Three Horns Come Early This Week for Grinding Huskies
Nov. 15, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Three blasts of an air horn by a team manager signal the end of Huskies practices.
The players have loved those horns this week.
UW finished Thursday's helmets-only practice about 15 minutes earlier than usual for the final, full workout of a game week.
Wednesday, coach Steve Sarkisian gathered his offense and defense across the line of scrimmage at the Dempsey Indoor facility preparing for the usual final, team period of practice in helmets and shoulder pads.
Then suddenly he turned to the manager with blaster and yelled, "Give me three horns!"
Three toots later, the players roared. Some jumped on each other. Others rolled around on the turf in celebration of the curtailed practice.
Is the fourth-year coach getting soft now that his Huskies (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12) have won three in a row entering Saturday's game at Colorado (1-9, 1-6) at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time in Boulder?
Nope. The Huskies are still working -- on pass protection, juggling players across a battered defensive line, on tackling in the open field. It's everything they've been focused on for months, including through the physical practices with tackling UW had in October.
It's that Sarkisian has gained experience as a first-time coach in learning which buttons to push - and not push - in the waning weeks of a grinding regular season.
"When you can throw them a bone and trim a couple plays off the end of practice they appreciate it. But they've earned it. They deserve it," Sarkisian said. "We understand this is an early kickoff for us on Saturday. Our energy is going to be critical when we come out of that locker room on Saturday, to start fast. It's been an emphasis for us throughout the week."
Sarkisian said he has learned the value of throwing a bone or two to these Dawgs.
"As coaches we want them to be mentally tough. We want to pound them, and all that stuff. But at the end, you want them to know you recognize when they do what you've asked them to do," he said. "In the end it's a nice reward - and something they appreciate."
Plus, preservation is part of Sarkisian's game plan for playing at Colorado. The Huskies have worked all week on rest and hydration in advance of Saturday's kickoff of their first-ever conference game at Folsom Field, which at an elevation 5,360 feet is more than one mile above sea level.
Sarkisian played collegiately at Brigham Young in Provo, Utah, elevation 4,549 feet. He says the keys to dealing with the thinner air is to "be rested, hydrated - and not let it affect you mentally. We are not making that big a deal about it."
Quarterback Keith Price gets pounded enough in games by charging lineman. He in particular appreciates easing off the between-games physicality, no matter what the altitude may be in a given week.
"(Ending practice early) is a switch up. And anytime you can do something different, it brings excitement," said Price, who had his first three-touchdown game since Sept. 15 against Portland State last weekend in Washington's 34-15 home win over Utah. "When you do things the same every day you kind of get used to that pattern, and sometimes that can get boring.
"Sark does a great job of switching things up and bringing excitement to the team."
Of course, it's easier to bring that excitement when your team is winning. These three straight wins have the Huskies a victory Saturday and again Nov. 23 in the Apple Cup at Washington State away from their first eight-win season since 2001.
"Sometimes losing is contagious. So is winning. When you are winning it's a little easier to get up in the morning when you are sore and come to practice and work on the little things to get yourself better," Sarkisian said.
"Football in general - and college football, specifically -- you have to enjoy this experience, you know? Even through some of our toughest times we have a great deal of fun at practice. We work hard, but we have fun. I never want to take that from our guys, because they put too much time in not to enjoy the experience of playing."
That fun has extended recently to game days.
During last week's win against Utah, Huskies up and down the sideline were doing jumping jacks and pantomiming waving towels to honor first-year assistant strength coach and chief team rabble rouser Keith Belton before kickoffs and key third-down plays.
It looked like a sideline full of fun. Even when UW was down 8-0 early.
"I love what Keith brings. But I think it's just in general our entire staff has done a great job, our leaders on this team (have done a great job)," Sarkisian said. "You know, we only get 13 opportunities to do what we do. And we work really hard for those 13 opportunities for four hours on a Saturday -- or a Friday, or a Thursday, whenever we play -- to enjoy the experience of college football.
"Some of our guys get to play 80, 85 snaps a game. Other guys might not get in the game. But that experience for whatever it is -- for the 85 plays or none -- of just being in that stadium, being with their teammates and the blood and the sweat and the tears, I just want them to enjoy it."
Sarkisian thinks Belton's enthusiasm has had a carry-over effect on the field.
"Keith has done a great job of rallying those guys on the sidelines and getting them excited about it. And I think it's helped in our play, as well," the coach said. "I think it keeps guys involved in the football game so that their number is called they are not caught off guard. They are expecting to be put in, and when they are they make their plays."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Sarkisian said freshman Shane Brostek, who started the Stanford, Oregon and USC games at right guard on offense, may play on that banged-up defensive line at Colorado. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Brostek, from Kamuela, Hawai'i, played some defensive line at Hawai'i Prep High School. "We are nicked up on the defensive line right now and Shane -- having already played a good amount of football on the offensive side of the ball and having a background on the defensive side -- was just a guy that I think can swing over there and help us from a depth standpoint," Sarkisian said. "He's an athletic guy, strikes well. And so we'll see how much opportunity he gets in this game." ... Sarkisian said backup LB Jamaal Kearse and backup TB Dezden Petty won't make Friday's trip because of injuries.