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Earlier Spring Starts With Clear Goal: Win The North
Release: 03/04/2013
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March 4, 2013

By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE - Steve Sarkisian and Keith Price sound so pumped, they could be in college basketball - this being March and all.

The two most recognizable and important Huskies football men think this month could be the origins of some madness on Montlake this fall and winter.

"I don't know if I've ever been as excited for a spring practice," Sarkisian said Monday, one day before he begins his fifth year of spring ball at Washington.

Tuesday is the first of two late-night workouts this week on the East Field next to Husky Stadium's almost-complete renovation.

"(The excitement is) because of the one area I have the most impact on our team is the passing game," the former star quarterback at Brigham Young and offensive coordinator at USC said. "And that is probably the biggest area of our team that needs improvement.

"I'm excited about this team. This is a great group of guys that has a chance to be pretty special. Now, we have a lot of work to do."

Minutes later the Huskies' coach stated his team's clear goal for 2013: "I don't see why we wouldn't be in position to compete for a division championship."

Price has spent the last two months attacking leg weights the way he did before his smashing 2011 season, when he set school records with 33 touchdown passes and a 66.9 percent completion rate as a first-year starter. The coaches and training staff think that will make him a more explosive and improvisational playmaker than he was in 2012, after less leg strengthening in the name of rest.

"I'm excited. I can't wait," the fifth-year senior quarterback said last month while teaching a gym class at Seattle's Green Lake Elementary School. "I'm ready to go right now.

"It's just crazy how fast it's gone by, how it's my last year. My last go `round."

It starts Tuesday at 8:30 through 10:30 p.m., the first of four night-owl practices over the next two Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Huskies will also practice Saturday mornings the next two weekends before taking two weeks off for UW's spring break.

In April the new spring schedule will have 8:30 a.m. practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays from April 2 through April 18, with Saturday morning workouts each week in between.

The spring game is Saturday, April 20 at 4 p.m. at Memorial Stadium under Seattle's Space Needle. That is the only practice open to the public because of space limitations next to Husky Stadium's reconstruction.

Sarkisian is already thinking to Aug. 31's grand unveiling of new Husky Stadium in the opener against Boise State. That will be a rematch of UW's 28-26 loss to the Broncos in December's MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.

He's also looking beyond that to the test of what figures to be another loaded Pac-12 North Division. Oregon and Stanford look like potential top-10 teams. Again.

"Three teams in our conference have gone to bowl games the last three consecutive years. It's ourselves, it's Oregon and it's Stanford. So we feel we've made strides ourselves," said Sarkisian, whose Huskies have gone 7-6 and reached bowls in each of the last three seasons. "I know at times our record maybe hasn't been indicative of that. But to think: last year (we played) the top three teams in our division we beat two of them.

"Obviously Oregon has been a hurdle of ours. But I think we have the roster in place to take that step, and to do it consistently."

He calls that UW's ultimate challenge this fall.

To aid in that consistency, he and his staff are already doing to the players what Sarkisian calls "extending their comfort zone." The Huskies are practicing until 10:30 p.m. four times in the next two weeks, and then having meetings beginning at 6:30 a.m. with the morning practices after that throughout most of April. Construction cranes and drills and dozers will be bulling around them the entire time.

"It's going to be weird," Price said. "We have no choice but to get used to it."

That's exactly the idea, to get the Huskies guys used to performing any place at any time.

"We've got a lot of things to work on this spring, but our challenges in the fall lie more on the mental aspect of it all, of doing it week in and week out, regardless of where we are playing rather than what's on our roster," Sarkisian said. "We have a pretty good roster in place."

Sarkisian's confidence in his personnel stems from the youth that was forced into playing the last two seasons because of injury, especially along the offensive and defensive lines, being grown up now.

The Huskies return nine players who started December's Las Vegas Bowl on offense and eight more on defense.

Graduated center Erik Kohler could be poised to take Schaefer's place upon the junior's return in April from a knee injury. Starting left guard Micah Hatchie, Ben Riva, James Atoe, Dexter Charles, Mike Criste, and Shane Brostek are all practicing beginning Tuesday. Each started at least three games on the offensive line last season.

Brostek also played some on the defensive line late last season because of injuries. But Sarkisian said last week the sophomore and former high-school standout in Hawai'i will be beginning 2013 on offense.

One who will stay on offense is Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He was a third-down pass-rush specialist at defensive end late last season, but Sarkisian said "in a perfect world" he will not be forced to use his national tight-end-of-the-year finalist from 2012 on defense.

"He will not be on defense this spring, I can tell you that," the coach promised of ASJ.

Seferian-Jenkins is one of Washington's four biggest playmakers that are all back: Price, whom Sarkisian re-recruited with a phone call to Los Angeles the first day the coach took this job in January 2009; Kasen Williams, a junior who has been jumping with UW's track team and has the physical skills and now experience to have a monster year; plus Bishop Sankey, the out-of-nowhere 1,400-yard rusher as a true sophomore last season who romped for 205 yards in December's bowl game.

"I don't see why we wouldn't be in position to compete for a division championship. That's really the goal," Sarkisian said. "If you win your division you get to play for a conference championship, and if you win your conference championship then you get to play for a Rose Bowl championship. The goal is to win our division.

"It's pretty clear the North is pretty tough. When you look at what Oregon's done the last few years, you look at what Stanford has done, you look at the season Oregon State had last year ... this is a unique challenge."

Hence, the unique format and start times to this most unusual spring practice of Sark's time at Washington.

"It's been a little shorter offseason than we've been accustomed to, but one that we are chompin' at the bit to get going," Sarkisian said.

"I think we are poised for a great run. We have a lot of work to do, obviously, but we are poised for a great run."

INSIDE THE DAWGS: Taz Stevenson has moved back to safety after playing last season at linebacker and spending time practicing at tailback. Thomas Vincent, a walk-on backup quarterback for two seasons, is also moving to safety. ... Sarkisian said Cameron Van Winkle, a big-legged placekicker signed last month in the 2013 recruiting class out of Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, Wash., will be available to practice in April. ... The following Huskies will be inactive for spring practices because of injuries: DE Hau'oli Jamora, Tanigawa, TB Deontae Cooper, TB Jesse Callier, DE Pio Vatuvei, LB Travis Feeney, and DT Lawrence Lagafuaina. ... Sarkisian said Kohler and DB Brandon Beaver are going to be limited this month but could be practicing in April. DB Darien Washington will be practicing all spring but while wearing a yellow, no-contact jersey. ... Ryan Masel, a freshman long snapper last season, will not be at spring practice but will be at fall camp. ... The coach announced DE Corey Waller, a redshirt freshman last season, has decided to transfer.

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