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Unleashed: Keith Price’s Legacy: Heart. And Results
Release: 01/01/2014
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No. 17 leaves UW No. 1 in 11 different passing categories. He’s the first in his family to earn a degree. The Seattle elementary school at which he interned thinks “his heart is amazing.” Simply put, he was one of the best Husky quarterbacks ever.

By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

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SEATTLE – Keith Price was one of the last ones to walk off the field following his last game as a Husky. With his shoulder pads off to reveal a form-fitting, black undershirt, he entered the locker room about 15 minutes after his last college game had ended.

His teammates had already started a roaring, bass-bumping party inside the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse, the celebration of the Huskies’ ninth win, a domination of Brigham Young in last week’s Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T ParkThe senior quarterback walked slowly and alone down the short hallway from the clubhouse door to the purple-and-gold rager going on inside.

Price was the only Husky without his game gear on; he had taken it off at the end of the third quarter so he could breathe. He had left his final game at UW in that third period following a crunching hit to his ribcage, at the end of a third-quarter run. This was the second time in about 45 minutes he had been inside the clubhouse. The previous time was to get a painkilling injection into those ribs in a futile attempt to finish his final college game.

"I'm proud of how I'm leaving the program," he said through the pain Friday night minutes after his five years at Washington had ended.

"It's better than when I got here."

That is the legacy No. 17 is leaving behind with the Huskies: His genuineness. His heart. And his results.

Many criticized him for not going to Rose Bowls or winning titles. And to be sure, the conscientious Price felt those barbs.

But those cynics don’t realize – or care -- that Price is the only quarterback in UW history to take over a winless team. From that, he set 11 – eleven – school passing records and won 22 games as the full-time starter; he missed last month’s win at Oregon State with a sprained shoulder, one of the many injuries through which he excelled.

The victories are the most for a Husky quarterback over a three-year span since Steve Pelluer won 23 games for Don James from 1981-83. That was a decade before Price was born.

The bottom line is clear: Keith Price is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play at Washington.

And he was one of the most fun, too.

Around his hometown of Compton, Calif., that hard place south of downtown Los Angeles not exactly known for grins, they still call Price “Big Smiles.”

He smiled so much around the Huskies, teammates called him “Teeth Price.”


ELEVEN UW PASSING RECORDS

His second pass as a Husky was a touchdown, after he had been shoved into the fourth quarter of a taut, 2010 game at USC with Washington at the 1-yard line and Jake Locker knocked woozy. Price’s jump pass TD a few miles from where he grew up, against the team he loved as a kid, was a large reason why the Huskies won at the Los Angeles Coliseum for the first time since 1996.

I’ll always remember one month later, November 2010 against Oregon, being able to see from the Autzen Stadium press box Price coolly smiling through his facemask. He was grinning during plays, as he scrambled away from the nation’s No. 1 team in his first career start.

He became the full-time starter in 2011 behind a veteran offensive line, with Chris Polk as his running back and seniors Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar as his trusted senior targets. Price set single-season school records with 33 touchdown passes, a 66.9-percent completion rate and a passing efficiency of 143.4. As that redshirt sophomore he out-played Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in a galactic Alamo Bowl. Price threw for 438 yards and set a national bowl record by throwing for four touchdowns and running for three more.

That is the legacy No. 17 is leaving behind with the Huskies: His genuineness. His heart. And his results.

RGIII was so impressed, he and Price have been regular, text-messaging buddies ever since.

That season he set the first of those 11 school passing records he is leaving behind at UW. He turned the team that was winless when he signed to 7-6 and its second bowl appearance in a decade. He went 7-6 again with another bowl game as a captain in 2012. And this past season as captain again he led UW to its first nine-win year and bowl victory since the 2000 season.

He was Washington’s unquestioned leader, at his most impressive in the toughest times. In the final minutes of the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl he deviated from the game plan and impatiently tried to force a throw deep into coverage for the interception that sealed UW’s loss to Boise State. Afterward Price stood tall while still in full uniform outside the locker room at Sam Boyd Stadium. Though the loss was far from entirely his fault, he accepted full responsibility for letting down his team.

He never used as excuses his sprained knees, pain that began during his very first game as a full-time starter, the 2011 opener against Eastern Washington. Or the sprained thumb he had re-injured on his passing hand in October when Arizona State sent every Sun Devil alive at him. Or the sprained passing shoulder he got last month at UCLA.

Pain was as much a part of Price’s game weeks as his playbook. Yet he not only played through it, he set records with it.

I couldn’t believe it then, still can’t believe it now: People around Seattle and in print wanted Price benched as recently as this spring. Heck, as recently as the Apple Cup two games ago.

Yes, we all heard the boos at Price during the first half against Washington State in Price’s Husky Stadium finale Nov. 29. He did, too.

His most heroic game as a Dawg might have been in defeat. Oct. 5, Price absolutely willed the then 4-0 Huskies at No. 5 Stanford.

He had just been pile-driven into the turf by more charging Stanford pass rushers while throwing incomplete on UW’s next-to-last offensive play of the game. He had stains of four colors all over his white, No.-17 jersey, the result of being sacked five times and hit to the turf at least seven other times. He played most of the second half with his taped thumb throbbing because of an earlier hit, as Stanford tried to intimidate him by repeatedly pounding him before, during and after throws.

Yet Price kept firing back. Fourth down, 1:20 remaining, his team down by three, Price escaped two more Stanford hits. He scrambled to his right. He calmly motioned with his sore passing hand, directing Kevin Smith back toward him. His low pass found his trusted, senior receiver beyond the line to gain. Smith raced back, dived toward the pass and cradled the ball at the ground on the Stanford sideline. Officials ruled a catch, and UW had the ball at the Cardinal 33.

Price raced to get his team to the line in order to get the next play off before a replay official upstairs could call down for a review. Price called the same play, “all verticals,” and UW was poised for the biggest win of its program’s revival.

Then, just as center Mike Criste snapped the ball, the referee blew his whistle.

The replays that viewers on ESPN television and in the press box saw were anything but conclusive as to whether the ball hit the turf before Smith made the catch. But whatever the replay official saw that night was enough in his mind to overrule his field colleagues and conclude the ball hit the ground before Smith caught it.

Incomplete. And infuriating. Yet true to his character, Price stayed above the messy ending.

"I guess the official made a good call,” he said that night. “I'm not blaming the referees.

“I should have thrown a better pass. If I would have thrown a better ball, higher, we feel we would have won that game.”

Price completed 33 of 48 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns at Stanford, which is playing in Wednesday’s Rose Bowl. Those numbers tell only half of the story about one of the grittiest, most impressive performances UW had seen in the last dozen years.

“I thought I played decent,” he said outside Stanford Stadium. “There were throws I make every day that I didn’t make.”


“HIS HEART IS AMAZING”

More important than all that: Price took full advantage of his athletic scholarship.

He became the face of Husky football in our community. This past year he spent most afternoons from Monday through Thursday as a volunteer intern gym teacher for Jamie Matthews at Green Lake Elementary school a few miles from the UW campus. He helped teach kindergartners through fifth graders how to shoot a basketball – it’s one of his first loves. He laughed through “officiating” mini hoop games. He joined in the games in the school’s small gym, insisting the boys pass to the girls. He taught a block on sportsmanship, on how to kick a soccer ball, and, yes, how to throw a spiral.

“He made gym class exciting. And he always wore a smile,” one fifth-grade girl told me.

(OK, it was my daughter).

As his shoulder ached in November, Price got daily treatments following practices. Then he drove up to Green Lake school to be in the kids’ gym classes for about an hour or so; he didn't want to let them down. After that he would drive back to the Huskies’ training room for more treatment.

“His heart is amazing,” Matthews said. “That spirit will be missed at Green Lake.

“I don’t know if Keith understands the impact he’s made on our kids – and not because he is a football player. It’s not because of what he is, but because of who he is.

“I’ve had kids at every grade level ask if he is coming back (to teach after Christmas break). When I told them no, I’ve had kindergartners and even fourth graders cry.

“I hope he knows what kind of lasting impression he made on our school. He’s got girls watching football now who never even knew what one was.”

For all that and more, Price this month won the Tyee Sports Council Community Service Award at the Huskies’ postseason banquet.

On campus, Price did what he thought might be impossible while his grandmother took him away from his Compton neighborhood and out of its schools as a young boy, onto what Gail Manuel felt was a safer life path.

In June he became the first in his family to earn a college degree. The picture of him in his cap and gown outside CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle on commencement day, grinning with his younger sister M-Kayla, remains, well ... priceless.

He took 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, in American Ethic Studies – all of which he thought were unattainable while growing up on the hardest side of Los Angeles.

“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 last summer, three weeks after he walked in Washington’s commencement ceremony.

“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.”


“I WOULDN’T CHANGE IT FOR ANYTHING”

When Price committed to Washington, in the fall of 2008, when he was slinging throws out of spread offenses at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, the Huskies were on their way to 0-12. The first day Steve Sarkisian took over, in January 2009, the first call he made as UW’s coach was to Price, to reassure the QB’s commitment.

Through the first winless season in Huskies’ history, through a coaching change, Price stayed true to his word. He signed with the Huskies to become Jake Locker’s successor. When he took over in 2011 everyone around Seattle wondered how the Huskies would ever be able to replace the NFL’s eighth-overall draft choice.

Three remarkable seasons later, Price is leaving as Washington’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (75) and completion percentage (.640).

Exiting interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo, now on his way to join Sarkisian’s staff at USC, noted last week how Price and his senior classmates came to Washington “when it wasn’t cool to be a Husky.”

“I think their legacy is that regardless of what the situation is, if you work hard and you believe you can achieve something, with the help of your teammates all in the same vision, then that can be done,” Tuiasosopo said the day before the bowl win.

He didn’t just mean on the 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."

“I think that if you look at the bigger picture of their class, it’s a tremendous point, I think, in University of Washington football history,” Tuiasosopo said.

“It was really tough. It was, I think, the lowest point in the history of the school there (in 2008). Now we are (then) at 8-4.

“My hope, as a former player, is that the younger guys, the underclassmen, really focus on that. That what these guys have done has set the stage for them, and that they keep that legacy going with their hard work and preparation.”

Price was back home in the Los Angeles area by Sunday. He and senior teammate and co-captain Sean Parker have been invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 18 in St. Petersburg, Fla. – though Price’s rib injury may affect his ability to participate. After that, Price will train in preparation for what he hopes will be a call from an NFL team.

Who knows if he will get drafted this spring or offered a free-agent tryout?

But an NFL team could do far, far worse than draft a man with such a heart to go with toughness, intelligence and the ability to spin a football.

Whatever happens these next few months, or in these next few years, No. 17 will forever appreciate his time as a Husky.

I will, too.

“Through all of the highs and all of the lows, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Price said, that smile as wide as during that first career start at Oregon three-plus years ago.

“It’s been just been an honor, man. It’s made me a better person.

“I had a great career here. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”


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 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.

Click here to visit Bell's Twitter page. 

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