Chris Lang played for Jim Lambright and the Huskies from 1995-98. This weekend, he gets to enjoy what he’s done as an assistant construction superintendent during the grand renovation of his former stadium. “This is a dream come true,” he says.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE – There will be 70,000 packing Husky Stadium this weekend for their first experience, their first connection, with Washington’s $280 million jewel along Montlake Boulevard.
There will be 160 or so UW football players, coaches, alumni and staffers making their first connections to the new stadium, too, during the long-awaited commemorative game against Boise State.
Few if any of all those will be as connected and invested as Chris Lang.
Lang was born a Husky. He grew up across Elliott Bay, in Bremerton. As a kid he dreamed to play for UW. He realized that dream when coach Jim Lambright signed him to a scholarship in 1994.
He was a two-year letterman for the Dawgs. He arrived as a tall, physical defensive lineman and left a backup tight end. Washington’s coaches loved his attitude and determination.
Lang got his degree in sociology. He tended bar. Worked at a fitness club, but hated trying to hawk memberships.
“I basically said, you know what, I’d rather dig a ditch,” Lang said this week.
He’s done waaaaaay more than that.
This former UW player rebuilt Husky Stadium.
Lang has worked his way from being a contractor apprentice to becoming an assistant superintendent at Turner Construction, the firm that as you read this is finishing the 21-month renovation of Husky Stadium. Lang led a crew that at its peak this spring numbered up to 100 workers.
He directed the pouring of every bit of concrete in the entire lower bowl and all new south decks. He put the cabinetry in the luxury suites. He oversaw the installation of every new seat in the stadium.
The striking, darkened, British Columbia pine that line each entrance from the main concourse into the new seating bowl, the ones with the purple, block W’s over each entryway? Lang and his crew did that, too, during daily shifts that typically began at 6 a.m. and ended around dinner time.
“This is a dream come true,” Lang told me Tuesday as he stood tall next to the west end zone, in front of the Huskies’ new team tunnel.
“BOW DOWN!” had just been painted on the outer wall of the tunnel, and the declaration was looming over the his shoulder.
No need to command Lang to bow down. Not for this.
He’s already in awe.
“This is my dream job, it really is,” he said. “Especially --especially-- because I played here.
“And we’re season-ticket holders,” he said of himself, his wife Renee, and their two young sons Mason (2½ ) and Mikah (11 months). “So I have a vested interest in getting this right.”
He was wearing a white, Turner hard hat with a genuine, purple W helmet logo over a face that featured a salt-and-pepper goatee. The UW athletic department gave him and his crew those iconic stickers.
He looks like he could still take on a defensive end and get free for a pass over the middle. He says he weighs the same as he did as a Husky, “it’s just proportioned differently” under his fluorescent safety vest and steel-toed work boots.
He looks like, well, the leader of a construction crew.
On the opposite side of his hardhat Lang has the red-white-and-blue block W that the Huskies wore a two seasons ago with their white helmets against Hawai’i to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9-11.
Longtime UW director of equipment operations Bart Fullmer and equipment manager Jose Naguit got him those. They were here when Lang was a Husky.
“I said ‘Hey, what’s a guy got to do (to get one)?’” Lang joked.
Apparently, build a sparkling, magical new stadium.
ENDLESS UW INTERSECTIONS
And get this: He’s worked with his old coach throughout the stadium project.
Lambright is now a team building and leadership consultant with Turner Construction. He’s been on site throughout Husky Stadium’s renovation.
Asked how often he’s worked with his former Huskies coach on the job, Lang said excitedly “all the time.”
“It was funny, the first time I realized he worked for Turner and the first time he realized I worked for Turner we were at Turner’s annual dinner. I walked around the corner and he was like …”
Lang then flashed a startled, I-saw-a-ghost look.
“And he was kind of the same way. He was like, ‘What are you doing?’
“Yeah, we talk all the time. It’s good to have him around. With me personally -- he’s kind of a motivational team-building consultant for Turner – we talk about the gold ol’ days.
“We talk about how practices are different now than when we were here.”
Lambright and Lang can’t get over the music – rap, R&B, rock, pop, you name it – that blares from sideline loudspeakers during coach Steve Sarkisian’s practices with today’s Huskies.
Suffice to say neither Lambright, 44-25-1 from 1993-98, nor his mentor and Washington predecessor Don James had music playing through their practices.
“Uhhhh…. It’s different,” Lang deadpanned. “They didn’t have a lot of the rules (the NCAA now has). We had more two-a-days. We had a ton of double days. ... It was, I guess you’d call it, ‘old school.’ We weren’t allowed to take our helmets off.
“It was just different.”
It’s not as if Lang has been lounging in the patio suites each day watching preseason practices on the new field below. But from what he has glimpsed while checking the end seats or the section rails, it seems Lambright’s Huskies hit more in practices. Again, that’s largely because the NCAA and the Pac-12 rules that now limit contact in practices, for player safety.
Yet Mr. “Old School” still can’t get over that music.
“I don’t watch a lot of their practices, but first time I saw them practice I was like, ‘They are playing music?’” Lang said, smiling. “It’s just a different time.”
Lang has been with Turner for more than a decade. Before that, he worked for Seattle-based Sellen construction. That’s where he met his wife.
For Turner, he’s completed office buildings. He worked for 2½ years on Harborview hospital in Seattle. He spent two more years building the new rental-car center at SeaTac Airport, closer to his home in Tacoma.
Turner gave him experience as a project superintendent immediately before the Husky Stadium job, to retrofit a smaller building. While he appreciates the great experience of running an entire show, from the stadium’s project start in November 2011 until Lang finally got on site – “June 18, 2012,” he says, a date obviously sewn into his soul – his heart was on Montlake and the renovation he had yet to join.
“Everybody in Turner knew that I wanted to be here,” Lang said.
He remembers constantly joking with that smaller, retrofitting crew “C’mon! Let’s go!”
“This one,” he said of project as mammoth in scope, attention and meaning as Husky Stadium, “you don’t get these ones very often.”
HIS NEW TEAM IS LIKE HIS OLD ONE
Lambright and Randy Hart, the longtime UW defensive line coach, recruited Lang to Washington. And it wasn’t a hard push.
“Part of it was easy because they were coming off the national championship. And I’d always been a Husky fan. And,” Lang says now, “those guys are smooth talkers.
“But it really wasn’t a hard sell.”
Oregon and Washington State offered him scholarships, but Lang said “my heart was here.”
After injuries sidetracked his UW career that included the position change to tight end in his senior season of 1998, Lang wanted to be a fireman. But he never pursued that. After he told the gym he didn’t want to push memberships in people’s faces, he went into construction.
He was a Husky in a strange land.
“I started non-union. Worked for a pretty decent contractor, but I didn’t know anything about this stuff,” he said. “I’d never built anything. I just started at the bottom.
“After about a year I got in the carpenters’ union and got an apprenticeship. Worked for another general contractor for a couple of years. Worked for Turner for just over 10.
“Some of the guys the last company I’d worked for, Sellen, went over to Turner and called me up. I was in between jobs at the time and I said, ‘Sure. Why not?’ Turner’s been great to work for. They’ve treated me right.”
|“I’m excited. I’m really, really excited. It’s a like a kid the week before Christmas. That last week feels like it takes forever.”|
That’s a link Lang sees in his current career and his Huskies football one.
“You know, when I was playing here I was working for a university that I am proud of and a team I am proud of. And working for Turner is the same way,” he said. “I’m proud to work for Turner and I’m proud to work with the team that I am with. I’ve had a lot of good teammates. That’s a similarity that over the years I’ve come to realize that being on a football team helps a lot. Because you know what it takes.
“Sometimes things are going to be hard. And sometimes you are going to need help from your team. And if you work for a good company – or a good school like this – you are going to get the help.”
I asked him if he’s thought about how cool this all is, his boyhood dream, his hometown team and school, his old coach, and a Pacific Northwest icon all intersection at his white hard hat with Husky W’s on each side.
I mean, doesn’t he have a Husky football flashback, like, every day?
“I do,” he said.
UW’s athletic department has distributed more than 100 sets of tickets to Turner’s construction line workers and some more to Turner’s sub-contractors for Saturday’s opening game, as a thank you for a job extraordinarily well done. Lang has been hearing the workers talk excitedly about coming Saturday to enjoy the fruits of 21 months of all-hours, seven-days-per-week labor.
“They were talking about how amazing it is, and I starting talking to them about it,” Lang said “And I started to get goose bumps.
“I said, ‘Wait until this place is full, and this place is loud.’ There are certain times that the hair will stand up on the back of your neck and you just go, ‘Wow!’
“Knowing what these kids are going through, and this place compared to what it used to be, it’s just unbelievable. It’s unbelievable.”
Lang will be at Saturday’s game, too – but with his wife and sons using the season tickets they’ve had for five seasons.
I asked this most unique Husky Stadium construction worker if he will have a “Yeah, I did that” moment as he and 70,000 others roar for his Dawgs against Boise State inside his creation.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely, yeah,” Lang said. “Like I said, this is once in a lifetime. Because most of the jobs we do you are not in the spotlight like this. Now people see it in the paper every day. You see it on the news every day. And it’s definitely , it’s definitely a sense of pride.
“And it’s amplified by I spent so much time in the old stadium. With the old moat. The track. Everything was so run down and so far away from the action that when they started to put in the field I’m going. … I always knew how close it was, but it was hard to picture it until you are actually down here.”
“It’s crazy,” Lang said. “It’s crazy the way the turns you make in life’s road … here we are.”
We then looked around from the west end zone together at the $280 million jewel he had a large hand – two hands, in fact, plus his back, legs, shoulders, sweat -- in creating.
And to think: While as a Husky he had no clue this stadium and this program would remain such a dominant part of his life.
“Not at all,” he said. “Even when I was here as a 22-year-old kid I don’t think I really understood – and I don’t know that any 22-year old ever will when they first leave the program – what lasting impression that time will have. Literally, being in that program is why I am here today.
“Even though I went through the contractor apprenticeship like everyone else, having a degree but more than anything the football taught me discipline. You are not late for work. You are not tired. You are not hurt. You get up and you go. You don’t miss work. It relates so closely to the real world – and you don’t realize that until you get into the real world and all of a sudden you are competing against people that are at a disadvantage.
“People say, ‘Oh, I’m tired. Or … “ Lang then feigned a cough, “I’m sick.’ Or ‘I don’t feel like going to work today.’ We didn’t have that option. You were there.”
OK, there has to be some nook somewhere in the new stadium where Lang has inscribed his initials or left some other personal touch for posterity, right? A place he’s left behind a part of him that will always be in new Husky Stadium when his final project day ends Friday, before a one-week vacation and then his next Turner project, still to be determined.
He shook his head no.
“Not that anybody will ever know,” he said, pressing his lips together. “Not that anybody will ever know.”
I asked him one final question, sensing I had already taken more of his time than an assistant superintendent for this massive Husky Stadium renovation can afford: Is there any aspect of the stadium of which he is particularly proud?
“It will be game day, once the crowd is all in here,” he said. “And they are playing against a quality opponent. There is a lot on the line.
“I think that will be the one spot. As we get closer the pressure builds, and also the emotion that goes along with being a part of it. And as it gets closer to finishing now seeing what it actually looks like, it’s … it’s amazing.
“I’m excited. I’m really, really, really excited. It’s a like a kid the week before Christmas. That last week feels like it takes forever.”
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.
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