Jan. 30, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE - Kasen Williams has barely stopped running. Yet he is starting back up field for another sprint down the sideline.
"You can rest, man. Relax," his newest coach, former three-time NFL Pro Bowl running back Eric Metcalf tells the Huskies' leading, hulking, restless wide receiver between practice reps.
"You don't want any water, man?"
Williams, wearing a gray "W Football" T-shirt, his black, No. 2 football mesh shorts and his mountainous muscles, just smiles back.
"Nah," he says, "I'm eager."
The Huskies' prodigious wide receiver takes off running yet again. He's back inside UW's Dempsey Indoor practice facility, like he was last month practicing with the Dawgs for the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
But instead of an end zone, Williams is leaping and running into a sand pit. Instead of coach Steve Sarkisian honing the finer points of football's passing game, it's Metcalf - a former NCAA jumping king at Texas and retired, 13-year NFL running back - who is perfecting Williams' mechanics in the long jump.
"Football players, it's just a totally different mentally," Metcalf says, comparing Williams to his other track students at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School and the elite track-and-field club he founded, Seatown Express.
"There's just a swagger."
Last month Williams finished his sophomore football season with 77 receptions, third-most in 123 seasons of UW football. He was honorable mention All-Pac-12, and he has self-imposed expectations of becoming the Huskies' first All-America wide out since Reggie Williams (no relation) in 2002.
Last week Williams told Metcalf he was going to long jump 24 feet, 6 inches. He hadn't competed in track in 1½ years, since shattering state records and winning Washington high school titles in the long jump, high jump, and triple jump at Skyline High in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish.
"I was skeptical," said Metcalf, the NCAA champion in the long jump in 1986 and '87 while also a star running back at Texas. "I told him, `I don't think so. I don't see it.'"
After just a few days of practice with Metcalf, Williams plied a track singlet over his chiseled, 6-foot-2, 216-pound man-child frame for the UW Indoor Preview meet last weekend. And he soared.
Williams went 24 feet, 4½ inches. It was the sixth-farthest indoor jump in Washington track history.
"I was just frustrated I didn't win," Williams said. "The ability to do big things is there."
Metcalf just laughs and shakes his head at that.
"He said he'd do it, and he did it," Metcalf said Tuesday while watching Williams work out. "Now he's talking 25 feet (this weekend when UW's long jumpers compete in New Mexico). And 52 feet in the triple (jump)."
Williams set the state triple jump record in 2011 at 50 feet, 9 ¼ inches.
The 16 longest college jumps in the country this winter will qualify for the NCAA Indoor national championships March 9-10 in Fayetteville, Ark. Last year, the 16th-best mark would have been 25 feet, 2 inches.
Does Metcalf think Williams could make the national finals after not being in the sport for nearly two years?
"I really do," Metcalf says, "because the long jump, it comes so naturally to him. He's going to get so much better over the course of just a short time having these practices.
"Everyone's saying, '25.' Pfft! He'll do that," Metcalf said, scoffing.
Williams went about seven inches short of 25 feet last weekend on nothing more than his rare, physical gifts and a few days of technical work with Metcalf. Now he has twice the technical knowledge from Metcalf than he had last week.
"I'm getting back into the swing of things. I know there are things I need to work on. But I feel I can go 25 this weekend," Williams said.
"The triple jump, I'm also trying to do big things in that, too.
"I mean, I'm not out here just to have fun. I want to win - and I want to win at the highest level possible."
WILLIAMS, DUCRE, SHELTON: FOOTBALL'S TRACK TRIO Some guys have all the gifts, eh? Turns out, multiple Huskies do. Williams is one of three Huskies football players doubling in track this indoor season. Defensive back Gregory Ducre is running the 60-meter dash. Starting defensive tackle Danny Shelton is chucking the shot put for the second consecutive track year.
Like Williams, they aren't out to merely pass offseason time. Ducre just finished his junior season playing all 13 games as a cornerback and special-teams mainstay. Last weekend he stunned Huskies track coach Greg Metcalf, those along the sprint straightaway and a live internet audience via video stream.
Ducre had not run track competitively in 3½ years. He also had been through less than a week of training in it, so he ran the UW Indoor Preview unattached, independently and not officially with the Huskies' team. Wearing a non-descript, plain black outfit instead of Washington purple, Ducre blistered his 60-meter final heat, taking second out of more than 30 competitors in a wowing 6.76 seconds.
Had he been attached, it would have been the fourth-fastest 60-meter time in UW history.
"Greg DUCRE!" Coach Metcalf exclaimed while providing live commentary over the internet video feed. "That's Husky footballer Greg Ducre!"
The veteran track guru then called down to the track to Ducre from his broadcast perch above the finish line and proclaimed: "That was fantastic!"
"We're going to put the young man in a uniform next week, it looks like," Metcalf told the viewing audience.
Exactly how long had he been training for indoor sprinting?
Ducre looked up with a small smile and a deadpan tone Tuesday and responded: "Three days of practice."
Meanwhile last Saturday inside the Dempsey oval, the 330-plus-pound Shelton was surpassing his previous personal best in the shot put by a couple inches. The huge defensive lineman is following in the recent track exploits of football predecessors Cameron Elisara and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. He had piqued the curiosity of UW track coaches last spring when he just missed scoring for the Huskies at the Pac-12 outdoor championships, finishing ninth.
Washington hasn't had a shot-putter earn team points in the conference championships seemingly since before the first Olympics in ancient Greece. In fact, the last to score in the shot for the Huskies was Ben Lindsey, who won the Pac-10 title in 2000. Shotput, however is one of Crater's specialties. He also coaches Ryan Whiting, a finalist in the 2012 Olympic Games.
Football has a fourth player who may someday double up. Offensive lineman Shane Brostek was Hawaii's 2012 track athlete of the year as a high-school state champion and state record holder in the shot put.
It's no coincidence football players make good track sprinters, jumpers and throwers.
"They are strong and they are fit," says T.J. Crater, UW's throwing coach who came to Huskies track 13 months ago after spending 3½ years as an assistant at Penn State. "It's not like they've been sitting on the couch for the last eight months.
"It's a 12-pound shot in high school compared to a 16-pound shot in college. In Danny's case he's so strong you could hand him a 16-pound shot and tell him it was a 12 and he wouldn't know the difference.
"He does have a lot of room to improve. We are trying to get out of him what we can. Like I told him, football is why you are here. Football is paying for your school. That comes first."
But at Washington, it's not necessarily first and only.
Last year Sarkisian allowed his record-setting tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to go directly from his freshman football season to helping UW's basketball team win the Pac-12 regular-season championship. Sarkisian and coaching colleague Lorenzo Romar worked out training plans for both sports to make ASJ the first UW footballer to play that and hoops in the same academic year since Nate Robinson in 2002-03.
Seferian-Jenkins, the only underclassman finalist for the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end this fall, has decided to take this basketball season off to rest and focus on his academics. But he remains active in other sports. Last Saturday night ASJ talked to UW's club hockey team then dropped the ceremonial first puck before the Huskies faced off against UCLA.
Williams' track talents are no surprise, of course, not after how he dominated the sport in high school. Greg Metcalf attended many of his meets at Skyline and has been drooling for two years to get him into a purple singlet.
Shelton is just so darn bullish he'd likely be able to throw small buildings a ways, let alone offensive lineman and a mere iron shot-put ball.
"He's an extremely strong and talented kid," Crater, the throws coach, says. "He would have been getting top-drawer track scholarships if he wasn't so good playing football."
But Ducre? The Huskies' track coaches weren't expecting 6.76 his first time out in the 60 meters.
"It shocked us," UW sprints coach Raul Sheen said. "He hadn't even tried block starts with us in practice. The first time we worked with him on block starts was the morning of the meet."
It also shocked Ducre.
"I had run track in high school, but it's been about 3½ years. It surprised me a lot," he said.
Sheen explained that a time of 6.66 seconds in the 60 has recently been good enough to make the NCAA indoor finals. Ducre says: "Oh, I feel like I can run much faster. A lot faster."
Tuesday I watched Ducre - also wearing a gray "W football" T-shirt -- run three "flying 30s." Those are 30-yard sprints from a running start, timed electronically to measure a runner's theoretical maximum speed.
Ducre ran his final two 30s in 3.04 seconds, or about 10 meters per second.
Feel free to do the math of that over 60 meters.
"For him to look that smooth, to post those times, one week into training, that's great," Sheen said at the side of the track after Ducre's second dash Tuesday.
"I trust what football does. You see the first time of the season and, yeah, it's easy to get excited.
"If he drops a tenth off - which is a big undertaking - but if he does that, there's no telling what he will do."
Is it realistic he could come from off the football team into the NCAA indoor national championships?
"I think it is," Sheen said. "I mean, it's been three years since he ran track."
Ducre was on the 4x100-meter relay team at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles with DeAnthony Thomas, the supersonic touchdown maker at Oregon. Thomas has been on Ducre for years asking when his former relay mate was going to sprint against him in college. He was supposed to race last weekend against Ducre, but the Ducks scratched Thomas.
"I finally told him last week, `I'm running the 60,'" Ducre said. "He says he'll be running in two weeks (in the Husky Classic Feb. 8-9 at the Dempsey), so I guess I will be seeing him then."
SARKISIAN'S DUAL-SPORT PHILOSOPHY THAT RECRUITS LOVE
Williams was recruited by just about every college team with goal posts.
Sarkisian's approach was a huge attraction for the multi-sport start in high school.
"He trusts us. He trusts us with the ability to play two sports, being able to handle and still getting our school work done," Williams said.
"And it just shows about our guys that we have athletes on this team. We want to show it any way possible."
Crater says when he was coaching at Penn State he had many football players who also wanted to run track or throw. But most never did because they weren't able to hold up their end of the academic bargain.
Turns out, Sarkisian has the same philosophy on permitting a second sport on the condition of maintaining good grades as Joe Paterno did.
"Joe was very, very strict about academics," Crater said. "You want to play a second sport? OK. But in the classroom you can't let down."
Shelton raised his cumulative grade-point average to 3.47 through the fall quarter - "although it is hard to move a cumulative GPA when it is so high to begin with!" quipped Kim Durand, UW's associate athletic director for student development.
Williams had a 3.17 last quarter, during the football season. Brostek was also one of the top academic performers on the football team during fall term, in the mid-3.0 range.
"Really it's just a blessing that they let us compete in every and any sport, as long as we stay on top of our school work. As long as you stay organized you should be able to do anything you want," Ducre said.
"I just commend the coaches for letting me compete in something else."
Why did it take him three football seasons before he came out for track?
"I needed to learn time management," he said. "And I just wanted to get my body together."
Williams, who was also a standout in basketball at Skyline High School, agreed the adjustment to being a college student-athlete is why he waited before playing two sports at UW.
"I just felt like I needed to understand the college life more, being able to manage my time and things like that better," he said.
Williams begins his days with football weight lifting and agility drills at 8 a.m. He goes outside for "gassers," shuttle runs on the field, and other conditioning work until about 9:30. Then it's into the locker room to rest or read, or to the training room for treatment on his legs.
At 10:15 he meets Eric Metcalf at the Dempsey to learn mechanics he never had before while sweeping the three jumps titles in 2011.
I asked him if he knew upon arriving at UW, where his dad Aaron was also a wide receiver from 1979-82, that he would have the chance to learn the science of jumping from an NCAA champion, the now-45-year-old Eric Metcalf.
Williams shook his head from side to side.
"I had no idea," he said. "When they first mentioned him I had no idea who he was.
"I looked him up on YouTube. And he's the real deal."
Metcalf is teaching Williams to change his football running stride from on his toes to more on his heels, and to explode more through the takeoff board.
"There are a lot of things that I didn't do in high school - even though I was going as far as I did," Williams said. "A lot of things that can make me go that much farther. I am interested to see how far I can go when I put it all together."
After 90 minutes each day with Metcalf, Williams showers, changes and is in class by 12:30. Tuesday morning he asked "Can we talk and walk?" as we moved from the Dempsey through rain to the locker room in Alaska Airlines Arena.
Ducre's double-duty day begins even earlier than Williams'. His football weight-lifting and conditioning begins at 6 a.m. Then he goes to class, maybe snares a lunch on the fly, and is on the track by 2 or so each afternoon.
So this double-duty work isn't for everyone. But under Sarkisian, it's becoming increasingly common.
It's a product of the fourth-year football coach's strong relationships with Metcalf, Romar and other colleagues at Washington.
Sarkisian has a personal reason to support dual-sport athletes: he was once one himself. He played baseball for a semester as a middle infielder at USC in 1992, and then at El Camino Junior College in his hometown of Torrance, Calif., before becoming a star quarterback at Brigham Young.
Williams tells recruits about the opportunities that abound at UW. He knows the chance to play more than one sport is a prime attraction for high schoolers who want to continue to maximize their athletic talents in college. Williams just hosted another football recruit on an official visit last weekend, hours after his wowing debut in the long jump, as next week's national signing day nears.
Ducre says he, too, tells potential recruits back home in Los Angeles about the many opportunities Sarkisian and his football staff provide for their Huskies.
"It's a blessing, really. If you just stay on anything they will give you a little more leeway because you are on top of your school work and you are doing well in workouts," he said.
"You just have to be disciplined - on and off the field."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.