Mykenna Ikehara (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)
After losing the Apple Cup in double overtime and staring a loss to California right in the eye to finish out a winless campaign, the real question becomes what will the 2009 Washington Huskies look like? With a top-25 recruiting class in 2008, there are still quite a few players that have yet to make their mark.
“All of us see this as a great opportunity ahead of us and we need to grasp it and do everything we can with it. Our freshman class is really close and I think we really do have a special class that people will see in the next few years,” said Justin Glenn, a first-year cornerback from Mukilteo who redshirted in 2008.
“You always want to see more, but early indications are it’s a good group. I still think one of the important things of the future of this defense is that class of kids,” said defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.
Most of the fans are expecting some nice things from the likes of Anthony Bolyes and Craig Noble, but two guys that aren’t being talked about that should be are Glenn and Mykenna Ikehara. Both are players that have seniors leaving at their respective positions and are working toward filling those voids before next season rolls around.
“Once I got here I quickly realized in high school you can dominate with your athleticism; you’re faster, stronger, bigger than everyone,” said Glenn when asked about his biggest revelation when he first stepped on campus this summer. “Here everyone plateaus and you’re equal, so everyone is at square one again. So you have to separate yourself somehow. That’s the one thing I learned is that I’m going to have to separate myself to get on the playing field next year.”
Someone will need to fill Mesphin Forrester's starting spot in 2009 and with Matt Mosley recovering from knee injury the door is wide open. Glenn has positioned himself to earn minutes next year with a good camp. At 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, he’s been adding weight and working on his strength. His bench is around 295 pounds and he thinks his biggest improvement has been the strength in his legs.
Sixth-year center Juan Garcia will be moving on next year and someone will have to fill the all-important center position. While Matt Sedillo and Ryan Tolar will be strong options, don’t be surprised if Ikehara is able to win the position battle during next season's fall camp. While the first months in college can be nerve-wracking, Ikehara feels the transition has been smooth. “The off-season was a big help, especially the Bridge Program,” he told Dawgman.com.
Ikehara's redshirt year has been extremely beneficial to him, and he’s ready to make that next jump. “I think understanding our offense and reading the defense has really improved," he said. "My playing level, it’s really good to go against guys like 'Meda (Alameda Ta’amu), Daniel (Te’o-Nesheim), and Cam (Cameron Elisara)."
Even though Ikehara is younger than a lot of guys on the team, his confidence has been high all along. “They were fast but at the same time I didn’t feel outclassed," he said about fall camp. "It was a whole different level." During his red shirt season he has been able to adjust to the speed of the college game and is preparing to have an impact next year. He said he lost some weight since camp and is around 280 pounds, but thinks the best weight for him next year will be 295. With the proper off-season conditioning, Ikehara's target weight shouldn’t be a problem.
To meet Husky fans' expectations, the team will need to show steady improvement. The coaches think that this freshmen class has the right players to do just that. “They’ve gone through it great, that’s typical of young players," Donatell said of the redshirt players. "A young player will go through some frustrations but they’ll be ready to roll next year. They’ll start to feel how important the tradition of this university is. They’ll start to see some of the disappointments and expectations and they’ll do something about it. These guys have really good work ethic, like football, and have good talent.”
After a year of watching the team play the younger players aren’t sugar-coating anything. They realize things need to change and they need to do their part to make things better at Montlake. The coaches might like what they see out of the team's habits, but at least one true freshman thinks the players can do a lot better.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot from sitting back and watching the whole team and how everything works," said Glenn. "There definitely needs to be some changes around here; guys not showing up to workouts and late to this and that. We realize that as a class and we’re going to try fix those things and turn this thing around.
“From my perspective, people don’t take (work ethic) as seriously as it needs to be taken. I think that does have an effect on the field and that’s one of things that needs to be changed.”
The Huskies have the talent, and with only a handful of seniors leaving next year the opportunity to be competitive will be within reach. As Glenn said, things will need to change in order to get better and it starts with effort. If the freshman class can lead by example, they can make the game of football more fun for themselves and everyone else around them. Losing hurts, and it will take a strong team to persevere through this next season, but if Glenn and Ikehara are right this team has the players to help turn it toward a brighter future.