Dec. 11, 2010
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
Practice in December is awesome.
"It's exciting. It's cool to have practice this time of year," Locker said Friday upon returning to drills, following four days off in the afterglow of beating Washington State in the Apple Cup.
Goodwin simply tweeted Friday night: "I love practice in December."
Washington (6-6) is back at work this weekend - and not offseason work, for a change. For the first time in eight years, the Huskies are practicing for a bowl.
In Locker's first four years at UW (the quarterback redshirted in 2006), December meant getting a schedule that, as he put it, "has been 'OK, this is when you guys can go home and this is when the quarter starts and we start winter workouts again.'"
Not this time. Locker, Goodwin, Foster, co-captain Nate Williams and others are mostly watching freshmen and sophomore backups work during a sort of spring ball preview through Sunday. Then, after three more off days for final exams, the Dawgs will begin earnest preparations Thursday for Nebraska (10-3) and the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30.
"I love this stuff man," said coach Steve Sarkisian, after he led the Huskies through the weekend's first practice at the Dempsey Indoor facility. "This is why you coach."
Last year, the former Rose Bowl-winning coordinator at USC chafed through December. He was not going to the postseason for the first time 2004, when he was the quarterbacks coach for the NFL's Oakland Raiders. While Washington's five-win improvement to 5-7 in 2009 was progress, Sarkisian wasn't exactly thrilled at being available to Christmas shop following his rookie season as a head coach.
"I hated it," he said. "It felt wrong."
This feels better: 14 bonus practices, then the Holiday Bowl on national television in primetime. It will be against a Cornhuskers team that lost by three to Oklahoma in last weekend's Big 12 Conference championship game.
"I'm loving this," Sarkisian said. "This is the coolest thing. It's the coolest thing for our players to get to experience this.
"I wish it was year-round," he said of the season. "Let's start a spring league."
The Huskies leave for San Diego on Dec. 23 and have five practices scheduled on the grass fields of the University of San Diego, the site Sarkisian picked following a logistics tour there Wednesday. There is a walkthrough the day before the game at Qualcomm Stadium and then the Thursday night kickoff of the 33rd Holiday Bowl at 7 p.m. on ESPN Dec. 30.
Asked if he would give the team Christmas Day off from practice while in San Diego, Sarkisian said he's going to be a Santa for his players, all right. By being his usual, football self, that is.
"No, we will practice," the coach said. "That's the best gift anyone can get, man -- let's go play football!"
The Huskies also have trips scheduled to the San Diego Zoo on Dec. 26, Sea World on Dec. 27 and to a U.S. Navy/Marine Corps luncheon and tour aboard the USS Ronald Reagan on Dec. 28.
Sarkisian wants the Huskies to enjoy their first bowl experience - after all, this is the loose, hip coach that pumps rap, country and classic rock music through each practice and has the team buses rocking upon arrival to each road game. Yet he stresses UW is going south with the intention of upsetting Nebraska in a rematch of the Cornhuskers' 56-21 win in Seattle in September.
"There's a fine line there," Sarkisian said. "We're going down there to win the game. We'll enjoy the events and the processes as they come. But when it is time to work and time to prepare mentally and physically, we'll be locked in."
The second-year coach has a message for those who question the wisdom of this Holiday Bowl rematch, given Nebraska had its way with Washington earlier this season: This is not the same Huskies team.
Three consecutive, must wins - including at California and Washington State in the final minute - have Washington on its best winning streak since September 2006.
"There's a much bigger sense of belief," Sarkisian said. "We believe we're a better football team. We act like a better football team, and the end result is we're playing like a better football team."
The 26 days between the thrilling Apple Cup win at WSU and the Holiday Bowl are finally giving Locker's broken rib a chance to heal.
"My rib is feeling great," Locker said Friday. "I haven't had any setbacks, and I'm feeling really good."
The bowl preparation is also giving sophomore 1,000-yard back Chris Polk time to rest legs that shredded the Cougars 29 times for 284 yards last weekend, recharging him for a Nebraska defense that gave up big Huskies runs early in the first meeting. It's giving middle linebacker Foster a chance to rest after producing the second-most tackles in the nation this season (12.6 per game).
It's also giving the coaches a challenge: Maintaining UW's momentum that became rampant through the Apple Cup.
"Sometimes, when you can get into these settings where you have these long layoffs, the challenge is to make sure that you can recapture that sense of belief and the knowing," Sarkisian said. "That will be one of our major tasks here the next month getting ready for the ball game."