Aug. 7, 2009
by Jeremy Cothran
SEATTLE - The buzz is building.
That's how Steve Sarkisian, the first-year football coach at the University of Washington, summarized his first eight months on the job. Just before the start of fall practice, which begins Monday, Sarkisian met with local media members and began the session with an overarching view of the work he's already accomplished on Montlake.
He's barnstormed the state in order to promote UW football. He's also entrenched himself in the Seattle sports fabric, highlighted by Sarkisian throwing out the first pitch at a Mariners game and hanging out with the Seahawks coaching brass.
"When we came in Dec. 8 and that first press conference and talking about how we're trying to change a culture and change an attitude," Sarkisian said. "I feel like it's happening."
Now the real work begins.
In building towards the season opener against Louisiana State on Sept. 5, the Huskies will hold their fall-camp workouts at Husky Stadium, which are now open to the public. In addition to the 22 morning workouts, there will also be six evening practices, which will be held late in order to help players acclimate to the 7:30 p.m. start time for the LSU game. During the practice time, Sarkisian hopes to build on the progress his coaches made installing schemes during spring camp. Sarkisian was blunt in assessing his player's comprehension of his new regime - it hasn't been perfect.
"We're not near the ceiling, but we have to get it done," Sarkisian said. "We have to coach and teach really well, our kids have been responsive."
But he credited the group for improving each day during the spring and for their hard work over the summer in terms of conditioning. For this, Sarkisian gave a nod to new strength coach Ivan Lewis, who has put players through the ringer with 6 a.m. workouts and team runs, only to have them come out stronger and more explosive.
"We're a healthy, athletic, strong football team heading into training camp," Sarkisian said. "It took a lot of time and effort, as we touched on. There was a huge emphasis on speed, change-of-direction, explosiveness, especially heading into spring ball. And this summer was about getting stronger again. I think our kids have responded really well."
The Huskies will have some position changes going into Monday's practice. Sophomore Johri Fogerson will move from defensive back to tailback, a position he had success in while playing at O'Dea High School. Sarkisian felt the move was necessary to supply additional depth to the position. Among some other changes, Andru Pulu might play more on the defensive line than at linebacker, where he is listed. Jordan Wallace might see some time at linebacker compared to safety.
In terms of injuries, Sarkisian noted that a couple players will miss fall camp. One name on that list is tailback Brandon Yakaboski, who has a knee injury that will cause him to miss most of the season. The other is receiver Vince Taylor, who is dealing with an infection from surgery. Sarkisian said he is concerned about injuries affecting the team going into the LSU game, so he said the staff would do its best to keep players fresh and healthy during fall camp.
As was the case for the spring, Sarkisian is taking an open mind into fall practices in terms of a depth chart. One of his big mantras since arriving to Seattle has been the competition he wanted instill. When one reporter asked whether Sarkisian might show preference to veterans, he responded that the best player will always win out the position battles.
One other change Sarkisian will implement that one player who best personifies the play of fallen Husky Curtis Williams will wear the No. 25 jersey, instead of having the memorial painted on the field. There will also be a monument to Williams, who died in 2002 due to an injury suffered in on-field collision at Stanford, in the Huskies locker room.
"In honor of Curtis Williams, and what he represented from the defensive backfield spot, and what he represented as a physical football player, in honor of him, (safety) David Batts will wear the number for him this year for us," said Sarkisian. "It exemplifies the type of player that Curtis was. The physical nature he played this game with."
Part of what has allowed Sarkisian to be successful in just a few short months on the job is his unwavering confidence. So it was of no surprise to hear that while he acknowledges the Huskies have some rebuilding to do after last season, the timeline towards his goal will be short.
"There's nothing I said that day that I don't believe in. After eight months, it's great to look back and see what we've accomplished so far. And I've said it before and I'll say it again. I don't think it's going to take us long. We're going to become a great football team."