Nov. 3, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Just what will Chris Polk do next?
He is days removed from scoring five touchdowns, joining Husky legends - can we now call them "fellow" legends? - Corey Dillon (1996) and Hugh McElhenny (1950) as the most in one UW game in the last 82 years.
The redshirt junior joined Napoleon Kaufman (1992-94) as the only Huskies to rush for 1,000 yards in three different seasons last weekend when he ran 34 times for 144 yards to single-handedly beat Arizona 42-31. It was his Washington record 18th career 100-yard game, and the 34 carries tied his career high set in December's Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska.
"I love that," he said of the workload that left him aching but happy after the victory over Arizona. "I'll do whatever.
"If I could call it," he added with a smile, "I would want the ball on every play."
Coach and play-caller Steve Sarkisian came close to making that a reality last week. Polk became the first Husky to gain 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game, as Sarkisian featured the bullish running back down the middle of the field, the sidelines, in the flat - in pass routes all over.
It was the most compelling evidence yet that Polk's game has become more complete. He said this summer he wanted to do that, become a better receiver and blocker out of the backfield, before he'd consider leaving for the NFL as he was eligible to do after last season.
Polk's emergence as a dual threat, plus the additions this season of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has 21 receptions and four touchdowns in his true freshman season, and Michael Hartvigson at tight end make the Huskies (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) far tougher to defend for sixth-ranked Oregon (7-1, 5-0) Saturday night starting at 7:30 p.m. at Husky Stadium than they were last November in Eugene.
Polk has three touchdowns receiving this season - the first three of his career. He even caught a double pass from wide receiver Devin Aguilar for a big gain against Arizona.
"He's a baller," said Huskies quarterback Keith Price, Polk's roommate who hasn't exactly been mundane this season, either. "That's all I've got to say."
As phenomenal as Polk was last week, he says it was only his third-best game at UW. His better two were last season's Apple Cup, when he romped for 284 yards, 12 short of McElhenny's record for a Huskies game, and the 34 carries, 177 yards and one touchdown he had in the Holiday Bowl to beat a Nebraska team that had routed the Huskies three months earlier.
Not bad for a former high school wide receiver, one that had committed to USC in 2007 then veered to Washington when he saw the Trojans' stable of blue-chip recruits at running back behind which he may have spent years. He injured his shoulder in the second game of 2008 against Brigham Young. That was on UW's way to an 0-12 season and the dismissal of Tyrone Willingham, the coach who had recruited north from the Redlands, Calif., East Valley High School.
That, and troubles adjusting to college away from home socially and academically, left Polk with doubts whether he even wanted to stay at Washington or keep playing football by the end of 2008.
Guess he made the right choice.
Polk enters Saturday night's Pac-12 North showdown with 3,577 yards rushing in his Huskies career. He needs 530 yards to break Kaufman's career rushing record at UW.
He admits it'd be pretty cool to become the Huskies' all-time rushing leader.
"But that's not the No. 1 record I want," Polk said. "I just want our team to have a better record and go to a better bowl."
He's even ensuring that. The Huskies have as many wins as they had all last regular season, and are already bowl eligible with four regular-season games remaining. This is the first time since 2001-02, when they played in the Holiday Bowl and Sun Bowl, that the Dawgs have been eligible for bowls in consecutive seasons.
So what will he do next - as in, next year?
Polk has already walked in graduation at UW, in June, delighting his mother Edrena. She is a nurse manager of a psychiatric clinic in Colton, Calif., near where she has raised Chris, Lawrence and younger daughter Faedra. College graduation was his mother's top goal. She says Chris did "a 180" personally after that first year at Washington.
As the Arizona game proved, Polk has become more of the complete back he wanted to be before trying the NFL. But he admits owning Washington's career rushing record and being considered the best back in UW football history is supremely enticing.
"I really haven't thought about that yet. I'm onto Oregon now," he said of his 2012 plans. "That's going to be a tough decision. I owe it to my teammates not to look ahead.
"Yeah, I would consider coming back," Polk added. "I wouldn't want to leave for the NFL until I thought I was the best one here that ever did it.
"That's what you come here for, you know."
QUICK HITS: Sarkisian said after Thursday's closed practice that he's pleased with how the players are handling the hoopla of the week: the final game at 91-year-old Husky Stadium; the reunion of the 1991 national championship team; legendary coach Don James presiding over Saturday's coin toss; and Senior Night. "We understand all of that's happening," Sarkisian said. "But what I've been proud of our guys is that they recognize it, they're embracing it, and they will embrace it Saturday night. Yet the process of preparation is what's been key to us. And I think we've had a good week of work." ... The coach has invited the returning '91 Huskies to Friday's walkthrough practice and to visit the team's hotel Friday night, though he has nothing formal planned for one of them to address the team. "The only real activity is Donald Jones is going to do our chapel Friday night before the game," he said. "But I'm sure there will be some non-planned interaction. Guys are going to be around, and I'm sure that a few of them that are in town are going to be at our walkthrough (Friday)." ... Sarkisian listed WR James Johnson (ankle) as a game-time decision to play Saturday.