|Washington at LSU
Saturday, Sept. 8 | 6 pm CT/4 pm PT | Tiger Stadium
TV: ESPN | Online: Watch ESPN | Radio: KJR / Affiliates
By Gregg Bell UW Director of WritingSEATTLE - Steve Sarkisian has had T-shirts made for his team demanding his Huskies "FINISH!"
He's painted locker-room walls with the mandate for his program to "Take the Next Step." He's taken his players to NFL exhibitions and Major League Baseball games. He's cannonballed off a dock next to the field during an impromptu team swim he called in Lake Washington following a hot practice last month.
Now this: Tuesday, four days before he leads Washington into the Bayou to play the LSU Bengal Tigers (4 p.m. on ESPN, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com), the coach brought his players Sheena.
Sheena is the live, 16-month-old Bengal tiger that was on the sidelines of East Field watching the Huskies practice. She paced inside her cage. She destroyed her black water container with teeth and claws. And she was especially curious on what all those humans in full pads and gold helmets were doing banging into each other for two hours.
"No, this is a first," said Steve Higgs of "A Walk on the Wild Side," the animal refuge and preserve in Canby, Ore., said of taking Sheena to a football practice.
Leave it to Sarkisian to turn a mid-week September practice into a fun, national curiosity.
The 38-year-old, kid-at-heart coach had a football staffer call "A Walk on the Wild Side" last week to arrange for Sheena to come to UW for a one-time-only showing. The intent was to reduce some of the awe factor some Huskies players may get Saturday night walking into Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. For most LSU home games, seven-year-old Mike VI is on the sidelines in his cage amid the roars of 92,000-plus.
Husky players had to go around Sheena's cage to get to their water and Gatorades following practice. They stopped to gawk at the beautiful tiger, their mouths agape at her colors gleaming in the September sun. At one point, offensive lineman Dexter Charles stuck his gloved hand in the bars of the tiger's cage, drawing "Whoas!" from his disbelieving teammates.
"Does it like Gatorade?" one Husky asked.
Then Sarkisian stopped by - at a noticeably safe distance from the red cage. He laughed as Sheena turned her head toward him, as if to acknowledge her host for the day.
Redshirt senior safety Justin Glenn has been through two head coaches and three defensive staffs in his Huskies career. He was smiling and shaking his head over Sheena's visit.
"That was cool," Glenn said.
"I'll tell you," Glenn said of Sarkisian, "he never ceases to amaze me or surprise me."
Freshman wide receiver Jaydon Mickens was especially curious, asking Higgs and the tiger's other trainer questions. He learned, for instance, that Sheena lives in a far bigger, 100-by-50-foot cage at her home in the preserve in Canby. It takes two adult handlers to take her on walks because she is too strong to be held by just one.
"So there was a Tiger at practice today," injured fullback Cooper Pelluer tweeted dryly.
Sheena's surprise was just another aspect of Sarkisian's extensive preparations and edge-seeking in advance of a big game. This one is on national television against the third-ranked team in country, one of the two teams that played in January's BCS national-championship game. Saturday is Washington's first game at the home of a Southeastern Conference school since 1983, also at LSU.
"I mean, there's going to be one there on the sidelines Saturday night," Glenn said of the tiger. "So (Sarkisian) is just trying to get us used to it. No distractions."
The tiger's visit to practice was news on national sports outlets, bringing attention to the "other" team in Saturday's ESPN primetime game.
"King to you, @CoachSark," si.com national writer Andy Staples tweeted.
New Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was Tennessee's coordinator until January. He's coached at Tiger Stadium - and loved that Sheena was at practice Tuesday to prepare UW for LSU's game environment.
"Pretty neat deal. Sark put them up to that one," Wilcox said, chuckling. "I think the kids thought that was pretty cool."
Sarkisian tweeted after the practice: "It was great meeting Sheena the Tiger." He also included a photo.
Turns out, the Huskies may or may not see Mike VI the tiger in Baton Rouge Saturday night. It was lead-note news last weekend when Mike was an unexpected no-show for LSU's opening rout of North Texas.
The Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge gave this explanation: "LSU sent out a news release Saturday reminding fans that it does not force Mike into his traveling cage when he doesn't want to cooperate.
"'LSU School of Veterinary Medicine student handlers have been working with Mike ... throughout the summer to get him ready to load into his trailer for LSU Tiger home football games,'" the release said. "However, being an adult male tiger, he does not always comply. Because of this, he may not attend all home games this season.'
"Translation: When a large man-eating predator wants to stay home you let him stay home."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: The season-ending knee injuries starting RB Jesse Callier sustained in last weekend's win over San Diego State and for which DE Hau'oli Jamora had surgery last week are the eighth and ninth histories of torn anterior cruciate ligaments on the UW roster. For instance, starting LB John Timu and S Will Shamburger tore ACLs in high school. Sarkisian said "we've exhausted ourselves on every study - from shoes, to the type of body type that's getting injured, to quad and hamstring strength, to surface, to the type of plays, to when they occur in practice and games," in search of a systemic reason. "I think the one study shows it take seven pounds of pressure or something to tear an ACL, so that's not much," Sarkisian said. "They're non-contact injuries (such as Callier's). ... I don't know if its guys are getting bigger faster and stronger, the surfaces are changing, I don't know if its cleats. There's a lot that goes into it. I know we are looking into it, because you don't want to happen to them in such a violent game that had zero contact on it."