Sept. 24, 2009
Refocused Huskies Looking Forward
Butler Adds Another National Award
Television Information For Stanford Game
Washington's Weekly Press Notes
Pac-10 Player of the Week Release in PDF Format
Feature: Running and Gunning
Post-Practice Reports (Subscription Required):
Sept. 23: Sarkisian
by Brian Tom
When Husky senior fullback Paul Homer was a child, one of his favorite times of the year was Take Your Kid to Work Day. On those days, Homer's mother, Kathy, would bring her young, impressionable son to the hospital where she worked.
The hospital was almost like Homer's personal playground. He was allowed to explore the laboratories and different wings of the building. He was exposed to a world that not too many kids got to see, including the morgue, which was a somewhat morbid, educational fascination.
"It was pretty cool," remembers Homer of his excursions behind the scenes at the hospital. "When you're young you're almost too dumb to be scared, so you just think it is body parts and cool stuff. It's kind of like being interested in bugs - not for everybody, but cool to others."
Homer's mom further stimulated his curiosity in the sciences by introducing new medical and biology terms to his vocabulary. He wouldn't know the terms, but was excited to learn them.
"She would come home and tell me all these things and say all these big terms that I wouldn't know," says Homer. "So she would describe them to me. I liked learning about the body. With that kind of knowledge, you can always help yourself if you need to."
Homer's early days of curiosity have spawned into a career path. At the University of Washington, he is pursuing his degree in biology and one day hopes to be a pediatrician or a family medicine doctor.
His road is definitely the one less traveled by your average student-athlete. With a full plate of football and school, Homer could have chosen a less demanding college major, but that is not his style.
"I think it has made (my life) more exciting," says Homer of pursuing a biology degree. "I have met a lot of cool people through the program. I like having a lot to do and I'm actually doing something I love. I love football and I love the sciences, so doing both of those has been awesome."
And having an intelligent, football-savvy player like Homer is a blessing for first-year Husky head coach Steve Sarkisian. Not only does Homer's intelligence help him pick up the new system, he can help others around him pick up the offense. Sarkisian feels it is like having another coach on the field.
"Obviously, the brightest of the brightest players that you can get, the better off you are," says Sarkisian. "They can pick things up quickly and understand what you're trying to get accomplished. And sometimes they can help us support our message we're trying to get across.
"(Paul) is a very bright guy," continues Sarkisian. "The one thing that makes me know that he is going to be a great doctor is because of his penmanship. He writes like a doctor. It's awful!"
If the chips fall into place, Homer won't have to worry about writing prescriptions for the next couple of years. Football has provided Homer the vehicle to study biology for free at a college campus, but the sport may ultimately delay Homer's pursuit of medical school.
He is considered one of the top fullback prospects at the collegiate level for the upcoming NFL Draft and has a likely shot at a professional career after his senior season. Depending on which magazine you read or which NFL Draft guru you follow, Homer's prospects of donning a pro jersey next football season is a strong possibility.
"The key is the versatility," says Sarkisian about the strengths of Homer that make him so attractive to scouts. "He has the ability to be physical in the run game, he's got nice passprotection skills and he's got the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. And, if you slip him the ball every now and then, he is pretty nimble with his feet."
For now, Homer is not really paying attention to the lures of the NFL. He hardly reads the newspapers or follows all the draft prognostications. That doesn't keep those around Homer from sharing the scuttlebutt with him.
"Usually I get stuff from my friends saying `have you seen this Paul,'" says Homer. "That stuff is just some guy throwing out rankings. It really is the opinion of the scouts and NFL teams that matter. Until they start putting out rankings, I won't pay attention too closely."
All the talk of the NFL is nice to dream about, but it hasn't all been roses for Homer. After struggling through a winless 2008 season, Homer questioned his passion to play football, but before that, Homer was on the fast track to be a collegiate star.
He seemed destined for stardom from the moment he stepped on the turf at Husky Stadium. Homer proved to be mature beyond his youth. He and linebacker Donald Butler were the only two true freshmen to play in 2006. He played in all 12 games, primarily on special teams, and won the Travis Spring Most Outstanding Freshman on offense.
As a sophomore, Homer only got better. He took on a bigger role and was responsible for punching holes in defenses for tailback Louis Rankin, who sprinted and zigzagged for 1,294 yards, the fifth most in UW history by a running back. To boot, Jake Locker ran for a Pac-10 quarterback record 986 yards. While most of the headlines went to Rankin and Locker, Homer's blocking efforts did not go unnoticed and earned him a stellar reputation.
Things took a turn for the worse during Homer's junior season. The Husky offense struggled and frustration mounted. During the trials of the season, Homer was left questioning his passion for football.
"I really do hate to admit it, but going through an experience like last year, you lose a chip off your shoulder -- that extra oomph to get you going," explains Homer. "I hate saying that, and it is sad to say."
It took a new coaching staff at Washington to rejuvenate Homer's fighting spirit and help him put 2008 in the past. The coaches have brought a breath of fresh air and a clean slate to the team. They exude an infectious energy that many of the players have willingly embraced, including Homer.
"I think Paul had a tremendous off-season," says Sarkisian. "He did a great job in the strength and conditioning department and lost some weight. He became more agile and explosive. He has a lot of really nice leadership qualities about him that guys on the team respond to."
Likewise, Homer feels that he and his teammates are responding to the new coaching.
"They're able to show us our potential and get it out of us," he says. "They see how great of players we are and know that we can compete at this level. They know that we should be winning games.
"You can get confidence back by winning games, but just having the mentality and knowing that you're a Division I athlete means you're a great player. Somewhere along the way, we may have strayed from that belief. These guys are giving it back to us."
Besides the coaching staff, Homer also has plenty of support and motivation coming from his girlfriend and his teammates and their families. As a junior, Homer lived in a lakeside home off-campus with Locker, offensive lineman Ryan Tolar, wide receivers Tony Chidiac and Cody Bruns and former Husky Matt Sedillo. Not only did they share a roof over their heads, they lived through a tough football season together.
As a Seattle outsider from the suburbs of Omaha, Neb., Homer was the furthest away from his family out of the group. Despite the distance from his parents and home, Homer found solace in his local friends and adoptive second families that he formed.
"All their families have treated me like I was their own son," says Homer of his former roommates. "They have been so hospitable to me and have helped me out with so many things. They have just made it so I very rarely get homesick. Mom and dad will probably be upset with me for saying that, but their families are so generous and so fun to be around. I feel like an honorary Washingtonian."
During Homer's final season at Washington, he doesn't plan on missing home much. The fun is back and there is a little extra pep in his step. A lot has to be credited to the new coaching staff. Medically speaking, you could say that the coaching staff has provided the shot in the arm that Homer needed.
"I definitely feel like I'm getting the passion back and getting that fire in my belly to get me going," says Homer. "That has a lot to do with the coaches. It is easy to see that the coaches are going to have us back on top in no time."