BY Art Thiel 07:16AM 08/10/2011

Thiel: Long-sought toughness now Huskies virtue

UW coach Steve Sarkisian dodged scandal and 0-12 depression to get to a third year with optimism: Here’s three things that have to happen early.

Keith Price doesn't need anyone reminding him he's not Jake Locker. / Kyle Scholzen, Sportspress Northwest

As a program in the crosshairs of the NCAA, as well as internal criticism, for a good chunk of the previous decade,  Washington slipped into action this week in what passes for anonymity in college football.

No payouts to dubious street agents. No payments to players, or players selling  trinkets to adoring fans. No fired coaches. No embarrassed university president.

Not to say dubious deeds haven’t happened at Montlake, or won’t happen again. But in an off-season that has rained scandal and controversy upon the industry, the Huskies under coach Steve Sarkisian have stayed dry.

As important,  they have gotten over 0-12 faster than anyone had a right to expect.

“I see our football team now as one that really has adopted who we are,” Sarkisian said this week. “I think more so than anything, these guys aren’t adopted anymore.”

Sarkisian has a few veteran holdovers from the Tyrone Willingham debacle that ended in 2008, but three years of recruiting classes, and a perfect circumstance that set up a bowl-game win against a big-time foe, have given him his kind of players with his kind of attitude.

“The bulk of this football team are guys that we have recruited that have grown up in this culture and these schemes and these systems,” he said.  “It’s been very encouraging because you are starting to feel the players speak the language to one another, to coaches, to family, to friends.”

The language developed over the final four games – wins over UCLA, Cal, Washington State and in the Holiday Bowl, Nebraska, a team that beat UW 56-21 in September and did not care a bit about the bowl game – which followed three losses by a combined score of  138-30. The last four games constituted one of the great seasonal rallies in UW history.

“We’re really mentally tough,” he said, answering a question about what he learned about his team in the crucible. “That was something that took time. We inherited a group that was pretty fragile. I think we showed a lot of that (fragility) during the first year and a half, going on the road and losing some tight games.

“But I thought our kids last year really showed the mental toughness and perseverance that it takes week in and week out when it’s a grind,  when the weather’s not great and you’re on the road and you’re in a hostile environment.”

Tough guys. That’s what the old alums have been seeking from Huskies since Don James quit in 1993.

But before the purples get all giggly about the potential for the first winning regular season since 2001,  three important things have to happen early:

2-0: Finally, the Huskies create a scheduling break with home games against Eastern Washington and Hawaii to open the season. No team that still has 0-12 visible in its rear view mirror has any reason to take any opponent lightly. But for years, Washington has over-scheduled its non-conference games. Sometimes, it’s good to take a trolley instead of a freight train.

Receptions by a tight end: Last season, the Huskies totaled six catches from the position, one with a long legacy at Washington. Mark Bruener would catch six in a half. The good news is that 6-6, 250-pound freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Gig Harbor is so highly regarded that the normally circumspect Sarkisian was nearly foaming, talking about someone who hasn’t played a down:

“He’s as talented physically as anybody I’ve ever had at that position. The hand-eye coordination he possesses is extremely unique. He’s got extremely soft hands and he has the ability to keep his feet underneath him, and the ability to release using his hands, yet use wiggle. You can’t teach that kind of stuff. But where I was probably more impressed with him is his mental toughness.”

All righty then: Seven TE catches!

Leave Keith Price alone: Everyone knows the perpetually grinning junior quarterback is Jake Locker’s replacement, not his second coming. But will the fan base believe it with Joe Montana’s kid, Nick, as the backup? Price is smaller, slower and obviously less experienced. Who wouldn’t be? The guy following the legend always has it hard, even though Locker never quite lived up to the gargantuan expectations.

But Sarkisian left open the door to the second-guessers: “I don’t want people to think, and Nick to think, he’s going out to practice for the sake of practicing. He’s competing. If Keith doesn’t perform well and Nick does, that could easily happen.”

Even though the coach made it plain since spring that Price was No. 1, that can last as long as it takes to throw two interceptions against Eastern. Huskies fans need to make a pact among themselves: No booing Price. At least until the Hawaii game.


YourThoughts

  • Hryj

    Hey Art, nice backhanded column, stick to the coogs, the negativity should flow much easier.

    • spudzDP

      Oh Husky fans, why do you need constant ass kissing.  Why does Art have to praise the Udub’s football program to the heavens in order to satisfy your Taliban like fanaticism?  I mean this team has sucked for quite a while now, and last year they finally made it to average.  So what?  
      This reminds of the time Oregon kicked the Dawg’s ass in Husky Stadium a few years ago, and a reporter asked one of Ducks how it felt to beat the Huskies on the Huskies’ home field, and the player (can’t remember who) said something nonchalant, like,”We try to play as good away as we do at our place.”  The reporter appeared a bit taken back with the player’s lack of excitement after beating their “arch rival” and all.  But the truth was that the rivalry between the two teams had become a one sided affair.  That train had left the station several years ago. The Ducks real rivals were now USC or Stanford or even the Beavers – anyone but Washington (well – and WSU.)  
      Oh Husky Fans, why does your arrogance linger so?

      • Btickle27

        Uhmmm… I don’t know what delusional world you live in duckie, but enjoy it while you can.  This past decade that you’ve enjoyed without a lot of success bowl wise is laughable even with daddy Phil’s money.  You can’t buy tradition or respect, which the ducks have none.  You’re more known for your outrageous uniforms and now Willie Lyles than your play on the field.   Oh, Duck Fans, why do your delusions of grandeur linger so?

        • spudzDP

          I hate to burst your bubble, but I am not a Duck nor am I a Duck fan.  I am an objective Husky supporter who has been following them for several years.  What I trying to say wass that many Husky Nation folks cannot stand any honest criticism of their program.   They believe this is disloyal.  They act like an army of Tyrone Willinghams – frozen paranoid and unable to break free from their rigid routine.
          You see, I was just using an interview with a Duck player to make the point that many Husky fans were so full of themselves that they believed the old rivalry between the Huskies and the Ducks was still going strong.  You guys read this and just saw the word “Duck.”  Your reptilian brain took over and you turned into a little Tyrone —  yapping like a pissed off little pug.  Come on, now.  Calm down.  Who’s a good dawg?  Whooo’s a good dawg?  That’s right.  Yooouuuu are — feel better?

      • Sales

        No arrogance here Spudz, simply a strong fan following who watched a string of crappy coaches run (what was) arguably the dominant program in the Pac10/12 into the ground… sooo should we not want to bounce back or be excited about what appears to be th beggining of that bounceback? should we not want to get back to stomping a mudhole in the ducks year after year? I think not, to the best of my knowledge the ducks have a losing record against the huskies… so perhaps, just maybe you should stop worrying about what we’re doing and excitd about up here in Seattle, and focus moreso on keeping your players out of jail, off suspension or just getting straight booted off your squad… oh ya, arogance comes in many forms, just like the 213 different uniforms you have, half of which don’t even rep your schools colors. must be fun to play dress up, unless your uni’s have fake diamond plating and robofeathers on them that is.

        • spudzDP

          See reply to Btickle27

  • Hryj

    Hey Art, nice backhanded column, stick to the coogs, the negativity should flow much easier.

    • spudzDP

      Oh Husky fans, why do you need constant ass kissing.  Why does Art have to praise the Udub’s football program to the heavens in order to satisfy your Taliban like fanaticism?  I mean this team has sucked for quite a while now, and last year they finally made it to average.  So what?  
      This reminds of the time Oregon kicked the Dawg’s ass in Husky Stadium a few years ago, and a reporter asked one of Ducks how it felt to beat the Huskies on the Huskies’ home field, and the player (can’t remember who) said something nonchalant, like,”We try to play as good away as we do at our place.”  The reporter appeared a bit taken back with the player’s lack of excitement after beating their “arch rival” and all.  But the truth was that the rivalry between the two teams had become a one sided affair.  That train had left the station several years ago. The Ducks real rivals were now USC or Stanford or even the Beavers – anyone but Washington (well – and WSU.)  
      Oh Husky Fans, why does your arrogance linger so?

      • Btickle27

        Uhmmm… I don’t know what delusional world you live in duckie, but enjoy it while you can.  This past decade that you’ve enjoyed without a lot of success bowl wise is laughable even with daddy Phil’s money.  You can’t buy tradition or respect, which the ducks have none.  You’re more known for your outrageous uniforms and now Willie Lyles than your play on the field.   Oh, Duck Fans, why do your delusions of grandeur linger so?

        • spudzDP

          I hate to burst your bubble, but I am not a Duck nor am I a Duck fan.  I am an objective Husky supporter who has been following them for several years.  What I trying to say wass that many Husky Nation folks cannot stand any honest criticism of their program.   They believe this is disloyal.  They act like an army of Tyrone Willinghams – frozen paranoid and unable to break free from their rigid routine.
          You see, I was just using an interview with a Duck player to make the point that many Husky fans were so full of themselves that they believed the old rivalry between the Huskies and the Ducks was still going strong.  You guys read this and just saw the word “Duck.”  Your reptilian brain took over and you turned into a little Tyrone —  yapping like a pissed off little pug.  Come on, now.  Calm down.  Who’s a good dawg?  Whooo’s a good dawg?  That’s right.  Yooouuuu are — feel better?

      • Sales

        No arrogance here Spudz, simply a strong fan following who watched a string of crappy coaches run (what was) arguably the dominant program in the Pac10/12 into the ground… sooo should we not want to bounce back or be excited about what appears to be th beggining of that bounceback? should we not want to get back to stomping a mudhole in the ducks year after year? I think not, to the best of my knowledge the ducks have a losing record against the huskies… so perhaps, just maybe you should stop worrying about what we’re doing and excitd about up here in Seattle, and focus moreso on keeping your players out of jail, off suspension or just getting straight booted off your squad… oh ya, arogance comes in many forms, just like the 213 different uniforms you have, half of which don’t even rep your schools colors. must be fun to play dress up, unless your uni’s have fake diamond plating and robofeathers on them that is.

        • spudzDP

          See reply to Btickle27

  • Gc Rolander

    Art, you are the prototypical downer Seattle sports fan. I’m glad you’ve been banished to this dark corner of the internet.

    • spudzDP

      I think you meant “typical” rather than “prototypical,” which implies that Art is the prototype of the “downer Seattle sports fan.”  I am sure there were downer Seattle sports fans before Mr. Thiel.  Now go back to your brightly lighted corner of the internet, and leave us alone here in the darkness.

  • KevinD

    I gave up on reading Thiel’s articles when he was at the PI (or was it the Times?  … same thing.) because his Husky articles were so mean-spirited.  Unlike Jim Moore who loved to bash the Huskies, but did it with humor and tongue-in-cheek.

    So I figured I’d give Thiel a 2nd chance now that he’s working someplace new.   Nope … same ol’ bile from Thiel.  This is the last article I will read from Thiel.

    • Michael Kaiser

      No it is not.  Say something original.  

  • KevinD

    I gave up on reading Thiel’s articles when he was at the PI (or was it the Times?  … same thing.) because his Husky articles were so mean-spirited.  Unlike Jim Moore who loved to bash the Huskies, but did it with humor and tongue-in-cheek.

    So I figured I’d give Thiel a 2nd chance now that he’s working someplace new.   Nope … same ol’ bile from Thiel.  This is the last article I will read from Thiel.

    • Michael Kaiser

      No it is not.  Say something original.  

  • Gc Rolander

    Art, you are the prototypical downer Seattle sports fan. I’m glad you’ve been banished to this dark corner of the internet.

  • spudzDP

    I think you meant “typical” rather than “prototypical,” which implies that Art is the prototype of the “downer Seattle sports fan.”  I am sure there were downer Seattle sports fans before Mr. Thiel.  Now go back to your brightly lighted corner of the internet, and leave us alone here in the darkness.