With the offense already looked at, it's now time to take stock in Washington's defense and special…
Seniors Have Chance to Re-establish Tradition
Now they have a chance to lead their team to a second consecutive bowl game, and by doing so they will re-establish a tradition in Husky Football dating back to 1979. If they accomplish that, they will also re-establish a winning tradition for a school that had sunk to the bottom. They were there to live through it.
All are on track to graduate, including the seven true seniors. Only two or three will probably get drafted at the next level, although certainly more may at least get a chance to play. Right now that isn't important to this group. They simply want to win their first game.
They are almost evenly split on all sides of the ball, with eight on offense, six on defense, and they also include all five senior specialists in the kicking game - the starting kicker, Erik Folk, and his backup, Eric Guttorp; long snapper Brendan Lopez, and punters Kiel Rasp and William Mahan. Interestingly, both Rasp and Guttorp played their high school football at Nathan Hale for ex-Husky, Hoover Hopkins.
The specialists will have to be consistent and precise every time they take the field in order for the Huskies to be successful. It is rare that you have two proven senior punters on the same team, and Rasp and Mahan have waged a great competition so far this fall camp. Both have been the starting punter for the Huskies and both continue to challenge each other. They are literally booming the football, and every day is a contest.
Lopez enrolled at the University of Michigan out of Bellevue High School to compete for their snapper position before transferring back to Washington to avoid the high cost of tuition. Lopez earned a scholarship by doing so, and after one bad snap in the opener against BYU last year he settled in and was perfect the rest of the season. He expects to be perfect this season, and if Washington has no blocks again this year then he will be a big part of that. He handles both short and long snaps.
The class of 2007 had 26 commitments that year, and there are only seven left after six graduated and 13 left the program for one reason or another. A 50 percent attrition rate is awful in college football, and the 2008 class is no better; only 13 of 26 remain from that class as well, including the seven seniors. Now some did get hurt and some did transfer, but most of those who left did so because the simply didn't fit into the new system.
All the remaining seniors have bought into the Steve Sarkisian way of doing things without much prodding. They drank the Kool-Aid when he first arrived, and now there are some good leaders and a couple of really good players.
Cort Dennison is the unquestioned leader of this Husky defense. Though Dennison plays linebacker, he is the quarterback and the on-the-field coach of the defense. He is an extension of Mike Cox, Washington's Linebackers' coach, and he relishes his role. He makes all the calls, all the adjustments, and gets everyone lined up properly. Heck, he even did that when Mason Foster was playing, and Foster was a pretty good player. Dennison thinks the game and has a knack of finding the football. He is simply one of the most valuable players on the team.
Dennison is a key, but not as much as the two up front seniors on the defense - Alameda Ta'amu and Everette Thompson. If this defense is any good this year it will be because of the defensive front. Ta'amu is a beast. Plain and simple - if healthy, he will command a double-team. He is in the best shape of his life and he knows he can take care of his new family if he can have a monster year. Ta'amu is the bell-cow of this defense, and he will have to have great push for Washington to be a solid defensive unit this season. He should be the best player on the defense, and if he is then he has a great chance of being a high draft pick.
Thompson is the tallest, smartest, and most versatile of the defensive linemen. He knows every spot, and is by far the biggest, fastest, and strongest he has ever been. Plus, Thompson gives the coaches the option of playing an odd front with Ta'amu at nose and he at one of the tackle spots. He too could get drafted, or at least have an opportunity to play at the next level. Unfortunately, both of these fine players had to play as freshmen because there was no one better in front of them.
Pete Galbraith is another senior defensive lineman who has been a scout team player his whole career. Nobody can underestimate his value in preparing the team. He has stayed with the program, and although he won't play much he knows his role and has literally paid to play because he loves the game so much.
Quinton Richardson and Marquis Persley are the only seniors in the secondary. Persley has been a backup his entire career, but he has never been a problem and will graduate on time. Richardson really made himself the second half of last season. A fall camp injury has hurt his preparation for this season, but he was turning into a really good corner before it happened and should return to form once he heals. Richardson struggled early in his career because he was a safety playing corner. Now he understands the position and provides good leadership for the younger players, some of whom will no doubt be better than he is before it's all said and done.
Only six seniors remain on defense. That basically says this is still a young defense but it won't be any good unless the four senior starters stay healthy and have their very best years. You win with your seniors, and in this case there just aren't very many.
Offensively, the best senior players should be tackle Senio Kelemete, and receiver Jermaine Kearse, and if both play to their best ability they could also get drafted. Washington should be really effective on the offensive side of the football. Both changed their bodies over this last year and should have excellent years. Kelemete added at least 20 pounds of muscle, and Kearse is the obvious number one receiver having led the team in receptions last year.
The other senior receivers, Devin Aguilar and Cody Bruns, are solid veterans, but will probably lose some playing time to a group of four underclassmen. Nevertheless, they will be a definite part of the receiver rotation and will make some key catches this season. Due to depth issues, Aguilar and Bruns had to play their freshman years, and that is shame because they are just starting to hit their peaks. They know what to do and how to do it, so a solid senior season from these two should be expected.
Reade Lobdill is a walk-on senior receiver who joined the team late but has just one year of eligibility remaining and will likely never see the field.
Johri Fogerson is another senior who needs to have a big year for the Huskies. With Chris Polk's status unsure for the Eastern Washington game, Fogerson's role should expand if he can stay healthy himself. He started his Husky career on the defensive side of the football, but has since become a change of pace back who catches the ball well and is a glider as a runner. His off-the-field problems are behind him now and he too needs to take advantage of every opportunity.
Skyler Fancher and Nick Wood round out the senior class, and both are backups on the offensive line. Wood started out as a defensive lineman and made the switch to help the team. He actually played extensively a couple of years ago, starting in four games. Both he and Fancher have moved to guard and provide some senior leadership in the offensive line. They too have stuck with the program with little playing time to show for it, but are a great value to the team from a depth and practice perspective.
Considering there are only 14 initial-scholarship seniors and probably only eight or nine starters spread over two classes, this is a very small senior class. Normally you should have about twice that many, but if these kids have their best seasons this year then the team should do well.
You always have to account for attrition in college football and it can be positive from the scholarship availability standpoint, but a 50 percent attrition rate is alarming and can have a disastrous impact on your experienced depth.
As small as this group is, next year's senior class is even smaller; there's only 16 total juniors left from Willingham's final recruiting crop, which means this is still a very young football team. Two-thirds of the program will be populated with sophomores and freshmen.
Even coach Sarkisian's first signing class in 2009 - which he put together in about a month, and ended and up only being 13 kids - has produced six starters and has lost only three to attrition. Regardless, it will be the leadership provided by this year's seniors that will dictate the success of this team. That, and some luck, a tough defense, a great run game, and a solid kicking game - all places where seniors should have an impact.
That's all I need.
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