Aug. 31, 2010
SEATTLE - On Friday evening, the Huskies charter buses will dock next to LaVell Edwards Stadium. During the short time before the team takes the field and begins its walk-through, Coach Steve Sarkisian promised to allow himself a few moments to soak in some old memories.
Otherwise, everything about Washington's trip to Provo will be strictly business. The goal for Sarkisian is to kick-start the 2010 season with a win, not embrace the nostalgia of a former life on his first trip back to alma mater. There will be no visiting of former haunts or jarring the memory with a stroll through campus.
"I still have some good friends there," Sarkisian said. "I just haven't been back. You move on in life. You try to play professional football for a few years, you're married, you're (coaching), it just didn't play out to try and get back."
Yet it's hard to ignore a place where you're ranked among the best quarterbacks the school has ever produced. It's an even more notable accomplishment when the school is famous for producing them. Sarkisian played two seasons for the Cougars, and in 1996 he led BYU to a 14-1 record as a starter. The one loss, famously, came against the Huskies in Seattle. During the coach's radio show this week, play-by-play voice Bob Rondeau joked he didn't look like a very good quarterback on that day, despite evidence at BYU to suggest otherwise. The season ended with a win at the Cotton Bowl, with Sarkisian leading the nation in quarterback rating, putting him in rarefied company within the school's group of talented signal-callers.
"We had some great moments in that stadium," Sarkisian said, referring to Cougar Stadium before the name change. "We had some tremendous wins and we had an excellent football team my senior year. I'll kind of reminisce for a minute and then get back into what we need to do."
Sarkisian arrived in Provo as a junior college transfer in 1995, and won the starting job that fall. Unlike most student-athletes who matriculate at BYU, the decision to attend the school affiliated with the Mormon Church was based on three other factors - the opportunity for playing time, an offense that would throw the football and the chance to earn a degree. Sarkisian found all three, and thoroughly enjoyed his time on campus. He had no issues following BYU's strict honor code. The only hiccup came with him occasionally forgetting to shave off his 5 o'clock shadow.
Instead of reconnecting with the past, Sarkisian is using his BYU connections to help the Huskies prep for their season opener. For example, the 4,549 feet of altitude poses a formidable challenge for schools that travel in from sea level. Sarkisian noted a host of programs who showed up in Provo early, only to have lungs burning and tongues wagging with exhaustion by the fourth quarter. The Huskies will breeze in and out of Utah much like a normal trip, and plan to focus more on combating dehydration on what should be a hot and dry night.
A keen knowledge of the BYU system may also give the Huskies an advantage. Summer film study told Sarkisian the current BYU coach, Bronco Mendenhall, still implements pieces of the famed passing attack Edwards made famous in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains. And while it's not a complete facsimile, the former quarterback recognized plenty of similar elements. In turn, Sarkisian has also borrowed pieces of Edwards' offense and incorporated them into his current program.
In a show of support, BYU plans to roll out the red carpet for Sarkisian. The Huskies coach is listed on the roll call of former QBs who will be honored at halftime, a group that includes a pair of Super Bowl winners in Jim McMahon and Steve Young. Sarkisian joked that he's only joining the group if the Huskies are up (preferably by multiple touchdowns).
"I think, all in all, it was great experience for me at the Y," Sarkisian said. "The fans were tremendous to me, the community was very good to me, my family. So I think it would be cordial."