Sept. 17, 2010
After the third quarter at each home game, the UW football program and its fans honor a legendary player from the past. This Saturday, when the Huskies take on Nebraska, the honoree will be former UW tailback Rashaaan Shehee.
By Matt Winter
If the quarterback is the brain of the offense, then the running back is most certainly the heart, and Husky football has a history of strong, steady heartbeats. Between Hall of Famer Hugh McElhenny in the 1950s, workhorse Joe Steele in the '70s, big-game playmaker Jacque Robinson in the '80s, and the first ever Doak Walker award winner Greg Lewis in 1990, Washington's tradition of ball carriers rivals almost any program in the country.
The heart of the Husky offense during the mid '90s was strong, explosive, Bakersfield, Calif.-product Rashaan Shehee. Shehee darted through defenses at an incredible rate, pacing the offense with a career average of 5.7 yards per carry, the highest career total in program history. Shehee ranks among the best ever in the record books despite missing his entire junior year.
"[Out of high school] The majority of schools were recruiting me as a defensive back, and I wanted to continue to play running back," Shehee remembers. "Washington and Oregon were the schools that were pretty much after me to play running back. I gave Oregon a verbal commitment the week before I went to Washington, but after I went to Washington I just fell in love."
Shehee didn't come to Washington to the warmest of welcomes. The program had recently been put on probation and legendary head coach Don James resigned very soon after Shehee and all the other freshman arrived on campus in the fall of 1993. He redshirted and was on scout team his first year.
The next year he was the third string running back and returned kicks. Going into the 1995 season it seemed that Shehee would spend another year in a backup role. However, an injury to starter Leon Neal in the fourth game of the season gave the sophomore a chance to show himself. He made the most of the opportunity, to say the least.
In his first start, he carried the ball 32 times for 171 yards and two touchdowns in a home loss to Notre Dame, then followed that up with a 196- yard, three-touchdown performance in a 38-28 road win against No. 16 Stanford. Shehee was named Pac-10 Player of the week twice that season, once for the Stanford game and again after compiling 212 yards and three touchdowns (including an 85-yarder) against Washington State in the Apple Cup. His 957 yards and conference-leading 15 touchdowns (also the school record at the time) were enough to earn him second-team All-Pac 10 selection.
After a strong 1995 season, Shehee was touted and predicted to be one of the top players in the Pac 10 in '96, but an ankle injury sidelined him for the season early on. However, just as Neal's injury the previous season paved the way for Shehee to break out, Shehee's injury in '96 opened the door for a junior college transfer named Corey Dillon to take the reins. Dillon would go on to break Husky single-season records for rushing attempts (301), yards (1,695), and touchdowns (24).
"It was undeniable," Shehee says of Dillon's talent, "There was so much power and aggression behind his runs."
While 1996 turned out to be a successful season for the team, it certainly wasn't for Shehee individually. With Dillon declaring for the NFL Draft after the season, the ball was again Shehee's to carry in his senior year. His hard work and perseverance were recognized when he was elected captain of the 1997 team.
"The best thing about being elected captain was that it wasn't from the coaches, I was elected from my peers. That's what was kind of touching for me," Shehee explains with humbled appreciation. "All the guys knew what I went through with the injury and they saw me working out and getting bigger, stronger, faster for that senior year. We just wanted to go out with a bang."
The 1997 Huskies was a team loaded with talent and heavy with expectations.
"I don't think people really understood how many good players we had on that team," Shehee says. "I think we had 10 guys drafted, and another two guys in free agency. We had very talented teams, so practice was intense. We had that mentality that made us good--we pushed each other every day."
After starting the year 7-1 and reaching a No. 6 national ranking, they faltered in their last three games -all three of which Shehee missed with a knee injury. They were selected to play in the Aloha Bowl against Michigan State, agame in which the Huskies would put on a show. Shehee broke the Aloha Bowl record by running for 193 yards and two touchdowns as UW rolled 51-23.
"Everyone had a great game," he remembers. "Fred Coleman had a couple touchdowns, Tony Parrish had a couple picks, I capped it off with one of my best games of my career. I couldn't have asked for anything more than that ... and we were in Hawai'i."
Shehee finished the '97 season with 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns in only eight games, enough to earn him a first-team All-Pac 10 selection. He was a third round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft and spent three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, starting five games in 1999. He also spent a year in the XFL in 2001.
These days you can find Rashaan back in Bakersfield running fitness camps and teaching health at Bakersfield High School. He lives with his wife Rukiya,their daughter Kailynn (7), and son RJ (1).
While some ex-players find it hard to deal with life after football, Shehee seems perfectly content.
"I miss the camaraderie with the guys, but the actual sport itself? No. I'm okay, nobody's hitting me anymore."
To him, it was always about the guys around him.
"It's that fraternity, people don't really understand fraternal love ... All the relationships I have with me that are important in my life I established atWashington, so it means a lot."