April 11, 2005
Seattle - If Husky coach Tyrone Willingham wanted to gauge the success of Saturday's luncheon between the current team and a group of about 150 Husky alumni, all he would have to do is poll his players.
"It was cool, it was kind of like a family reunion," said junior linebacker Scott White. "It was a good experience for everybody to get those lessons from the older guys. Everybody felt proud to be a part of it when you saw Lawyer Milloy and Marques Tuiasosopo come back around, it gave you a real sense of purpose. It was real positive, I came away kind of juiced."
The Huskies were excited that such a large number of prominent figures in the program's history made the effort to pass along their thoughts on playing at Washington.
"To see that many people come back and support us was crazy, especially after last year when you felt like nobody was with you," said junior quarterback Isaiah Stanback. "From my stand point it was good because I got to sit at a table with Marques Tuiasosopo on my left and Warren Moon on my right and Damon Huard in front of me. It took me a minute to realize who I was sitting with, that doesn't happen every day. I got to talk with Marques Tuiasosopo about some mechanical situations and I talked with Warren Moon more about the mental aspect of the game, I was picking both of their brains."
"It was one of the best luncheon's we have ever had," said senior linebacker Evan Benjamin. "Coach Willingham did a good job of bringing all the guys in there. I look up to most of those guys, they've been through the program, they know how to do the dirty work. It was good to hear people in support of us and people who believe that we can get out of this hole. Hopefully we get to do it again in the fall. Overall it was a good experience; a fun and exciting day."
Willingham said the day's activities exceed even his own lofty goals.
"To have upwards of 150 former players come back, and not just come back, some of those flew in specifically for that block of time," Willingham said. "I think that illustrates the pride and their confidence and their belief in their role to help these young me be successful. I was extremely pleased with what took place off the field."
Willingham expects to make the luncheon an annual event and intends to have former players speak to his team at times during the season. He hopes his team appreciates the value associated with such activities.
"That's the thing about being young," he said. "There are so many things that pass you by at the time that you really don't understand what is taking place until you are 10 or 15 years older. Hopefully those guys could relate to them so they don't miss the moment."
Willingham said he takes advantage of the stories, opinions and feelings the former players pass along to him.
"If we don't have a keen awareness of the past, then we are doomed to make a lot of mistakes in the future," he said. "We've got a rich tradition of football here and I would love to learn as much about it as I can - how to do things, how not to do things - so that we do not make the mistakes that were made years ago."
Noting the Huskies
Monday was Washington's eighth practice of the spring. The Huskies went through the two-hour session in shorts.
Tuesday will be a busy day for Willingham outside of the football office. At 7:30 a.m. he will tape a segment for ESPN2's Cold Pizza that will air later in the week. Mid-morning, weather permitting, he will team up with basketball coach Lorenzo Romar to tape several television commercials that will promote Husky football ticket sales this spring. The spots, produced by the Seattle advertising agency of Dave Syferd & Partners, will have a humorous approach.
Willingham was photographed during Monday's practice for an upcoming story in Sports Illustrated. SI writer Austin Murphy will interview the head coach later this week.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Trenton Tuiasosopo made his first appearance at spring practice Monday. He is sidelined after suffering facial injuries as the result of a serious bicycle accident on campus in March. Tuiasosopo said he has resumed attending classes this quarter.
Sonny Shackelford sat out Monday's practice due to an injury. He is expected to return this week.
Willingham was able to sum up his feelings about Saturday's practice, including a lengthy scrimmage period, in just a few words.
"Mental mistakes, mental mistakes, mental mistakes," he said. "There were too many of those."
Looking for a Few Good Men
Willingham said the leaders of the team have yet to emerge, but he is comfortable with that phase of the program.
"We're still kind of at the stage where more of the focus is on the young men learning the system and becoming comfortable with it before they can really start to exert their personalities," he said. "I'm very patient about that. One thing you don't do with leadership. You never force leadership. Leadership has to emerge on its own and wield its own power. When it does that, then it is well received. When it doesn't do that, when it's like a country where you prop up a leader, it does not go over. You have to earn that right. In time our guys will do that."
Willingham reiterated that no player has earned a starting position yet and they should never be too comfortable in that role.
""It's always open," he said. "Everything we do is always open. If you are the best player on our team, you should be the guy setting the lead. You should be the guy out there having the best practice. It should be clear to everybody out there. If they put All-American on your name, then you should be the guy having an All-American practice every day. If you're not, then obviously somebody else should be in that spot."
Rooting for the Tiger
During his stint as the head coach at Stanford, Willingham struck up a friendship with Tiger Woods. He took time Sunday to watch Woods capture his ninth major championship at the Masters.
"I saw every minute of it from 11:30 to five," Willingham said. "I watched every step of it. It was fantastic."