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Countdown set to begin for Huskies

Starting Monday, their new coach has 29 practices to get them ready for LSU

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By Scott M. Johnson
Herald Writer
  • Steve

    Steve Sarkisian

SEATTLE — If the University of Washington’s coaching staff had its way, spring football practices would have carried over into summer, and summer into fall. Two-a-days, every day, to get the Huskies ready for the 2009 season. Rome was not built in a day, and the UW football program will not be rebuilt in a matter of weeks.
But NCAA regulations have left the Huskies with a limited number of practice opportunities, and so on Monday the UW football team will participate in the first of 29 practices that lead up to the Sept. 5 opener against LSU.
On paper, that game looks like a massacre at Montlake, meaning the first objective of Steve Sarkisian’s staff is to turn the Huskies into a competitive football team in less than a month. That’s a little like asking an incoming freshman to ace the bar exam after four weeks of pre-law classes.
And yet Sarkisian, a former USC assistant who is in his first year as a head coach at any level, welcomes the challenge.
“I don’t think it’s going to take us very long. We’re going to become a great football team,” he said Friday, repeating the mantra that the 35-year-old coach started preaching when he was hired eight months ago. “Whether that means Game 1, Game 5, Game 12, Game 13, two seasons or three seasons, I don’t know when that’s going to occur. But it’s not going to take very long, I know that.”
Sarkisian just wishes he had a little more time before the first game. After inheriting an 0-12 football team that was already deep into recruiting when he arrived, Sarkisian has been trying to change the mindset of a football program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2002. And he’s cramming to get it done.
“We’re not near the ceiling, but we have to get it done,” Sarkisian said. “We have to coach and teach really well. It’s crazy to think, for me, that we’re going to practice Aug. 10, and none of us have been on the practice field coaching football since April 25. It’s a long time in between.”
To get a feel for just how big a chore the coaching staff has in front of it, one need look no further than new defensive coordinator Nick Holt’s Friday comments. When asked whether there were any advantages to having nine returning defensive starters from a winless team, Holt was pretty blunt in his answer.
“That’s no advantage whatsoever, being 0-12. That means they’re terrible,” he said. “But to answer the question, the guys that did play (last season) have been in a Division I football stadium, they’ve played in front of 70,000 people, they’ve been booed and had water thrown on them. They’ve been in the fire. Have they done well? Obviously not.”
Turning that group into winners, or even a group that can compete against some of the nation’s better teams, is still quite a project. And the Huskies have just 29 days to get it done.
“I thought as we grew in spring ball, we started to get close to where we needed to be,” Sarkisian said Friday. “And then, unfortunately, the NCAA only gave us 15 practices so we had to stop. The natural thought is that we have to take a little bit of a step back here. But the goal is to maximize that time.”
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said patience might not be the Huskies’ best virtue, come Monday.
“The expectation has to be that this is Practice 16 for us, not Practice 1 of fall camp,” Nussmeier said. “We have to build off what we did in the spring.”
The new-look Huskies have one camp behind them, and now they’re ready to begin the most important one of the new era.
“As much as I’d like to say I know this football team, I’ve only been on that practice field with them 15 times,” Sarkisian said. “I’m really trying to go in with an open mind.”
Holt is also trying to keep an open mind, saying that he’s turned the page on last season. But he can’t deny the challenge in front of him, and he can’t wait to get started.
“It’s just exciting to go back to work,” he said.
Story tags » FootballCollege FootballHuskies Football

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