-like offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto and the entire Huskies offense, Tanigawa's pet name apparently comes from his soft features and his warm, almost-shy, off-field demeanor.
It obviously doesn't come from his play.
"I love him. Colin's got a mean streak to him, just driving guys always to the ground," said left tackle Senio Kelemete, the offensive line's only senior. "You look back and he'll be standing over someone, or climbing up to block a linebacker, just driving him 5, 10 yards down the field.
"I like him, man. I really like he's attitude. It makes us want to step our game up."
The news from Tuesday's scrimmage came after it, when coach Steve Sarkisian announced the MRI exam on senior starting CB Quinton Richardson's lower left leg showed a high ankle sprain. The coach was relieved there wasn't more structural damage to bones.
Richardson was injured when freshman wide receiver Kasen Williams fell onto the back of his left leg and foot while the two battled for a pass Saturday. Once Richardson felt the pressure of Williams' weight on his ankle he bent his foot, likely avoiding a much more damaging fracture of the joint.
The "high" ankle sprain differs from the garden variety sprained ankle in that it is an injury to the large ligament above the ankle that holds the shin bone and the fibula. Estimated recovery time is up to six weeks, but Richardson - who was off crutches Tuesday and just wore a walking boot - said, "I'll be back before that, though."
Sarkisian said the team will not rush back Richardson, making him very unlikely to play in the opener Sept. 3 against Eastern Washington. The coach reiterated he expects it will be weeks, not months, before Richardson is back anchoring the secondary.
As for Tanigawa, come to an open practice this month, train your eyes on No. 64 in purple, and see what Kelemete is talking about.
This Panda, who turned down five other scholarship offers including from Nebraska, can pound.
Just ask the defensive lineman the 6-foot-3, 297-pound Tanigawa drove 5 yards past the line of scrimmage and into a gaggle of startled defensive players in the background during a raucous, one-on-one "board drill" test of testosterone last week.
Just ask the outside linebacker the "Panda" crunched into the Husky Stadium turf like a broken bamboo shaft Saturday night. Early in UW's goal-line scrimmage, the most intense and hard-hitting work in six days of camp up to that point, Tanigawa pulled down the line from his left guard spot, sprung himself with a leg squat and delivered a devastating block on the right edge. That freed Polk for an easy touchdown run, the first score for the offense in the scrimmage.
Many players mobbed Polk in the end zone, hollering for their star back. The coaches roared over Tanigawa's block.
Even the hard-to-please Cozzetto almost smiled when asked about him.
"Colin's doing well," said Cozzetto, part of the staff that plucked the native of Pasadena, Calif., out of Loyola High School in Los Angeles.
Then Cozzetto added with a characteristic lack of hyperbole: "He hasn't played a game yet, so we'll see."
We will see, likely beginning Sept. 3. Despite his inexperience and the fact he watched all 13 of last season's games while redshirting, "Panda" is on track make his first collegiate start in Washington's opener, at left guard. He's getting all the first-team snaps in camp, between Kelemete and junior center Drew Schaefer, Washington's two most offensive linemen.
The new guy isn't shying away from this opportunity, to be a freshman starter.
"It motivates me every day," Tanigawa said. "I mean, I came here to play. I've been working for this since the day I got here. I've been working for this for a long time. It motivates me a lot, trying to stay focused."
Just then, a linemate walking by shouted, "Whoo, Panda!"
"Yeah," Tanigawa said back, with a bashful head nod.
Tanigawa was a standout at one of Los Angeles' premier athletic high schools, then listened as scholarship offers came in from Washington, UCLA, Nebraska, Iowa State, Arizona State, Washington State and San Jose State.
But in a story that repeats itself up and down Washington's roster, the Huskies were the first to contact Tanigawa, during his junior year at Loyola High. His official visit to UW came in the fall of 2009, one month after he visited Nebraska. He eventually repaid the loyalty of Sarkisian and his Huskies' staff.
"It was just a place that I thought could be a lot of fun to play at. I came here and all the coaches were very energetic," Tanigawa said. "And I thought they would push me the most, especially Coach Cozzetto."
No wonder he felt the energy of the Huskies. Fiery defensive coordinator Nick Holt began recruiting him soon after he and Sarkisian arrived at Washington in January 2009.
"Yeah, it was definitely Coach Holt I first saw it from," Tanigawa said with a laugh. "I just remember the first time (Huskies coaches) called me and they were all on the phone, offering me. They were all telling me, I was going to be walking out of here raising my index fingers and all that. I don't know, they were getting me pretty pumped up on the phone. They were a bunch of crazy, pumped up, energizing guys."
The scouting report on Tanigawa coming out of high school was that he had quick feet and that mean streak, but that he needed to get stronger and more physical.
He has since gained 17 pounds while working with UW strength coach Ivan Lewis and his staff. And as this month is proving, he's starting to get that physicality thing down.
Then again, he has no choice. Sarkisian says this as physical as Huskies practices have been in his UW tenure.
"It's been pretty physical," Tanigawa said. "I mean, we're going against guys on the defensive line like Alameda (Ta'amu) and Everrette (Thompson), a bunch of older guys. Then you have new guys like (mammoth, 334-pound freshman) Danny Shelton. They are coming out and hitting. And there are also veteran linebackers you have to go against every day.
"It's definitely a physical practice every day."
As he was saying that, another teammate passed him and yelled "Pan-DAAA!"
Tanigawa just sputtered out an embarrassed laugh. Then he considered Kelemete's belief that despite the popular nickname, he really is mean.
"Yeah, maybe. I don't know," he said, bashful again.
"When I'm out there, it's a little bit different, you know?"
QUICK HITS: The freshmen were acting up again in Tuesday's scrimmage. One day after TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins made a one-handed catch for a long touchdown, Williams showed why he was the state's high-school high jump champion - and why he and Seferian-Jenkins are poised to be immediate impact players. Williams leaped high to catch a TD pass from Nick Montana in the back of the end zone, a ball that perhaps the 6-6 Seferian-Jenkins and no one else on the roster could have reached. Sarkisian said he marvels at some of the plays Williams has been making in camp. Scary - as in, scary good -- thing is, all the newcomers aren't even comfortable in the playbook yet. ... Starters made relative cameos, then watched as the reserves took the bulk of snaps in the full-contact scrimmage that Sarkisian likened to a first NFL preseason game in terms of work for the first-teamers. ... Wednesday the team will have two practices. The 7 p.m. one is open to the public. ... Another reminder that Thursday's practice start time has been pushed back to 4:30 p.m.