by C.J. Bowles
On crisp, chilly autumn Saturdays, deafening cheers can be heard over Lake Washington from within Husky Stadium, the Dawgs having written yet another chapter in their epic book of football glory.
"What a great catch!"
"Did you see the cut that tailback made?"
"What a great block by that weak-side tackle!"
OK, maybe the last one is going a little far. So it goes for the likes of Nick Newton and his fellow offensive linemen, who toil in obscurity. Perhaps the most under-appreciated athletes in any sport are the big men up front, who make it possible for quarterbacks to take the extra few seconds to find the open receiver for the running back to sprint untouched to the end zone.
"As offensive linemen, we know that if we don't do our job, then nobody else can," Newton says.
Most child athletes dream of hitting home runs, draining three-pointers, or throwing touchdowns. Not Newton.
"The biggest thrill for me is knowing that I'm doing my job, we're winning and there's nothing that guy across the line can do about it because I'm just dominating him," Newton says.
Domination comes easy for the 6-foot-5, 330-pound senior from Buckley. Now a senior, Newton has been a mainstay on the Washington line for three years, although he has been making contributions in nearly every game following his redshirt season in 1999. In fact, Newton credits sitting out a year as a major factor in why he was able to make an impact right away.
"It helped me grow really fast," he says. "I was second string my redshirt freshman year, so I did travel and got reps all season long. I got to jump in and see what a normal season is. I wasn't on the scout team or running other people's offenses. I was prepared when it was my turn."
While the transition on the field came easily, Newton struggled to adapt to his new surroundings.
"I'm a small town kid. I've always been in small towns and close to my family," he explains. "My freshman year, I'd go home whenever I could, even if it was just for a few hours. I was really homesick. Family is a big part of my life, so I always have to stay close to them."
Playing competitive football at a high level was not something that Newton fell into. Rather, it is a dream he has prepared for his entire life.
"I told my parents when I was little that I wanted to be a professional football player," he says. "When I played football in high school, my mom would tell me not to get my hopes up and I said, 'Momma, I'm going to play college football. Don't worry about it. I'm going to go to the UW.'"
One visit to Washington's summer prep football camp was all it took to make Newton's dream of wearing the purple and gold a reality.
"In high school, after my junior year, I came to a football camp here and received defensive lineman of the camp honors," he says. "I think Coach Hart was actually trying to recruit me as a defensive lineman. Coach Gilbertson stepped in, though, and said, ''This kid is big enough to play offensive line.'"
With all his success on the gridiron, Newton still found time to be a three-sport athlete at White River High School.
"I had deluded dreams of being a basketball player," he says. "I don't know how that came around. The wrestling coach had been hounding me forever to get in there and wrestle. I figured that I was getting too big for basketball, and got tired of running up and down the court with those skinny, fast guys. So I gave wrestling a try, and turned out to be an alternate at the state tournament."
When the AP and Seattle Times All-State honoree made his decision to attend the University of Washington official, his immediate family was ecstatic, though he was immediately shunned by his crimson-and-gray-clad stepfather.
"His whole family went to Washington State, so they're all big Cougar fans," Newton says. "I'm really close with all of his family, but I was kind of the black sheep. Now, though, my stepdad is my biggest fan - he doesn't miss a thing. He comes to every single game, and plans on going to every away game, too."
Family ties aside, Newton's fondest memory on the football field came in Pullman against the Cougars last season.
"Coming away from a victory there is awesome, especially with the kind of year that they had last year," he says. "They were a good team and we came out and won. That's something I'll always remember; I had a blast that game."
It is this excited attitude that has helped Newton keep a positive outlook in the face of various obstacles. One the field, Newton's biggest obstacle came in 2002, when he was asked to change from his familiar weak guard position, where he had started 10 games in 2001, to the strong tackle spot.
Changing positions on the offensive line requires learning a new set of skills, reads and adjustments. Newton not only tolerated the change, he thrived on it, earning All-Pac-10 honorable mention as well as the team's Offensive Lineman of the Year award.
Family is at the heart of what drives Newton towards his goals, but that does not only refer to those who share his genes.
"I'm inspired by doing well and having everybody from Buckley be proud of me," he says. "I'm the only kid from Buckley to go to a big school like this and be successful, so I just try to make them proud. I like to be able to share what I'm doing with my family as well as my hometown. I don't want to let them down. I try to do the best I can to give them bragging rights."
As for post-graduation goals, the history major has no pressing plans.
"If things don't work out in regards to the NFL, I'll probably be in Buckley or in Forks with my dad at my grandpa's shake mill," he says. "I've always respected hard-working, blue-collar guys like that, and those are the guys that I still look up to."
Only a handful of games remain, but the memories will last a lifetime.
"We always say we're family here, not just a team," Newton says. "I'm big on family."