Jordan White-Frisbee (Dawgman.com)
SEATTLE - Willie Hurst and Rich Alexis led the Huskies in rushing as true freshmen and started a season's worth of games between them. But Chris Polk will be doing something no other first-year running back has ever done at UW; start an opener. And he won't be alone. According to Washington's official two-deeps, the Huskies will be playing eight newcomers on either their first or second team.
That's a bunch.
Add to it the fact that the purple pups will be heading down to Eugene, Ore. to play in a game with early Pac-10 implications, leadership from the veterans will be a big key. You don't have to look past the offensive line to find the kind of experience and depth required to calm down young nerves taking heat in a hostile environment. Averaging 6-foot-5 and 332 pounds across the front five, the offensive line talks big, plays big and are big.
"Everytime I think about it I get fired up," senior guard Casey Bulyca said Monday about Saturday's tilt with the Oregon Ducks. "It's a rivalry game, so it's important. Hopefully we can do down there and get some work done and come back victorious."
Bulyca didn't earn his first start for the Huskies until 2007, but the 2006 Oregon game was his first taste of playing time. It stuck with him. "After the first series, it calmed right now," he said. "I relaxed and everything was fine."
How much does this game mean to the Huskies? Look to Juan Garcia, the Huskies' sixth-year center, to properly gauge the stakes involved. Diagnosed with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot near the end of spring camp. He had two choices; immediately have the surgery in the hopes that he could salvage part of his final season of eligibility, or rely on rest, rehab and prayers the foot would respond to treatment.
"It's sort of a miracle that he didn't have the Lisfranc surgery and has repaired itself," Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti said about Garcia's situation Monday. "That's an amazing deal. I'm happy for him only from the standpoint that I'm not happy for us, but I'm happy for him."
"Football is a game of courage, football is a game of commitment and football is a game of sacrifice," added UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham. "When you see it (Garcia's recovery), it's truly enriching to everyone."
"It's kind of hard to believe that he (Garcia) is in this position, but knowing him as well as I do it's not really surprising," said Bulyca. "He's tough and resilient and willing to work his ass off to get back. I'm more proud of him than surprised."
The offensive line is hoping Garcia's example will set the tone for a week of work and preparation that pays off big with a win under rough conditions. "The offensive line is the heart and soul of any offense, and we have a chance to have one of the better ones this school has had in a long time, and that's important to us," Bulyca said.
And he's right. Without Garcia the offensive line would have still be considered the strongest unit for the Huskies. With their experienced center, they have their swagger. "We're a bunch of tough guys," said senior Jordan White-Frisbee, who earned the starting left guard spot against Oregon. "Wherever we go, we don't fear anybody. We'll be on the front lines and whoever is back there is back there. We will do what we have to do."
"Last year we were so close and this year we are tired of being so close," added Bulyca. "People saying we played well but lost...nobody wants to hear that. Losing is losing, no matter how you look at it. As far as finishing game, there's going to be a lot more of it this year."
White-Frisbee agrees. "All we have to do is prove it," he said. "We know, now we have to show it." And he would know. After moving to the OL after a year as a true frosh playing along the defensive line, this time has come after five surgeries to his feet. "I think it just comes down to making sure you do the right things and realizing what you want in life," he said when asked about his resurgence. "I've been here too long and had too many setbacks. I'm tired of coasting and not doing what I want to do - which is play football."
White-Frisbee's first-year campaign along the DL was an anomaly among linemen; there's a reason why freshmen are usually relegated to scout team roles in their initial season on campus. Typically it's just because they aren't ready, and it could be for a myriad of reasons; it could be physical, it could be mental. It could be something as simple as not understanding the dictionary-sized playbook. But for players like Polk, Senio Kelemete, Jermaine Kearse and others, they have beaten out more experienced players to find their names in the two-deeps.
"I'm not worried about our young guys," said Bulyca. "The kids that are going to be playing know what they are doing and have worked real hard and deserve to play because they've earned it."
"They should be primed and eager to play in that kind of environment," added Willingham.
The big guys up front expect a player like Polk to rise to the occasion. "Sometimes when things don't look like they are there, he can make a big play and that's exciting," quarterback Jake Locker said of Polk. "Whenever you can give the ball to a guy that can score any time he touches it, that's fun. You like playing with guys like that. He's worked hard and it's going to be exciting to watch him."
White-Frisbee may not get a chance to see the fruits of his labor while he's taking care of his own business. Listening to him, the linemen aren't preparing to play football Saturday night.
"We're going into battle," he said. "We're going there to fight."
- Tyrone Willingham is 4-4 all-time against Oregon, but 0-3 against the Ducks while at Washington.
- The only Oregon-Washington coaching connection is between UO's Michael Gray and UW's Tim Lappano, who both coached at Oregon State.
- Washington has only two players from Oregon - Scott Shugert (Oregon City) and Jordan Polk (Portland Lincoln).
- This trip to Autzen Stadium will be the sixth for the Huskies since 1999.
- UW hasn't had a conference opener since 1998. But from 1991 to 1998, the Huskies began their season against a league foe every season but one (1997 - BYU). The Huskies have only faced Oregon once as an opener - in 1945.
- Washington is 7-5 in road openers in the past 31 years.