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Seniors Take Field At Husky Stadium For Final Time Tonight
Release: 11/18/2010
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Nov. 18, 2010

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by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

They've beaten USC twice in two years. The second time, last month, broke a three-year road losing streak.

They have endured the unthinkable, an 0-12 season. They've heard skepticism in their own backyard while wading through a tumultuous regime change. They gotten used to an entirely new coaching staff. Learned new ways to think, practice, run, lift weights, eat, study ... basically live.

Second-year coach Steve Sarkisian has commented throughout Washington's wildly up-and-down 2010 season how impressed he's been with his Huskies' resiliency.

That figures, since it's also the most striking characteristic of their leaders.

Few senior classes at Washington have survived more and had its unity tested more than the one being honored this week in its Husky Stadium finale against UCLA.

"We've been through a lot things here at U-Dub," said linebacker Mason Foster, who arrived at Washington in 2007 as an overlooked high school quarterback from California's Monterey Bay. He is leaving as the Pac-10' leading tackler, among the top stoppers in the country.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster," said offensive linemen Cody Habben, who arrived in 2006 as an All-State selection from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., then redshirted his first season at UW.

So if Foster, Habben and their classmates take an extra moment or three to soak in their final scene on Montlake, you'll know why.

Co-captain Jake Locker is going to leave UW as its secondmost accomplished passer behind Cody Pickett. Yet he feels like it's only a few weeks later than September 2007, when he was beginning his UW career as its starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman. That was 36 starts ago.

"It's gone fast. It seems like just a couple of days ago I was up here talking to you for the first time trying to figure out what this is all about," Locker said.

One of UW's most celebrated athletes in decades isn't seeing this home finale as the end. Not quite yet.

The Huskies (3-6, 2-4 Pac-10) need wins in each of its final three games, starting with this one against the Bruins (4-5, 2-4), to reach the senior class' goal of becoming eligible for Washington's first bowl since 2002.

"I still believe this football team has a great opportunity," Locker said. "And we need to approach it that way and get ready for it that way.''

Those who joined Habben and Locker in redshirting in 2006 - such as wide receiver D'Andre Goodwin, guard Ryan Tolar, defensive linemen Cameron Elisara (who is unlikely to play in his home finale because of a neck stinger) and De'Shon Matthews, linebackers Matt Houston and Brandon Huppert -- began at Washington with coach Tyrone Willingham still entrenched as their coach.

That soon changed.

"We've been to some of the highest highs, and at the same time have had the lowest of lows," Habben said. "We take pride in that we have stuck together. It's been a great time. And it's been a privilege to have these guys as teammates."

Seniors such as Foster, fellow outside linebacker and converted safety Victor Aiyewa, safety and co-captain Nate Williams, fullback Austin Sylvester, cornerbacks Quinton Richardson and Vonzell McDowell and punter Will Mahan (who has missed most of his senior season because of a knee injury and will apply for a medical redshirt) didn't redshirt. They arrived in 2007, with Willingham and his staff on notice.

"With everything that has happened with the program in the last four years, the leaders on the team have had to stay positive," Williams said. "A lot of times, guys didn't want to do this or that, didn't want to lift weights or study or put the time in.

"Looking back on it, it went fast - except for that winless season. I never thought that was going to end."

It finally did. But then many Huskies felt jilted when Willingham and the assistants with whom they had signed their loyalty as teenagers were fired.

As Tolar said of 2008: "We came here to win. And definitely that was the year when you found out who all your friends were.

"After we were 0-12, we looked at each other (as a class) and it was one of these things where we knew we had to change. Me, personally, I looked at it as we were still young. We've really got time to change everything."

They did. And they are leaving the program in far better condition for their successors.

But not before they went through a jolting transition to a fiery, driven new coaching staff led by Sarkisian, who brought his successful USC pals and their ways with him.

"The coaching staff brought a ton of energy. We fed off it," Tolar said.

The upperclassmen had to learn an entirely new system, as if they were freshmen again. Sarkisian and his assistants put the Huskies through an intense weeding out process.

The strongest, such as the 6-foot-5, 296-pound Tolar, stayed.

"I love playing for a whole different program," said Tolar, who will play his 45th career game in his Husky Stadium finale. "Everything is different. Not only have they changed us physically, mentally, our attitudes - everything is so much different."

Perhaps no one in this tested class has had a longer path to this Senior Night than Greg Christine. He personifies this class' resiliency and resourcefulness.

He was the starting center for an undefeated California section champion, St. Bonaventure High School in Camarillo, Calif. He walked on to the Huskies as a freshman in 2006 and redshirted.

He spent not one, not two, but virtually all three of his first seasons at UW thanklessly banging his head into the starting defense while on the scout team. The only exception was his collegiate debut, the final 13 plays in the 2008 season finale at California.

Christine finally earned a scholarship in 2009 under Sarkisian. He started the first six games of last season as a redshirt junior -- then broke his leg. He began this season as a starting guard, then moved to center, then to the bench - only to return at guard earlier this month at Oregon when the Huskies needed veteran linemen.

He's an aspiring musician who has produced a rap album with his group, Bent Twig.

That sounds like an appropriate name for this Huskies' senior class: Bent. As opposed to broken.

"We came in with big expectations, all wanting to do big things as a class," Christine said. "Obviously, it hasn't been what we all wanted.

"But we've stuck together. We are a family."

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