Aug. 15, 2008
SEATTLE (AP) - A quick scan of the Washington roster makes it apparent just how special the Huskies believe Chris Polk is.
Sure, Polk leaving powerhouse Southern California and coming north to Washington was a spectacular coup. But the real sign of his value to coach Tyrone Willingham and the Huskies: He's the only player with his own position.
"We're doing a lot of things. We're doing a lot of things with Chris," Willingham said.
Polk is the one coaches talk about vaguely, yet hold a glimmer in their eye and smirk on their face when speaking about the freshman.
Polk is fast and physical, shifty and smart, a 2,500-yard-plus rusher as a senior in high school. He is the only player on Washington's roster listed as a "SB" or slotback, a dual threat equally dangerous lining up in the backfield or out wide as a receiver.
And all the praise heaped upon him as the prodigious playmaker to finally take some stress off equally multitalented quarterback Jake Locker comes before Polk has ever taken the field in the purple and gold.
"College is a whole different level. It's a lot harder than I expected it to be," Polk said. "The game is just way bigger."
In his original plan, Polk would be wearing the maroon and yellow of USC at this time, playing for his favorite team after growing up east of Los Angeles.
Polk committed to USC the moment the Trojans offered him a scholarship, only to then do some research and realize that any chance of playing early in his career at USC was slim with a loaded roster. The Trojans also were set on Polk playing at receiver.
"I was star-struck and it was my favorite college and I was from Southern California and wanted to be close to home," Polk said. "But as things progressed I started to notice they had five star athletes at my position that hadn't played the year before."
So Polk and his mother reopened the door of consideration, and the opportunity to get immediate playing time at Washington was a major draw. It also helped that Polk's former high school quarterback, Ronnie Fouch, was already in Seattle.
Fouch juggled his schedule to take additional classes at Redlands East Valley High School as a senior so he could graduate early and enroll at Washington in time for spring practice before the start of his freshman year. Following that example, Polk started to take summer school classes so that once his high school football season ended, all his graduation requirements were met.
"After football season my senior year I didn't want to sit around and wait. I wanted to get right into it," Polk said.
Polk and Fouch's decisions had the full support of Willingham -- in Polk's case the Huskies needed offensive talent -- but he cautioned that each individual has to be considered separately.
"I don't think it's right for every young man to do that. Obviously he has to have his academics in order to be able to do that. Everything has to be put in place in terms of his core classes," Willingham said. "But there are also some emotional things that have to be in place to make it work. I think it's a good thing for those that are capable but it's not the right thing for everyone."
With Polk on campus in time for spring practice, Husky coaches quickly realized his versatility. His experience playing football was at running back, until his high school coach moved him to receiver with Fouch's passing ability. He caught 62 passes as a junior, before returning to the backfield as a senior and scoring 29 touchdowns on the ground.
Wanting to maximize his abilities, the Huskies listed Polk at slotback, the only one on the roster with that tag, even if no one is entirely sure what that is. In the portions of practice open to the media, Polk has worked exclusively with the running backs, the position he is most comfortable, but perhaps not where he's most dangerous.
"(Defensive backs) don't expect receivers after they catch the ball to try and run them over," Polk said. "After I catch it I go full speed trying to run them over."