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August 7, 2009
Fall practices mark a new beginning
In three days water will not be turned into wins nor will Lake Union be parted. In fact, this will most likely be just another Monday void of divine intervention for the Washington football program.
However, it's not a miracle new Husky head coach Steve Sarkisian is counting on when Fall Camp begins, but instead a change in philosophy that will ultimately end Washington's winless streak and return them to greatness.
It won't be easy, but if Spring Practices were any indication they are moving in the right direction.
Although judging progress in the honeymoon phase of a new coach can be difficult, it's hard to not be impressed with the job Sarkisian has done. But the next step is a big one. Now "Sark" must prepare his team for a season opening showdown with powerhouse LSU.
"We now must excel at what we introduced," explained Sarkisian. "Nick [Holt] and Doug [Nussmeier] did a great job of introducing the schemes and they did a nice job of emphasizing the effort we need to play with, how physical we need to play. I thought we grew in spring ball and got close to where we wanted to be.
"Unfortunately the NCAA only gave us 15 practices and we had to stop. The natural thought is that we would take a step back at the start of fall camp. But the goal is to maximize our time, speed up the way we play, the style we play with, the effort we play with. That is going to be critical early so we don't have to continue to pound each other through training camp and not be fresh when that LSU game rolls around.
"The goal for us when September 5 roles around for the LSU game, is that we are a fresh football team, we are a healthy football team, but also a physical football team that understands how we play."
Turning around an 0-12 team has its obvious challenges. But creating a buzz around the program and getting fans excited has come with relative ease for a coaching staff full of exuberance and confidence.
"From the standpoint of the program and where it was December 8 and where it is today, August 7, getting ready for training camp, we have had a great relationship with the community," Sarkision said. "The City of Seattle and the state of Washington, everything that has gone on around this program, the energy and buzz that has been created the last eight months has been amazing.
"What I have felt, with people embracing us as a coaching staff and embrace our program is something that I'm proud of. When we came here on December 8 with our first press conference and talked about changing the culture and changing the attitude, I feel like it's happening. It's not just happening with our football team but happening within the community and the state, and it's exciting."
Another thing creating excitement for both the coaches and fans, is the new found focus on strength and conditioning. Size, strength and speed matter in football more then any other team sport, and the Huskies were lacking in all three categories the past few seasons. But that appears to be a worry of the past with the addition of strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis.
Much has been made of the now infamous off-season workout program, and after one look at the players during Spring Practices it was easy to see why. Big guys lost weight, skinny guys gained muscle, and the over conditioning was a vast improvement.
"I thought we have made a lot of strides in the offseason. I think we are bigger, faster, stronger and I thought Ivan Lewis and the strength and conditioning staff did a tremendous job of getting our kids to the point that we are a healthy, strong, athletic football team heading into fall practices.
"It took a lot of time and effort and there was a huge emphasis on speed, change of direction and explosiveness heading into spring ball. Then this summer it was all about getting strong again. I think our kids have responded really well and the whole mentality of our team in the strength and conditioning room has become a want to, instead of a have to."
The players should want to play hard and perform well, because staying true to his word Sark has made competition the number one theme for his new team. Nearly all positions are up for grabs and the players performance this fall will dictate who plays and who doesn't.
"It's crazy to think we are going to practice on August 10 and none of us as coaches have been on the field with our guys coaching football since April 25 for the Spring Game," explained Sarkisian. "I think we need to see everybody play. As much as I want to say I know this football team, I have only been on the field with them 15 times at 15 practices. I'm really trying to go in again with an open mind.
"Its' open, the competition is on, and in my opinion the cream is going to rise to the top of this football team. I'm anxious to see who has changed and if I go in with a close mind thinking that everyone will be the same, I might miss something. We are going to play the best players and the guys that give us the best opportunity to win. If it is a fifth-year senior or a true freshman, so be it."
There is not a lot of time before the new Washington Huskies are thrust into the national spotlight against one of the best programs in the country. There's not a lot of time to turn around a program from 0-12 into a contender. There's not a lot of time to instill confidence into players not accustomed to winning. 29 practices is all Sarkisian and his staff have to not mold men, but to mold a winning team and a winning tradition.
"I said it then and I will say it again, I don't think it's going to take us that long, we are going to become a great football team."
Fogerson on the Move Again
True sophomore Johri Fogerson was moved at the beginning of last season from running back to safety. Although he started a number of games as a freshman in the defensive secondary, he's once again on the move back to running back.
"Obviously with the subtractions at running back and the setback with Yakaboski, Johri was a natural fit to come back to the running back position. He had a good spring in the secondary, but he had a desire to come back to the running back position and it was a depth issue and need for us."
Another player that might play out of his original position is true freshman Andru Pulu. At 6-foot-1, 251 pounds, many believed Pulu could end up on the defensive line despite playing middle linebacker in high school.
"I know he came in as a linebacker but we will try to use him some on the defensive line," explained Sark.
He won't be alone, as Jordan Wallace, who played safety in high school, will begin at outside linebacker with the hopes of adding some speed to the position.
Alvin Logan and Senio Kelemete were each moved during spring practices and coach Sark is fired up to see what they can do at there new positions.
"I'm anxious to watch Alvin Logan. At safety he kind of got thrown into the mix at the defensive backfield the end of spring coming off a knee injury. He looks healthy and looks good and I'm anxious to watch him.
I'm anxious to watch Senio Kelemete, a guy that moved to the offensive line at the right guard spot. It's somewhat new to him after spending an entire year as a three technique on the defensive line. So, I'm anxious to watch these guys from the beginning, get the coaching and see how far they can take it.
Coming and Going
Four junior college players are on campus and ready to take part in fall practices...
David Batts - 4-star safety, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Torrance, CA
Dominique Gaisie - 3-star cornerback, 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Walnut, CA
Will Mahan - 3-star kicker, 6-foot-0, 185 pounds, Bakersfield, CA
Dorson Boyce - 2-star tight end, 6-foot-2, 250-pounds, Santa Maria, CA
"There are still two out there, Johnny Tivao and Daniel Mafoe. The reason they didn't make it, is that they just haven't got their work done. We are going to go with the approach that they are not going to be with us and if we do get them it's a bonus.
Also, the list of players who have left the program continues to grow with the departure of offensive lineman Matt Sedillo.
"We have also had some guys that decided this isn't the place for them. I met with the team on day one and told them it's an exciting time and a change in culture, but it's not for everyone.
"The demands of college football, the demands of our coaching staff, this is a full time job for these kids. Sedillo, Brandon Johnson, David Freeman, Bradly Roussel, Allen Carroll, we have had some guys that haven't withstood that.
"But the focus is about what has gone on and where we are at right now. I am excited about that.
Also there are a few players that will miss Fall Camp due to injury. Brandon [db]Brandon Yakaboski had what Sark called a setback with his knee and he is most likely lost for the season. Also, Vince Taylor had an infection in his knee after surgery and will be unable to participate.
Practices Still Open for Fall
Continuing his tradition of opening up practices to the public, Sarkisian is encouraging fans to come out and support their team during Fall Camp.
"I want people to come out and appreciate how hard our coaches work, how hard our players work, and the time, effort and energy they put into this. They do put in a lot of effort and it's not just about the 13 Saturdays we get throughout the football season or the seven home games we get at Husky Stadium, there is a lot of time, effort and energy that goes into this."
Washington Legend Curtis Williams will Still be Honored at Husky Stadium
The number 25 that has lived on the home sideline of Husky Stadium in honor of the late Curtis Williams was removed with the rest of the field turf when Husky Stadium got a minor facelift. However, the man and the player will still be honored and never forgotten by the new coaching staff.
"The number 25 that has been on the field is not going to be there after redoing the turf," said Sarkisian. "But in honor of Curis Williams and what he represented from the defensive backfield spot, what he represented as a physical football player, David Batts will wear the number 25 this year.
"I think it exemplifies the type of player Curtis was and hopefully that puts him back on the field, because that is where he always wanted to be. There will also be a memorial for him in place in our locker room."
Washington has opened up a new spot for pre-game festivities on the practice field just east of Husky Stadium.
"We want our game day atmosphere to be as exciting and as fun as it can be for all of the fans," explained Sark. "Whether it's a 40 year-old season ticket holder to the eight year-old with his Jake Locker jersey on, we want them to have the best experience we can give them. Because of that we are opening an area for pre-game called The Zone.
"It should make a great area for friend and family to gather before the game. I know people really like to tailgate here and we are trying to get them closer to the stadium. When that siren goes off 20-minutes before kickoff I want everyone comming into the stadium. We want Husky Stadium as loud as it can be from the opening kickoff until the final whistle. We are really encouraging people to visit The Zone prior to the game, to be part of the Husky experience, and get to the game when the first whistle blows."
Raise the Woof
Friday, August 28 at 6:00 p.m, the Washington football team will hold a season kick off celebration.
"It will highlight our football team, our players, and each coach will introduce his players. We will also introduce our captains for the 2009 season. It should be a very family friendly event and one that should get the energy and excitement flowing a week out from the LSU game."