A school-record 14 true freshmen have played for the University of Washington football team this season. Seven of them have started at least one game, and defensive tackle Sione Poto'ae is likely to become the eighth Saturday afternoon against Stanford.
But the 27-member recruiting class and newest members of the Huskies' football program didn't come to UW to set freshman records. They know full well that their legacy will be decided by the numbers of wins. And maybe even more than that.
“We want to win a Rose Bowl,” freshman running back Jesse Callier said of the long-term goal of this year's freshmen. “That's definitely a dream (of the freshman class).”
If nothing else, the 2010 freshmen are certainly off to a good start. The first full class of coach Steve Sarkisian's era has already set records for participation and established itself as immediate contributors. And it's happened despite the fact that three of the most high-profile members of the class — quarterback Nick Montana, defensive end Josh Shirley and injured running back Deontae Cooper — are in line to redshirt.
Offensive linemen Erik Kohler and Colin Porter have each started two games, while Callier, defensive end Hau'oli Jamora and linebackers Garret Gilliland and Princeton Fuimaono have started once this season. Safety Sean Parker is a key part of the nickel unit. And wide receiver Kevin Smith was the team's primary kickoff return man before breaking a thumb.
What makes the numbers even more impressive is the fact that the Huskies have remained competitive despite their youth. The 2008 team had nine different true freshmen start at some point in the season, but the Huskies failed to win a single game that year.
“I think we've done well as a group,” Callier said, “and that's only going to help this team in the future.”
Callier has probably been the most productive member of his class, even though his only start came as part of a two-tailback backfield two weeks ago.
The freshman from Los Angeles has been so impressive since enrolling early last spring that the coaching staff has found some creative ways to get him onto the field. He's lined up wide, taken snaps in the Wildcat formation and even played alongside starter Chris Polk at times.
“It's been fun and exciting,” said Callier, who has rushed for 249 yards and caught 12 passes in his first season at UW. “The only exception is that I want to win more. But other than that, it's been fun and exciting.”
Injuries to Cooper and junior Johri Fogerson opened the door for more playing time for Callier, and he has taken the chance and run with it. Injuries also forced Gilliland (for Cort Dennison against Nebraska), Fuimaono (for Vince Aiyewa against Arizona) and Jamora (for Talia Crichton against Arizona) into the lineup as well.
Kohler and Porter have earned their shots while the coaches continue trying to find the right mix on the offensive line, and this week they expect to become the first freshman duo to ever start a game together at UW.
“Those two guys are really good football players,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “We talk all the time that age doesn't mean you're a better player; it doesn't entitle you to anything. Every time you go out and play, no matter what grade you're in, you have an opportunity to compete and win a job.”
Now, with senior Cameron Elisara battling a recurrence of his shoulder stinger, the door has been opened for Poto'ae to step into the lineup.
UW's defense has been particularly open to true freshmen, based in large part on the Huskies' inability to find playmakers on that side of the ball.
“These guys are going to be good players, but we need them right now, unfortunately,” defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “... In a perfect world, you would like them all to redshirt and not have to go through the stress of (the freshmen) having to play well; that's hard for an 18-year-old. So hopefully in the future we don't have to ask all these guys to do it. But if they are good players, and they are ready to do it and they can do it, they will play.''
Rather than carry any animosity about losing playing time, the veteran Huskies have taken their younger counterparts under their collective wings in hopes of bringing them up to speed as quickly as possible.
Senior safety Nate Williams, whose starting job will probably go to Parker next season, is looking at his role as mentor as one that will benefit the program down the line.
“I'm just trying to take care of the little guy as much as I can while I'm here,” said Williams, who plays up closer to the line in nickel situations while Parker helps man the defensive backfield. “I'm just trying to teach him everything that I know and leave him with a lot of great stuff, so when I'm not here he can keep whatever I leave. Then he'll eventually hand it off to another guy. We're just trying to keep this thing rolling.”
Junior linebacker Dennison has been particularly impressed with the way the freshmen have checked their egos and opened their ears.
“I'm really proud of them,” Dennison said. “They came in here with all eagerness and willingness to learn, and their competitiveness and willingness to get better has definitely carried over from fall camp until now. And that's why they're on the field.”
The first full class of the Sarkisian era is planning on staying on the field for a long time, and hoping to put up more meaningful numbers along the way. And if all goes according to plan, the Huskies won't need as many freshmen to make immediate contributions in the future.
“I didn't try to put a number on how many would or wouldn't play,” Sarkisian said of this year's freshman class. “As it worked out, we've gotten a number that's probably too high for where we want to be as a program. Fourteen true freshmen playing is a lot. Hopefully, as we grow as a program, that number starts to dwindle a lot to where we're playing single digits as freshmen.”
Quarterback Jake Locker split the reps with backup Keith Price on Wednesday, and afterward Sarkisian said the UW starter looked “really good. It was his best Wednesday in three weeks.” Locker, who is nursing sore ribs, is expected to start Saturday's game against Stanford. ... Wide receiver Devin Aguilar (hip) also looked good at practice and could start Saturday. ... Tight end Chris Izbicki sprained his foot Wednesday, and his status for the game is up in the air. ... Safety Zach Beebe, a freshman from Sultan, is one of several walk-ons who have been added to the roster since the season started.
More Sports Headlines
Rams beat Seahawks 34-31 in overtime in season opener 1:48 p.m. Rodgers throws 3 TD passes, Packers beat Bears 31-23 1:35 p.m. Smith's 3 touchdown passes lead Chiefs to 27-20 win over Texans 1:35 p.m. Bills bully Colts to win 27-14 in Rex Ryan's Buffalo debut 1:26 p.m. Norman returns interception for TD, Panthers beat Jaguars 20-9 1:26 p.m. Landry returns punt for TD, Dolphins beat Redskins 17-10 1:16 p.m. Fitzpatrick, Ivory lead Jets to 31-10 win over Browns 1:16 p.m. History not on side of Seahawks
Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.