April 12, 2006
By Noah Cohan
gohuskies.com contributing writer
One of the areas of greatest intrigue during Washington's 2006 Spring Drills has been the defensive secondary.
With plenty of returning talent and a highly-regarded new coach with strong Husky connections in J.D. Williams, the Huskies' pass coverage unit looks like it could be one of the strongest parts of the defensive corps. Add in a position switch from safety to cornerback for Dashon Goldson and the hotly contested competition to replace him, and the intrigue only intensifies.
Goldson and C.J. Wallace were the pillars of the Husky secondary in 2005, each starting all 11 games and recording 80 and 86 tackles, respectively. Those totals were good for third and second most on the team.
But Wallace, the strong safety for the '05 Dawgs, and Goldson, the free safety, won't be bookends in 2006. At Coach Williams' suggestion, Goldson moved to the cornerback position this spring.
"I played a little bit of corner in high school," Goldson said, describing the adjustment. "And when I go home to California I work out with my DB coach from high school and Pop Warner. He played corner so I've learned a lot of corner techniques."
"I just need to keep up my confidence level. I know I'm going to be on an island sometimes, sticking to a lot of different guys. I have the height and speed, so I'm probably going to be matched up with the best receivers our opponents have to offer."
Goldson makes the switch sound like no big deal, but it won't be for opposing wide receivers, who will have to try and out-duel the physical Carson, Calif. native on a play-by-play basis.
Husky wideout Chancellor Young got a taste of that physicality during the UW's first spring scrimmage. Young caught a six-yard out before absorbing a punishing hit from Goldson that elicited oohs and ahs from the more than 100 Husky football alumni in attendance.
"It was a man defense and we were supposed to double the wide receiver," Goldson explained. "I kind of messed up on the play because I let my man off early. But I saw Chancellor coming across and I just went after him. I guess I lit him up."
Also lighting up the scrimmage were sophomore Mesphin Forrester, junior Chris Hemphill and junior Jason Wells, the Dawgs who are battling for starting positions in the secondary. All played considerable minutes and by all accounts played very well.
Hemphill had a highlight reel 96-yard interception return for a touchdown, while Forrester led all tacklers with 11 stops and Wells was third on the team with six tackles.
"I was playing inside and reading the quarterback at the same time," Hemphill remembered about his touchdown. "I saw the ball come out high, but I had to make sure that I was in the right place and also that I caught the ball since it was raining.
"When I started running I remembered we were in a scrimmage, so play doesn't stop. In practice when you get an interception you run for 10 or 20 yards and they blow the whistle. But it was a scrimmage, so I was just thinking, `Run as fast as you can.'
"My legs were already dead from our individual drills, but I couldn't think about that. So I started running. Man, the end zone looked so far away! I ran as hard as I could, gave Chancellor (Young) a little stiff-arm at the goal line and it was just enough to get in. I was glad I could do that for my teammates and impress the coaches."
At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, Hemphill is an imposing physical specimen who wants to be known as more than just a hard-hitter. Making plays like Hemphill did on Saturday will go a long way into adding to his reputation.
Though Hemphill is locked in a fierce competition with Forrester for a starting spot, he is quick to complement the sophomore.
"I think Mesphin is the ultimate camel," Hemphill said. "Coach Willingham likes to talk about camels - guys that can go hard for a long time. I think Mesphin has showed that he can do that this spring. He will be a really good player this season."
Forrester is also quick to compliment Hemphill.
"I'm happy that Chris scored that touchdown," Forrester said. "I'm just happy that I could help block on the play... There's no real rivalry between us. We just try to make plays and make this team better."
The two are also in agreement on the important role that Goldson and Wallace play as senior leaders in the secondary.
"Dashon and C.J. bring a lot of leadership to the DBs coming into their senior year," Forrester said. "They're really helping us younger guys become better."
"Those guys are vocal leaders in the secondary," Hemphill said. "They know the system and what has to be done for us to win. They're not going to bite their tongues - they want us to be the best. They're going to say something about it if we're not giving our all. I think that makes us better as a secondary."
For his part, Goldson says he is happy to help.
"Any questions that need to be answered, (C.J. and I) will be there," Goldson said. "And we also have to perform and be leaders by example. We want to go out there and set the tone for everybody."
Should Goldson continue to lay down hits like last Saturday's and should Hemphill and Forrester follow suit with big plays of their own, there is little doubt that the tone in this latest area of Husky football intrigue will resonate with the sweet sound of success.