The Huskies’ QB has accomplished much since he last played a game. He’s become a graduate and a teacher. His legs are stronger. And he’s hardened to “the haters.”
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – The schedule says Keith Price hasn’t accomplished anything since just before Christmas.
His Huskies haven’t played a game since December’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. They are still 7½ weeks from the 2013 opener against Boise State.
His detractors are already doubting he will accomplish much this year as a fifth-year senior. Washington’s good-natured, at-times electrifying-- and to some, polarizing -- quarterback smiles and calls them “haters.”
The schedule and the scoffers don’t know the true Keith Price.
Last month, Price did something he never thought he would do. Not when he was growing up on the south side of Los Angeles. Not when his grandmother took him away from his Compton neighborhood and out of its schools as a young boy and onto what Gail Manuel felt was a safer life path.
Not even when he was a slinging throws out of spread offenses at St. John Bosco High School in neighboring Bellflower. He was overlooked there in his own league by superstar Matt Barkley.
Price is one of the highest-profile examples of a Husky taking full advantage of an athletic scholarship to gain far more than a portfolio of games to impress pro scouts.
He got an education, an experience and a degree – all of which he thought were unattainable while growing up on the hardest side of Los Angeles.
“A perfect example,” Price says, proudly.
“If you would have asked me maybe seven years ago if I even thought I would graduate from a major university, I would have thought you were crazy,” he told me Monday, three weeks after he walked in Washington’s commencement ceremony at CenturyLink Field.
“U-Dub gave me a great opportunity to earn it -- and I earned it. It’s not easy. A lot of people in my situation drop out. They don’t make it. There were a lot of times when I didn’t feel like writing that 10-page paper, but I got it done.
“It’s an honor to have graduated. It’s a blessing.”
One so big for Price, he turned down an invitation to join 11 Huskies on an anthropology class trip to Tahiti. Instead, he wanted to walk that stage on time with his fourth-year class on June 15, the day he received his bacehlor's degree in American ethic studies. When he was handed his diploma, the quarterback who one wondered if he'd make it to--let alone through--college gritted his teeth, looked into the crowd of families at CenturyLink Fied and thrust his right hand into the air.
For that moment, his characteristic grin yielded to a steely look of determination-turned-accomplishment.
Manuel was at there to see her grandson get that once-unlikely diploma. So was Keith’s mother, Shaundra Manuel-Price, o is also mom to Keith’s teenage brother Kaelon and 12-year-old sister M’Kayla.
Price calls his mother and grandmother the biggest influences on his life. So of course they made the trip for his huge day.
In fact, a whole pack from Compton, where they call Keith “Big Smiles,” came for graduation. The same dozen or so fans who wear purple-and-gold T-shirts proclaiming “The Price is RIGHT!” and “Teeth Price” while cheering him at Huskies games home and away came to whoop it up for their man in a cap and gown.
“Oh, you know they did,” Price said, chuckling at his trusted entourage.
“It was awesome, man.”
Price walked in graduation alongside Will Shamburger, his childhood friend from Compton who will be a fifth-year senior safety for the Huskies this fall.
Price and Shamburger are returning for their redshirt-senior seasons as “post-bach” (post-bachelor’s-degree) students. Per NCAA rules each must take a full academic load to remain eligible, so that means 12 more credits during the season. Those could count toward graduate school, if they choose.
“KEEP SLEEPING ON ME”
Oh, about that other job Price has at UW.
He just got named to the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award, given annually to college football’s national player of the year.
This being Keith Price, he immediately got praised and zinged simultaneously.
I mean, you would shudder if you viewed Price’s Twitter account following Husky games -- even the wins. Personal only begins to describe the attacks.
Better believe he reads them. They fuel him.
“Oh, yeah, I just responded to one of the ‘haters’ today,” Price said, laughing again. “He linked to the Maxwell Award watch list and said I wasn’t good enough to be on that.”
Price tweeted back at the detractor: “u took Time out of ur day to say that to me? Get a life”
He followed with another tweet: Hashtag “#haters.”
On the dawn of his 22nd birthday June 28, Price tweeted another advisement:
“Keep sleeping on me”
“Yep, I did,” he said Monday. “Oh, man, there are a lot of people sleeping on me.
“It’s kind of funny how many people fill up my Twitter (feed) telling me I’m no good,” Price says. “I have a lot of people doubting me.
“A lot of people don’t think I can accomplish what I’ve already accomplished.”
That’s the thing: It’s not like Price has yet to do what many are saying he can’t do in his third and final season as Jake Locker’s successor.
Keith Price enters his third and final season as the Huskies’ quarterback at or near the top of most UW career passing statistics. The only one he is likely to end up trailing in any category below, Cody Pickett, had many more chances. Pickett threw an average of 43 times per game over his final two UW seasons under Rick Neuheisel, numbers that balance-minded coach Steve Sarkisian won’t have Price doing in 2013.
1. Cody Pickett (1999-2003) 10,220
2. Jake Locker (2007-10) 7,639
3. Brock Huard (1996-98) 6,391
4. Keith Price (2010-present) 5,953
1. Cody Pickett (1999-2003) 821
2. Jake Locker (2007-10) 619
3. Keith Price (2010-present) 524
1. Cody Pickett (1999-2003) 1,429
2. Jake Locker (2007-10) 1,147
3. Brock Huard (1996-98) 875
4. Keith Price (2010-present) 831
1. Keith Price (2010-present) .631
2. Damon Huard (1992-95) .597
3. Tom Flick (1976-80) .597
4. Cody Pickett (1999-2003) .575
1. Cody Pickett (1999-2003) 55
2. Keith Price (2010-present) 54
3. Jake Locker (2007-10) 53
3. Brock Huard (1996-98) 53
1. Keith Price (2010-present) 138.9
2. Damon Huard (1992-95) 130.3
3. Tom Flick (1976-80) 130.0
4. Brock Huard (1996-98) 129.7
Price spent most of the 2012 season running for his life behind an offensive line that had four of five starters out injured. He threw 18 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. People forget he spent most of 2011 in a race with Robert Griffin III for the nation’s lead in touchdown throws -- or that he then outplayed the Heisman Trophy winner and current Washington Redskins star in that super-galactic Alamo Bowl. Price set Washington records that 2011 debut season with 33 touchdown passes, a completion rate of 66.9 percent and a pass efficiency of 161.09.
He enters the 2013 opener against Boise State and the unveiling of new Husky Stadium on Aug. 31 as UW’s career leader in completion percentage at 63.1. He needs one touchdown pass to tie Cody Pickett’s 55 from 1999-2003 for most in a Husky career. His career passing efficiency mark of 138.9 is the best ever at Washington, 8.6 points better than Damon Huard had from 1992-95. Price has two of the Huskies’ top eight seasons for passing yards, including the second most of 3,063 in 2011. He needs just 1,700 yards this fall to pass Brock Huard and Locker for number two in passing yards all-time at UW, behind Pickett’s 10,220.
Sometimes it’s just hard to realize it amid all the blather about number 17. That noise gets amplified – and often gains unsubstantiated weight – through our unfiltered, social-media-driven world.
I mean, it was just April when people were writing stories about Price being in competition for his quarterback job.
“I can’t wait to get this season started. I feel like I have a lot to prove, that we as a team have a lot to prove,” Price says.
“And I feel like that’s when I play my best, when I have a chip on my shoulder.”
“I’M STRONGER THAN EVER”
So besides building up that chip, what else has Price been up to since last we saw him in a game 6½ months ago?
He led the installation of coach Steve Sarkisian’s more-up-tempo, no-huddle offense during spring practice. And Price loved the pace. It suits the creative, improvisational style by which he scrambled to create plays in 2011. Sarkisian says the constant hurry of the no-huddle may be Washington’s base offense in 2013.
Since spring practice ended in April, Price and the Huskies have been getting up for regular, 6-a.m. sessions in the weight room – then returning for player-led workouts on the field by mid-afternoon.
Make that Price-led workouts. He has been the coach on the East Field and at the Dempsey Indoor facility these last two months.
“Just grindin’, man. Every day,” he said.
Monday he worked on the East Field with new Huskies such as John Ross and Damore’ea Stringfellow. The freshmen receivers are on campus this week for the start of UW’s “LEAP” orientation classes.
I asked Price if leading the Huskies through individual-position drills, 7-on-7 drills and team work is making him want to be a coach someday.
He just about scoffed.
“Oh, no, that’s too much work!” he said. “It’s not easy getting these guys to do what you coach them to do.
“That’s why those coaches make those big bucks,” he joked.
In recent springs and summers Price has gone back home to work with Steve Calhoun, a renowned quarterbacks guru in Southern California. Last summer Price got to the Manning Passing Academy run by Archie, Peyton and Eli in Louisiana because of Calhoun’s ties to that camp.
But during UW’s most-recent spring break, while some of his teammates scattered home or elsewhere, Price mostly stayed in Seattle. He threw more passes. He lifted more weights. And just after graduation last month, Price had Calhoun come to him for workouts here.
Meanwhile, Price returned to his pre-2011 training regimen of more leg lifting with heavier weights, to restore the power and strength in a lower half that bothered him throughout most of 2012. Last offseason he had cut back on leg lifting to preserve a sore knee. Then his knees ached even more once the games began.
“My workouts in the gym have been to get that explosion back in my legs,” he said. “They are stronger than ever. I am stronger than ever.”
He is now backing off heavy weights to increase the speed of his lifting and endurance of his leg muscles. Those will be carrying the Huskies behind an improved and (so far) healthier offensive line this fall.
He has also been doing Pilates, working on strengthening his core and increasing flexibility without adding bulk. The 6-foot-1 Price is up to 205 pounds, three pounds heavier than his listed weight.
He doesn’t want to add a pound more.
“I’m good where I’m at. I’ve put on enough weight,” he said, mindful of staying elusive against pass rushers.
Price has also been teaching. He became so ingrained in Green Lake Elementary as an intern he trekked last month onto a ferry from downtown Seattle and hiked through the woods to surprise its fourth graders at their four-day science camp on Bainbridge Island.
(OK, I have inside information on that one. My two kids are fourth graders at Green Lake. My 10-year-old daughter marvels at how Price the intern strives to include the girls in boys’ games, even football. She says: “Keith is such a great person.”)
“Just getting to play with these kids, it makes you take your mind off everything. Seeing them now just takes me back to when I was in elementary school,” Price told me at the school in February. “(They) take out all this energy here.
“I can’t believe how much energy these kids have. I called my mom after one of the first days I was here and asked her, ‘Did I have this much energy?’”
A DIFFERENT TONE
The last anyone saw Price after a real game, he was standing tall and looking each questioner in the eye outside the locker room at Sam Boyd Stadium following that MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
He took full responsibility that Saturday for Washington’s two, bitter losses that ended what the Dawgs felt should have been a nine-win season in 2012.
Now he’s back as the Huskies’ undeniable leader and trigger for what everyone from Sarkisian to Dubs are expecting to be championship contention in 2013. The coach has already called this the most-talented and developed team of his five at UW.
“We’re poised for a great run,” Sarkisian said in the spring. “We have the roster to take that next step.”
The Huskies have a surging defense remade last year by coordinator Justin Wilcox, matched with a Price-led offense that is overflowing with speed and skill at receiver and running back.
“It’s no longer acceptable here for a seven-win season. That’s a disappointment now,” Price says.
As for personal goals, Price is back one more time to do what he’s been doing since he was eight years old on the Bellflower Broncos youth team as, yes, a quarterback.
“And I’ve been a quarterback every year ever since,” he said.
“For me, it’s about just getting my swagger back, to play like I know I am capable of playing and like people expect me to play. I expect a lot of myself. I know I am going to get criticized. That’s part of what you go through as a player. But guys are rallying behind me.
“This year, there’s a different tone. We’ve set these championship goals.
“That’s what’s expected now.”
Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director or 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 teh U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 200.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.
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