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Pride of the Huskies
Release: 11/18/2005
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Nov. 18, 2005

by Brian Beaky

There are those who say that to recapture its winning ways, Washington's players must work harder than ever before, must place the good of the team ahead of any personal successes, and must recapture the emotion of what it truly means to be a Washington Husky. If those are the qualities to which all Huskies should strive, they need look no further than the 10 senior walkons who will run onto the field Saturday for the final time.

Ryan Campbell, John Gardenhire, Steve Horan, Brandon Leyritz, Michael Russell, Carlos Serrano, Matt Smith, Brian Tawney, Ben Warren, and J.R. Wolfork -- all have given their hearts and souls to the University of Washington without the promise of anything in return. Most will leave UW without ever having stepped onto the field in a real game.

Two are thankful just to be able to make that step at all.

Diagnosed with type-1 diabetes as a child, Brian Tawney was only marginally active in team sports, participating in two years of little league football and one year of football in eighth grade. After high school, it was the U.S. Navy to which Tawney dedicated himself, demonstrating the selflessness and commitment to a cause that would one day lead him to success at UW.

In the fall of 2000, after four years in the Navy, Tawney chanced upon a UW football practice while visiting his sister, Traci, then an outfielder on the Huskies' softball team.

"I remember thinking, `Shoot, I could play with those guys,'" Tawney says of the team that would go on to finish No. 3 in the nation.

Tawney held on to that thought through his final two years of service, years in which the world changed, sending Tawney and his shipmates into the line of fire in the Indian Ocean, supporting U.S. bombing runs in Afghanistan.

Finally in 2002 -- six years after graduating from high school -- Tawney showed up for UW's fall practice, despite only limited football experience. The 24-year-old freshman with no experience who "literally no one had ever heard of," Tawney says, slowly moved up the depth chart, having to work twice as hard as the scholarship players ahead of him just to be given the same opportunities to succeed. Finally, in 2004, Tawney earned a chance to play on special teams. It's a privilege few walkons ever receive.

"Most of the walkons don't come to UW to play; they come because they want to be Huskies," he says. "The walkons and the scholarship guys; we're just one big team, and that's special to be a part of."

Tawney is thankful for his chance; fellow senior Steve Horan is simply thankful to have two legs to stand on.

Horan's doctors botched a surgery to repair torn ligaments in his knee in 1999, causing a bone infection that left the high-school senior in excruciating pain.

"My lower tibia starting tearing itself apart; they told me that it was one of the most serious leg infections you could have, and that if it spread, they'd have to amputate my leg and any other areas that the infection had spread to," he recalls. "There were days that I couldn't walk. The pain was awful."

Amazingly, Horan played through the pain during his senior season at Puyallup (Wash.) High School in 2000, starting at outside linebacker on the football team and wrestling at 145 pounds.

By March, though, the infection had begun to drain out of his leg. Doctors put an intravenous tube in Horan's arm which connected to a fanny pack that provided a constant flow of infection-fighting drugs into Horan's system. Unable to remove the fanny pack for an entire year, Horan dedicated himself to working in the weight room, upping his weight from 145 to 210 by the following spring. It was at that point that Horan met former Husky wide receiver Todd Elstrom, who encouraged his fellow Puyallup High alum to walk on at UW.

Horan contacted Washington's coaches, informing them of his desire to try and make the team, but omitting the medical saga he had endured the past three years.

"I didn't tell them anything," Horan says. "I didn't want anyone to know the injuries I had had, because I didn't want it to influence their opinion of me one way or the other."

Two years later, Horan is pain-free and an active member of Washington's scout team. He says his love for the game is greater than any pain he could ever experience.

"My senior year, the pain was horrible but I still did it," he says. "Just to be able to go out there any play without pain is amazing. I keep talking to the coaches about getting just one play on special teams somewhere here at the end of the season. To be able to say I played in a game for the Washington Huskies would be incredible."

As Washington's seniors are introduced Saturday, there will be many names with which Husky fans won't be as familiar. For every Evan Benjamin, there's a Brian Tawney; for every Manase Hopoi, a Steve Horan. All are a part of the Husky family, and all will be remembered with pride.

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