Touching base with Isaiah Stanback

Isaiah Stanback (Getty)

It was back in October at Husky Stadium when the season still held promise. Washington was 4-2, but found itself backed up to its own goal line and trailing Oregon State. The Huskies broke huddle and lined up. Unbeknownst to quarterback Isaiah Stanback, he was about to take the final snap of his college career.

"It was a bad situation, and I was a little frustrated because things weren't going our way," recalled Stanback last week, as his teammates headed toward their humiliating face-plant against Stanford. "I tried to take things into my hands. I dropped back and looked to pass, and saw that all the coverage had gone downfield with my receivers. So I took off, and I had the whole sideline to work with. I was just trying to get to the 25-yard marker for a first down. Well, I got to the 24-yard marker and I went to plant my foot in order to freeze the first defender and try to get an extra yard. I planted too far outside on my right foot, and that was it.

"I was really planning on continuing to go straight up field," he said. "So many times I have tried to make a move to make them think I was going a certain direction when I wasn't, but then keep going forward. So that's all it was—I was trying to make a sudden move, and there were three guys about to hit me, and I was hoping to freeze them enough so that I could run through them.

"It was kind of a blur," he said. "It hurt. After I planted on the foot, my body naturally came up off it, and meanwhile I had guys trying to take my head off at the same time, so I put my head down to avoid those hits. After that, I immediately looked to the sideline. I don't even remember who I was looking right at, but I was signaling to them that I was hurt. I knew right away it was worse than just a sprained ankle. I could tell it was pretty bad."

As Stanback was lying face-down and prone upon the turf, the Husky Stadium crowd softened to a anxious murmur. High above in the radio booth, Washington broadcasters Bob Rondeau and Chuck Nelson somberly speculated that it looked like a bad injury. From Stanback's perspective, everything had transpired so quickly, and a million different thoughts were churning through his mind.

"Don't get me wrong, it hurt," he said. "But really, most of the pain came from thinking about the rest of my career. You know, was I going to be able to finish my college career? Is this my last play of college? Is this my last play ever? I could deal with the physical pain, but it was thinking about my career that hurt far worse. I had been working so hard to get to that point. I was like, `Man!' But like I have told you before, I don't question anything that God does."

Suddenly the Huskies were without their leader, and they haven't won a game since. While it's true that the electrifying Stanback never fully overcame his mercurial style of play, his overall improvement and determination earned him the respect of everyone associated with Husky football. It will never be known how many more games the Huskies would have won this season had injury not befallen Isaiah Stanback.

Now, as he convalesces, Stanback has taken notice of the heartfelt wishes that Husky fans extended to him.

"The biggest moment for me was when the media relations people down at the U-Dub put up a `Get Well' type of thing on the website," he said. "People were posting comments on there. That was a big show of support that really put a smile on my face. Hundreds of people posted positive comments to me, telling me to get well and whatnot. That was a good thing."

As the Washington Huskies find themselves reeling with five straight losses and a 4-6 record, they prepare for the winless Stanford Cardinal. Stanback struggles each day coming to terms with the change in his life. As writer David Milch always says, in every moment of our lives we operate from either fear or faith. During this ordeal, Stanback chooses faith.

"Man, no matter how much your friends stop by, or how much you get visited by your teammates, you just don't feel like you're part of the team anymore," Stanback said. "It's difficult going from a big part of the team, to just a guy on the side watching and not being a part of much of anything. Don't get me wrong, the guys on the team call me and come by and support me and all that-- but to not be out there is hard. It's just very hard. I watch a game, and I realize that that used to be ME out there playing quarterback. It could have been ME doing something on that last play, you know? I get to thinking that `Oh, I would have done this,' or `I would have done that.' Or I just sit there knowing that the opponent would have had to game plan differently, if I were in there. There are just a lot of `What Ifs' going through my mind all the time.

"But you know what?" asked Stanback. "I haven't found out yet. I don't know why I had to hurt my ankle like that when I did. I'll figure it out one day. I try to not figure out why God does what He does. You know what I'm sayin'? But He always lets you know at some point. I'm sure there will be a positive lesson for me to take from this in the future. For now, I'm just going to keep trusting in God."
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnson1@verizon.net

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