April 16, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Chris Polk plowed through white shirts like he was a bull charging through the streets of Pamplona.
He trampled through the defensive line. He raced past linebackers. Then he ran at the safety, froze him with a slick move and sprinted past him 60 yards for a touchdown.
The final push came from Polk stiff-arming a defensive back across the goal line.
The eye-opening play ended Saturday's 100-play scrimmage at Husky Stadium. It exemplifies all the 5-foot-11, 214-pound Polk can be: powerful, yet fast and even elusive.
It also exemplifies what the Huskies see as the next evolution in their two-time 1,000-yard rusher's game.
"That's the key," coach Steve Sarkisian said after the ninth spring practice. "Everyone knows Chris is a grinder runner, never gets tackled by the first guy and falls forward and gets 3 more yards, things of that nature.
"But that next step in his game is making secondary players miss. Nate Fellner, as we all know, is a very good tackler. And quite honestly, it wasn't even close.
"Chris is getting more and more comfortable in the open field, believing in his moves and making full-speed cuts and then opening it up and outrunning people."
Saturday was the most productive - and extensive - spring day yet for the junior who last season joined Napoleon Kaufman (1992-94) and Greg Lewis (1989-90) as the only Huskies to rush for 1,000 yards in more than one season. Sarkisian had limited Polk's scrimmage carries over the first eight spring practices, wryly explaining he thinks he knows what Polk can do in live action.
But Saturday, with fellow running backs Jesse Callier and Zach Fogerson watching from the sidelines in red jerseys to protect minor injuries, Polk ran with the first- and even the second-team offenses.
And ultimately, after getting slowed early by coordinator Nick Holt's active defensive front, he ran wild. His bolt for a score was reminiscent of the Apple Cup last year in Pullman. That's when Polk romped all over Washington State for 284 yards on 29 carries. The only other Husky with a better rushing day - ever - was fabled Hugh McEllhenny 60 years earlier.
So what's Polk's next step?
"That last run you saw, that was one of them: Making a guy miss in the secondary," UW running backs coach Joel Thomas said, echoing Sarkisian. "I think we saw that in the second-to-last game last season, against Washington State."
Thomas is also working with Polk on becoming more of an asset in Washington's passing game, specifically by being a better blocker against edge rushers. The coach would also like to see Polk become more explosive after catching passes in the flat out of the backfield.
Then again, only the truly elite backs - as in, NFL elite -- are 1,000-yard rushers, outstanding pass blockers and good receivers, to boot.
Polk finished last regular season second in the Pac-10 with 103.1 rushing yards per game, and could have entered the NFL after it. Thanks to redshirting his first season at UW, he was already three years into his college career following his sophomore season.
But his mother, Edrena Polk, told GoHuskies.com in December "right now we've got to focus on his education. Perhaps after one more year, or two more years. He's in a very good position right now."
She wants her son to take academic advantage of having enrolled at UW months early, in January 2008 for winter quarter of that academic year so he could practice that spring with the Huskies. That gave Polk a two-term academic head start on his college classmates.
"He can get his degree and then go begin work on a master's," said his mother, a nurse at a hospital in Colton, Calif. "We're elated with that."
Her son was also elated over his TD, smiling as he walked off the field to the locker room moments later Saturday. He has a mindset that's as good a sign for the Huskies this fall as his impressive run that ended the scrimmage.
"I really don't think that I have accomplished anything yet," Polk said. "That's why I came back."