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Time for UW freshmen to step up

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By John Boyle
Herald Writer
SEATTLE -- Before the start of the season, Tyrone Willingham mentioned some of the positives of youth.
On multiple occasions, the Washington coach said that one of the benefits of youth is that those athletes are unscarred.
Consider them unscarred no more. Three games into the season, Washington's true freshmen -- the 10 that have seen the field anyway -- are scarred, bruised, bloodied and beaten.
Now, heading into a weekend off, Willingham, his staff and the Huskies' veteran players have to build those young players back up and help them mature as football players.
"I'm trying to make sure that they don't get accustomed to this, and that it makes them uncomfortable," junior defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim said. "Just try to show them that losing isn't what you come here for and not to expect it to ever happen again. . . I'm not sure if any of them are feeling despair and all those bad words, but they're young, they had never played college football until a month ago, so it's hard to expect the world from them, but we're just trying to get them up to speed. That's my priority."
Willingham, and pretty much everyone else who follows college football, knows that his job depends on a turnaround. And that turnaround depends on, as Te'o-Nesheim put it, getting the freshmen up to speed.
"I don't think they've been beaten down," Willingham said of his freshmen.
He had better hope they haven't. Like it or not, any turnaround this season is going to rely heavily on freshmen and sophomores. Even the most optimistic of Husky fans knew there would be growing pains this season, and those were compounded by a brutally tough opening three games.
An 0-3 start with two blowouts was worse than most were expecting, but the important thing to remember is that the season is not lost yet. The Huskies have four straight winnable games before they head to Los Angeles to play USC (sorry, that one doesn't classify as winnable). Does it seem likely the team that just lost so badly to Oklahoma could win four in a row? Absolutely. Could it happen? Maybe.
"We still have a prize out there," said Willingham. "We're only three games into the season with nine games yet to go, and if we can string together a pretty good run here, we'll find ourselves to be a pretty good football team at the end of the year, and hopefully that's where the benefit of playing the tough schedule we've had early will help us. But we've got to continue to grow and we've got to have the right approach to it, and if we don't, then nothing good happens."
After years of talking about turning the corner, this team, young or not, needs to do it quickly. One of the catch-phrases of fall camp was that young players needed to play older, but through three games that's been a lot easier said than done.
"It's easy to talk about, but when you're out there it's tough," said sophomore safety Nate Williams. "Like Johri -- I'm just using him as an example -- that was his first game ever, and against Oklahoma. Those guys are good. It's tough to play older as a true freshman against such a great team like that. But that's just part of the game and something that we need to do if we want to start winning games more. We are young, we do have a lot of young guys out there, and if we want to win we have to play like we're older guys. We can't play like we're sophomores or freshmen. It's just what we need to do."
Freshman safety Johri Fogerson was used as an example a lot last week by players asked about the team's youth. Fogerson moved from tailback to safety less than two weeks before the Oklahoma game, then was forced into the starting lineup by injuries. And while Fogerson's start was in part a testament to his talent, it also showed how thin the Huskies are in places. Two true freshmen have started this season at tailback, while others have started at defensive tackle, tight end, receiver and now safety.
Sophomores like Williams and linebacker Mason Foster suddenly seem like grizzled veterans out there. Williams has even taken to referring to the freshmen as "Kids" as if he's a fifth-year senior.
Those freshmen will get better, but how quickly they get better will answer a lot of questions about a coach's future. If Willingham can get those talented freshmen playing well enough to turn an 0-3 start into a distant memory, this could go down as his best coaching job. There's no mystery here. Willingham has nine games to keep his job, and in those nine games a lot of teenagers will help decide his fate. Such is the life of a college football coach.
We know now what was already assumed: that Willingham will have the remainder of this season to try to right the ship. Newly appointed athletic director Scott Woodward said Wednesday that he plans to evaluate the season when the season is over, then make a decision on Willingham.
That decision will become a no-brainer in a few weeks if the Huskies keep losing, but if -- and it's a big if -- this young team grows up in a hurry, this season may not be quite as dismal as it's looking right now.
"We all understand that we've played three games so far," said quarterback Jake Locker, another grizzled vet, er, sophomore. "We have nine left on our schedule, and by my math, if you end of 9-3 that's a pretty good season."
Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at For more on UW sports, check out the Huskies blog at /huskiesblog
Story tags » FootballHuskies Football

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