Cort Dennison (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)
This Saturday’s Apple Cup at the Clink will be the last game for my favorite Husky, Cort Dennison, and rest of this year’s graduating seniors. They get to go “downtown” and host their biggest rival, the Washington State Cougars, and if any group of Huskies ever deserves to go out with one last win, it’s this group.
Most of these guys were here when the program hit rock bottom and have been instrumental in helping get Husky Football back on its feet. Half of their teammates are no longer here, but these few who are left know they are prepared to take on anything that life throws them. They’re already survivors.
Co-Captain Dennison is currently leading the league in tackles with 104 and averages 9.5 per game. He will end up as the leading tackler on this team and in the Pac-12 Conference. He is certainly the heart and soul leader of this Husky defense, heck the whole team for that matter. He has been solid as a rock as a 'backer, played through injury and has been like an extra coach on the field. He is also their major communicator and adjuster as well.
Personally, I would have loved to coach this young man. Ask Jim Lambright, probably one of the all-time defensive coaches in this conference and he’ll tell you that Cort Dennison would have been a great linebacker for us. He is a thinker and a tough guy much like David Rill was in the mid-80’s and James Clifford was in the early-nineties.
Cort and his position coach, Mike Cox, have worked well together for three years and Coach Cox will tell you that Cort even ran the show when they had Mason Foster. He’ll also tell you this kid is a really bright in his football intelligence. Mike has coached at the NFL level as well as many college stops and he has worked with plenty of talented linebackers but he knows Cort is special. He is a thinking linebacker and that’s what separates him from all their other linebackers. He simply sees more. He knows what everyone is doing and makes up for his lack of blazing speed by great anticipation and great effort to the ball. He leaves it all on the field. He has truly been a great Husky linebacker as well as a great leader in the middle of the defense.
Granted, that also comes with playing middle linebacker but he might be the best remaining player of the redshirted players from the 2007 recruiting class of Tyrone Willingham.
Out of that class of, six did graduate, including Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa, both linebackers. The sad reality is there are only six left from that signing class of 26 and only three are starters with Dennison is easily the most productive along with kicker, Erik Folk. When the year comes that Washington has twice that many red-shirt seniors (12-15) with 8-10 starters then we’ll know the program is finally back depth wise. In both college and high school football you win with your seniors. There have been long standing depth issues with this team for years (starting all the way back to the Neuheisel era) and the various coaching staffs have been forced to play kids way too early in their careers. Playing true freshmen robs your team of mature fifth-year seniors five years down the road. You can see it down on the field. The older teams have more developed looking players, especially in the lines.
There are 19 or so seniors leaving this program and they are a mix of that 2007 class and the true seniors of the class of 2008. All were recruited during the Willingham era. Without the aid of four walk-ons there wouldn’t even be that many. That’s an indictment of the recruiting process of the past system. The bottom line is there are just not enough quality older players for this program to be contending for a championship. They are getting better with each recruiting class, and this year they did redshirt 15 kids. That’s the most players red-shirted in one year since the James-Lambright eras. The year before they red-shirted 12 and that is exactly how you get bigger and better over time.
There aren’t many seniors left simply because there has been such a high rate of attrition. Those two classes (2007 and 2008) each started with 26 players or 52 total initial scholarship signees. Both classes have now lost 13 players each, so that means half - and supposedly the best - recruiting classes of coach Willingham have quit, flunked out, never got in, or simply left the program, including some of their highest-ranked players. If you’re into the 4 and 5-star stuff, it might be interesting to note that the highest rated player in each of those two classes left the program.
A normal attrition rate is 15-20 percent, so losing half of two classes certainly explains the rebuilding dilemma that the new Washington coaches were faced with.
There are some walk-ons who have made major impacts. Long snapper Brendan Lopez was recently named first team All-Pac-12 Academic All-Conference. Lopez sports a 3.64 GPA in a science I can’t even spell, and after blowing his first snap against BYU two years ago has handled every single snap perfectly for two years. He is a quality kid who will certainly be Dr. Lopez someday.
Punter Kiel Rasp, likewise, entered as a walk-on and all he has done is become the best punter in Husky football history. He set the single season record last year with a 43.76 average and is currently averaging 44.6 on the year this season. Rasp has been joined by another walk-on kicker from his high school, Eric Guttorp, who has been a positive scout team player - and like all walk-ons is playing for all the right reasons. He has helped in any way he could and has been really loyal to the Huskies’ starting kicker, Erik Folk, who besides being perfect in his extra point attempts, is likely to be an All-Conference mention.
Will Mahan was the starting punter before a knee injury opened the gate for Rasp to become the starter. He has shared the duties with Rasp this year and leaves with his degree and two bowl rings. Will is the only one of these seniors who was recruited and signed by coach Sarkisian.
Next to Dennison, left tackle Senio Kelemente has probably been the most consistent major contributor of all the seniors. He has had a solid season and has definitely played to the level of his expectations. He has a chance to be drafted for the next level and has clearly been Washington’s best offensive lineman. That’s what seniors are supposed to be.
I realize a lot of people question the play of Alameda Ta'amu, but he has been solid at the line of scrimmage and has played injured much of the season. He and Everrette Thompson both had to play as true freshmen and would really have benefited from redshirting if the program wasn’t so down and depleted. Can you even imagine how good both would be next year? Both have played hard but neither had a really standout senior year. Both would also tell you they wish they had another year.
Senior receivers Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar both played as true freshmen, and both will leave after having caught lots of balls for the program. This year they really improved as blockers and that showed in the running game, but overall neither of these two has really had a standout senior season. Kearse, in particular, was a pre-season pick to be the eighth-best receiver in the country and there is no way his year has even been close to that. After catching 63 balls in 2010 (and 174 for his career), he is currently at 37 catches for this season. If he could catch two more touchdowns passes though, he would tie Mario Bailey for career receiving touchdowns at 30. That would be a tremendous accomplishment. Based upon his production this year, it's doubtful that he even makes All-Conference. Both are, however, great team players, and that speaks to Kearse getting elected as a co-captain. They just didn’t have those great seasons they wanted, and expected.
Quinton Richardson, likewise, has also had mixed reviews for his play as a starting cornerback. He has been in and out of the starting lineup and has been largely inconsistent much of his career. He runs hot and cold, and when he is on he can change the game. But other times he has been victimized deep. Regardless, he has been a major contributor on the defense and will get his degree and will always be a Husky. Richardson, like Thompson and Ta'amu, all came from the greater-Seattle area and all three wanted to be Huskies. They are now Huskies for life.
Skyler Fancher and Nick Wood have both been backups on the offensive line for much of their careers. Both have been valuable from the practice standpoint and Wood, who started out on the defensive side of the line is currently getting some playing time because of an injury to Colin Tanigawa. In fact, Wood is expected to get a start in his final regular season game as a Husky. They have not played as much as they wanted to, but both will graduate and both endured the five years as redshirt seniors.
Special mention goes to walk-on defensive lineman Pete Galbraith, who has been a solid contributor to scout teams and actually was rewarded with a few minutes of playing time against Colorado. Pete represents all the good that can comes out of a quality walk-on program.
Safety Greg Walker is also graduating and has been one of the best special teams player in the program for three straight years. He, too, was recently named Academic All-Conference First Team, and with a 3.41 GPA is probably going to be known as Dr.Walker someday.
Luther Leonard entered the program as a quarterback, and after making a position switch never quite reached the 2-deeps as a receiver. He too, did most of his work on scout team and will graduate this summer. Leonard and Walker both are graduating on time in four years. Cornerback Marquis Persley is likewise listed as a senior and has never reached the field but is also on track to graduate.
Senior walk-on Reade Lobdill has been a scout team receiver and always realized his role. He too will graduate on time.
Senior scholastic leadership has been evident with Lopez, Walker, Dennison, and Folk all receiving All-Conference academic recognition.
Of all these Husky seniors, there are probably only three all-conference players and maybe a couple of draft choices. Maybe. But what they did accomplish together was turn the mindset of the program around. They bought into coach Sarkisian’s system and will leave with back-to-back bowl game experiences. They helped turn the corner for this once-proud program. They brought Husky Football back to winning ways. Now they just want to finish it right with a win over the Cougars.
That, and make sure they finish their schoolwork.