He's the Center of the Huskies' Quest To Beat Utah
Nov. 8, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Drew Schaefer began his career reveling in unforgettable chaos at a Husky home game.
Four years later, the senior anchor to the offensive line is ending his UW home career while trying to prevent chaos.
Schaefer is literally at the center of Washington (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) attempting to tame the big, nasty, at-times dominant defensive front Utah (4-5, 2-4) is bringing to CenturyLink Field Saturday in the Huskies' 2012 home finale.
UW's center will often line-up facemask to facemask across the ball from Star Lotulelei, the Utes' aptly-named, 6-foot-4, 320-pound defensive tackle. How much Schaefer can neutralize Lotulelei, a mayhem maker named a midseason All-American by three media outlets, will largely determine whether the Huskies extend their winning streak to three Saturday night.
"He's a big, strong, physical guy," Schaefer said of Lotulelei, one of 16 semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award as the national defensive player of the year. "Likes to bull rush. Likes to really get up under your pads and drive you back -- and try to cause chaos in the backfield."
Schaefer will make his 40th consecutive start for UW Saturday. His usual group of eight to 10 family members and friends from his native Seattle suburb of Sammamish will be there. When he and 10 fellow seniors - including Cody Bruns and Justin Glenn, Schaefer's roommates for all five of their years at UW -- walk out onto the field with family, Schaefer will think back to the best on-field chaos of his college career.
That is the pandemonium that erupted on the Husky Stadium turf 23 home games ago, Sept. 19, 2009, immediately after Washington beat No. 3 USC. It was Schaefer's - and coach Steve Sarkisian's -- third game at UW.
Asked this week for his favorite moment of his Huskies career, Schaefer didn't hesitate.
"My redshirt freshman year, when we beat USC," he said. "Just because from where we came the year before. All the hard work we'd put in during that offseason. The commitment, the buy-in from all the players. I think that really was a staple win to turn the program around.
"We've really continued to build off that."
That building - bowl games in each of the last two seasons, a rally this season to this opportunity for an eight-win season and another bowl - is why Schaefer is putting off the sentimentality of Senior Night.
"You appreciate the opportunity and you appreciate all the hard work you've put in. But when it comes down to it, it's still a game. The ultimate goal is to win that," he said.
"You obviously want to go out with a victory on your Senior Night. But you can celebrate after the game. You don't want to get too caught up in that before the game."
Besides, Schaefer doesn't have a ton of time or brain space for nostalgia this week. Subduing Star isn't his only pivotal task against Utah. He will also be making the primary line calls and protection choices against the Utes' varying defensive fronts.
His recognition skills from those four years of experience will come in mighty handy.
"The key is to recognize the differences in the game for our guys up front. When they are going to be playing the hard-charging, straight-ahead (schemes), and when they are going to be stunting," Sarkisian said. "Not only for the guys up front but us on the sideline making calls depending on the personnel on the field.
"It's going to be key for us, the communication factor."
Schaefer has been the lead mentor and molder of an offensive line that has finally gained some continuity and effectiveness after months of injury and flux. Saturday is expected to be the third consecutive game Washington has started redshirt sophomore Micah Hatchie at left tackle, redshirt freshman Dexter Charles at left guard, Schaefer at center, redshirt sophomore Mike Criste at right guard, and redshirt sophomore Ben Riva at right tackle.
Coincidentally, the Huskies have rushed for 397 yards and five touchdowns in their last three games. Sophomore Bishop Sankey bolted for a career-high 189 yards and two scores last week in the 21-13 win at California.
"I think this group has really started to grow together," Sarkisian said, adding the O-line missed on only one call last week at Cal, on the first failed fourth-and-1 run by Sankey early in the game.
"You are not seeing nearly (the number of) free rushers. We are working well in the backfield together, which is part of it. And the continuity is there.
Schaefer agrees the timing and recognition of calls have improved because of familiarity.
"The past couple games we've had the same five start now. A big part with the offensive line is molding together and being able to communicate and trust that guys are going to get the job done," he said.
"Hopefully we try to build off that momentum and continue to improve."
Saturday Lotulelei and his Utes will provide a huge test to that improvement. As Sarkisian said this week, Utah has "some goons" up front on defense.
"That was a term of endearment, by the way," Sarkisian said with a smile Thursday.
Schaefer called the Utes "one of our best challenges all year."
"They are very physical in stopping the run. They have really good edge pressure in the pass game," he said.
"And the thing is, they have more than four (starting) guys. They have a lot of guys they rotate in. They bring a lot of pressures with their linebackers. And they are all effort guys. They are big, strong, effort guys. They are going to battle the entire game."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Sarkisian liked the energy of Thursday's no-pads practice, which followed a less-than-full-go Wednesday. The coach said he is in typical, mid-November preservation mode. DB Desmond Trufant, DE Talia Crichton, DT Pio Vatuvei, DT Josh Banks, and S Justin Glenn all came out of the Cal game banged up. "We are getting a few guys back (against Utah), and a couple guys not," Sarkisian said. "We've been fortunate in that where some of the guys are banged up we've been able to play a lot of guys. And so that's encouraging that we are not exactly putting guys in that have no experience." ... Count Schaefer as another Husky that has enjoyed playing in the Seattle Seahawks' home stadium while Husky Stadium gets renovated. "Playing over at CenturyLink's been awesome. It's one of the best stadiums that the NFL has to offer," he said. "It's not the same, obviously, as being in Husky Stadium. But it's nothing to look down upon."