Sept. 15, 2007
By Benton Strong
Greyson Gunheim is very clear about one thing: he came to Washington to win Rose Bowls. Period.
However, when the high school tailback-turned-college defensive end finishes his career as a Husky, roses may not be what he's best known for. Entering Washington in one of the roughest times in the program's history, Gunheim was a hit right away. He didn't start playing on the defensive line until he was a senior in high school, saying that his size and athleticism made tailback a natural fit. However, it only took four games for Gunheim to break into the starting lineup and he has been in that role in all but two games since.
In that span he's seen Washington go from the worst season in its history, to a team one step away from a bowl. He's amassed 15.5 sacks (11 in the past two seasons) and 33 tackles for loss. He even snatched his first career interception last week against Boise State. He won the team's John P. Angel Lineman of the Year award. And he has gutted out the hard times to be a part of the most experienced unit on the team, a defensive line featuring three seniors and a junior.
All of that while being a key part of the program's turnaround. "Going through all of that was tough," Gunheim says. "You come here expecting to win Rose Bowls. Being a part of the rebuilding was a good experience. I just wish I wasn't a part of it for so long."
On the flip side, Gunheim is confident the tides will change this year. "I guess that will be the legacy of this senior class; we were a part of the return to dominance."
And a return to dominance it has been in 2007 as the Huskies have outscored opponents 66-22 in starting the season 2-0. That heavily experienced defensive line already has nine sacks and the defensive unit as a whole has forced five turnovers. It seems much easier for this group than it has ever been.
As sports careers so often are, Gunheim's tenure has been marked by adversity. It has been marked by the one thing that athletes struggle with the most: losing. Five different quarterbacks have taken snaps in his three-plus years, while at the same time Washington has recycled nearly its entire secondary. However, coach Tyrone Willingham came in with one major focus that addressed the biggest problem directly. It was team, and its most visible aspect was the removal of the names from the uniforms.
"We weren't playing as a team," he says. "We had so much talent, but we just didn't play together. We didn't trust one another and players didn't trust the coaches. That kind of stuff hurt us a lot. It took an attitude change in all of us."
Gunheim credits much of his transformation to his position coach remaining unchanged. A man named Randy Hart, entering his 20th season on the Husky coaching staff, heads up the defensive linemen. He has coached the likes of Steve Emtman and now Gunheim is benefiting from his knowledge and experience.
"You know, football hasn't changed that much," Gunheim says, laughing as he recalls just how long Hart has been a Husky. "It's still about getting to the man and making the tackle and coach Hart reminds us of that everyday."
And it was Hart who told Gunheim and his teammates about the compliments they received after a dominating performance against Syracuse. The defense compiled seven sacks and forced six punts while allowing just three points in the first three quarters.
"That was awesome," Gunheim says. "It felt really good after that game, but it felt better the next day. I got a call from coach Hart saying that people from across the country had been calling him saying that we looked like the early-90's D-line. Just to make Coach Hart happy was the greatest feeling."
Now the team, and its veteran defensive line, will play Hart's alma mater, Ohio State, in probably the most highly anticipated game of Gunheim's career. While it will be a challenge like none he has faced since becoming a Husky, it is one he is excited about as he is in position where he can help lead others.
"With all that experience I am a leader," he says. "I have to step into that role and help out the young guys. Those of us that have been here just tell the youngsters to come to us because we've been through it all. It`s a role that I like to have."
In three years this group has certainly been through it all. For one final season they line up next to each other and continue a return to dominance that they've orchestrated.
"It's just awesome," he says. "Being able to play with the same people gives you confidence that they know what they are doing. It helps out a lot. I play right next to Jordan Reffett, someone I've been playing with for a long time and we're also best friends. I just hold him accountable, he holds me accountable and we try to make each other better."
Together they have helped turn Washington into a football school again.