Sept. 26, 2008
He was there during the glory days. When traditions were not just lived, they were built. He idolized the concept of work. He played with the likes of Greg Lewis, Mario Bailey, Steve Emtman and Chico Fraley during one of the best stretches of football in Washington history.
Jeff Pahukoa stepped onto campus in 1987 as a 6-foot-3, 270-pounder from Marysville, Wash. In present day terms, 270 pounds would make for a good-sized defensive end. Instead, Pahukoa was an offensive lineman who would start at three different positions in his career. For perspective, the 2007 UW offensive line averaged 309 pounds.
Evidently size mattered little.
Pahukoa was one of three players to forgo their redshirt year in 1987. The others were Eugene Burkhalter and Lewis. On a team that had been to eightstraight bowl games under legendary coach Don James, he would be a starter.
Pahukoa was the first true freshman to start on the offensive line in the first 12 years under James.
"The farthest thing from my mind was that I was going to start as a freshman," Pahukoa said. "It was all new to me. I went in not thinking I was going to play."
But he did play, and for that matter, he played well. Pahukoa started in parts of his first three seasons as Washington won the Independence Bowl in 1987 and the Freedom Bowl in 1989.
"That first season we went to the Independence Bowl," he said. "For me that was awesome. But relative to the standards at UW, that was very subpar.
"[My] junior year we became a group and you could definitely feel that. We went to the Freedom Bowl and we built from there. Guys wanted to get better, faster and stronger. It was an exciting time to be part of that."
In his final season at the UW, Pahukoa and the Huskies finally accomplished their goal: winning the Rose Bowl. The team plowed through the season, literally, as they rushed for more than 2,500 yards, and found themselves playing Iowa on Jan. 1.
But to Pahukoa the 46-34 win in Pasadena wasn't even the highlight of the year.
"We opened [Pac-10 play] with USC," he said. "We weren't picked to win. We prepared probably more than we ever had for a game. And we went out and there and took a team that was supposed to win and compete for the national title and beat them 31-0. That was a great memory."
The Huskies racked up nearly 450 yards of total offense against the fifthranked Trojans as they beat them for the first time in Pahukoa's career. "I just saw purple. That's all. No numbers, just purple," Trojans' quarterback Todd Marinovich would say after the trouncing.
That 1990 season was a great one for Pahukoa and the Huskies. He blocked for Lewis as he set the then-record for rushing yards in a season with 1,407. Lewis went on to win the Doak Walker Award, while Pahukoa earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors.
"We wanted Greg to have 100 yards in every game," Pahukoa said. "At the same time we wanted to make sure [Mark] Brunell never got touched." That was just half of the story for Washington and for Pahukoa. Jeff's younger brother, Shane, played on the other side of the ball for the Huskies during his final two seasons.
"I had someone very close to me on defense," he said. "To be able to come off as an offense and stand on the sideline while our defense caused nothing but havoc was a great thing."
These days, with his brother living in California and his five-year NFL career a distancing memory, Jeff is back where it all started for him. A coach at Lake Stevens High School, he often talks about his experience with his players. He has found it isn't quite the NFL, but nonetheless, a rewarding lifestyle.
"On Monday we had awards handed out, stickers for helmets and stuff," he said. "We came to practice and the head coach said, `coach can you hold these.' One of the kids here said, `wow, you went from playing in the NFL to holding stickers for us.'
"I love working with these kids. I have an advantage of having been there and they know that. They want to know everything I can tell them. That makes coaching fun."
Pahukoa certainly has been there. He was part of the recruiting class that won the 1991 National Championship. But, because he did not redshirt, like many of those in his class, he missed out on the 1991 National Championship season. He jokingly asked Coach James where his ring was.
While he missed out on the national championship season, few outside the program understand like he does the work that went into earning that perfect season.
"We had guys that were all Pac-10 and guys that played in the NFL," he said. "But when you know you have a (tail)back that works hard and wants to succeed, you don't want to be the one that's holding him back. You work harder in the weight room. You work harder at practice. You work harder watching film. As a kid you don't realize that what you are doing is taking yourself from an average player to an All-Pac-10 player. The things we did for each other made all of us All-American level players."
It made them national champions too.