Nov. 1, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Will Shamburger is motivated by far more than his first real chance at starting on the Huskies' defense.
The emerging safety is driven by far more than Saturday night's Pac-12 North showdown between Washington (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) and sixth-ranked Oregon (7-1, 5-0).
He gets his hard hitting that produced a career-high seven tackles two weeks at undefeated Stanford after starter Justin Glenn got hurt, his nose for the ball that forced a game-saving fumble last week in his first career start against Arizona and his motivation in life from the same, enduring source.
Clarence Shamburger grew up in Fullerton, Ala., a small town on a country road a few miles from the Georgia border in the northeast part of that football-mad state. He played linebacker in high school. Family members have told Will his father had a scholarship offer to continue playing ball in college but he didn't use it.
"He passed away from cancer when I was 13," Clarence Shamburger's youngest child said after UW's practice ended Tuesday night at Husky Stadium.
"Me and my sister (Meghan, now 23) had a really rough time with it, getting over his death."
The younger Shamburger, now a redshirt college sophomore, still has difficulty dealing with the biggest loss of his life.
"I'm still trying to get over his death," Will Shamburger said softly, "because I am not used to not having a male, father figure."
He has his uncles Bob, Ricky plus many cousins back home he says are supporting him in Compton, Calif. And he has his best friend since he was 3 years old with him here at Washington: Keith Price.
The Huskies' quarterback was Shamburger's teammate at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif., just south of Los Angeles.
"We met each other at my grandparents' preschool, off (Compton's) Palmer Street. Optimal Christian Academy," Shamburger said.
Shamburger, whom his colleagues in the secondary jokingly call "Shammy," has become a key to the Huskies' attempt to beat Oregon for the first time in eight tries Saturday night. He is finally healthy after reconstructive knee surgery in January of his senior year in high school - he suffered it playing basketball "actually on my birthday," he said incredulously - and a redshirt season at UW. And he is providing a physical pairing at free safety next to equally hard-hitting strong safety Sean Parker.
His emergence will allow the Huskies to rotate him, 2010 starter Nate Fellner, Glenn - who is returning from a foot injury that caused him to miss the Arizona game - and Parker against Oregon's supersonic, no-huddle offense. Without such depth, the Huskies hung with the Ducks into the third quarter but then became exhausted in the second half of Oregon's big-play win last November in Eugene.
"He's just improved every week," Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt said of Shamburger. "And he's feeling better. He's healthy finally - it's taken a while - and he's got confidence. He's made some nice plays and that has built up more confidence and has him playing faster."
Holt notes how physical Shamburger is for being just 6-foot and 192 pounds.
"Very physical, especially for a safety his size," Holt said. "He's a good tackler. He showed that in high school (where he was also a free safety). And he just came here and he had a bad knee. Now he's finally feeling good. ... He's playing really well for us."
Shamburger says he wasn't focused or prepared last season, when he played on special teams but rarely on defense. He credits his best bud Price with improving his work ethic this summer. He worked out in one-on-one drills with UW's receivers as Price threw countless passes to them and against Shamburger in Husky Stadium.
The work is paying off now. Last weekend, with Washington leading midway through the fourth quarter 35-31 but Arizona driving in UW territory, Shamburger hit Wildcats' leading receiver Juron Criner at the end of a catch and forced a fumble. Huskies linebacker Princeton Fuimaono recovered at midfield to set up Chris Polk's clinching score in a 42-31 victory that kept the Dawgs on their best start since 2001.
An almost bashful Shamburger said he was just trying to tackle Criner, that his helmet happened to dislodge the ball.
He similarly deflects credit for his physical play and tackling ability. He owes it all to his beloved, late father.
"My dad taught me to never be scared, and that you can't fear anybody - except for God, right?" Shamburger said. "That's the same mentality I think of every time I step on the field. I don't fear anybody.
"There's nobody out there who is superhuman, you know?"
QUICK HITS: Former Huskies All-Pac-10 and NFL TE Cam Cleeland and his wife Mindy, a former UW softball and basketball player, are joining with the UW Medicine's Harborview Medical Center, the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters and the Huskies' WSAAC student-athlete group to kick off their Play2Heal campaign at Saturday night's game. More than 140 Huskies student-athletes representing nine sports will be collecting donations along with firefighters. They will be holding boots and staffing booths outside Husky Stadium asking for donations. The effort is to raise funds to build a new play area at the UW Medicine Regional Burn Center at Harborview. The Cleelands' 4-year-old son Treynor spent 16 days there with severe burns last summer following an accident involving a treadmill. For more information, read the story about the campaign that is up now here on GoHuskies.com, or visit http://www.supportuwmedicine.org/play2heal. ... Even with a season-low one touchdown pass last weekend, Price is tied for fifth in the nation with 23 TD throws this season. The redshirt sophomore is one scoring pass behind Billy Joe Hobert's 1991 total for third most in any UW season, and two behind Brock Huard's total in 1997. The Huskies' single-season record is 28 touchdown passes by Cody Pickett in 2002.