Aug. 5, 2007
SEATTLE (AP) - Washington coaches and players used Sunday afternoon's practice session as a spirited re-introduction and a chance to get reacquainted after a three-month break.
Stability under coach Tyrone Willingham is obviously reaping benefits for the Huskies.
"We went through things that took us two, three weeks to do the first two years here," offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said. "We were light years ahead today in our first walkthrough of where we were last year and the year before. It's scary, but that's kind of nice."
Willingham's third, and potentially most challenging, season yet at Washington began Sunday with more lofty ambitions that the Huskies will be playing in a bowl game come December or January.
Last year that seemed a realistic possibility after the Huskies ran out to a 4-1 start. But Washington then lost six straight, including deflating close defeats at USC and California, a debilitating season-ending injury to quarterback Isaiah Stanback, and an embarrassing 20-3 setback to lowly Stanford in their next-to-last game that ended the Huskies' bowl hopes.
Washington could be better this season, with the majority of the roster now comprised of players recruited by Willingham who have bought into his disciplined system. Yet, reaching a bowl game will be a formidable task considering the Huskies face a brutal schedule considered by some to be the most difficult in the country.
"The schedule we've got has to get you excited. It's a big stage for us," said defensive end Grayson Gunheim, who sported a mohawk Sunday along with defensive tackle Jordan Reffett. "It comes naturally to be excited about it."
The Huskies open the season on Aug. 31 at Syracuse, then play Boise State, Ohio State, at UCLA and USC before a bye week on Oct. 6. All the while, Washington will likely be breaking in a redshirt freshman quarterback, protected by an offensive line that will try to replace both starting guards who played every snap last year.
"I'm really excited about it. I don't think (the schedule) is a burden in any way," said Jake Locker, the quarterback many fans are counting on to return Washington to past prominence. "I think it's more an opportunity for us."
Locker, the multifaceted running and throwing quarterback, was the gem of Willingham's second recruiting class with Washington, keeping the homegrown talent in-state. He was given the No. 1 job - replacing Stanback - at the start of spring practice and held off a strong challenge from senior Carl Bonnell, who started the final five games of the 2006 season after Stanback's season-ending foot injury.
The job over the next couple of weeks is Locker's to lose. Lappano indicated that the gap between Locker and Bonnell isn't much, but Willingham is prepared to go with the freshman.
"I've been very clear. Jake coming in is our starter," Willingham said. "I liked the work I've seen from Carl, I like the work I've seen from Jake. It will be exciting to see what comes out of it."