Message to Huskies: ‘One of the best times you have as a player'
Players from UW's last bowl game share their experiences and advice to this year's Holiday Bowl-bound UW team
Heroes can fade off into the sunset. Promising careers can come and go, while others can blossom in new arenas. Lives can be abruptly taken away.
And football programs can burn down and rise from the ashes.
Since the last time the University of Washington football team went to a bowl game, almost eight full years have passed. None of the current Huskies have been a part of the postseason, and they can't possibly know what they're about to experience when the team departs for San Diego later this week for the Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl.
The Huskies' wide-eyed inexperience was best reflected by the words of freshman offensive lineman Colin Porter, a Bothell native who said on Friday night: “I've never been to San Diego. I don't even know what the place looks like.”
The current Huskies are in for a whole new experience over the next 11 days. And if those who came before them have any words of advice, they would be these: Enjoy the experience, because you never know …
“Honestly, I think it's one of the best times you have as a player,” said Zach Tuiasosopo, a former UW fullback who now lives in Issaquah with his wife and two children. “At a bowl game, it's not your typical weekly preparation, so you have time to spend with the players. You really bond as a team.”
Tuiasosopo was part of the last bowl team at UW. The 2002 Huskies went to the Sun Bowl and had the world in front of them. Quarterback Cody Pickett was breaking school records, wide receiver Reggie Williams appeared to be on the verge of NFL stardom, an exciting young cornerback was juggling sports and a soft-spoken linebacker with crystal eyes named Marquis Cooper was harboring his own dreams of playing professional football.
Eight years later, Pickett has all but disappeared, having played two-plus seasons in the NFL, another three in Canada and — whether it be intentional or not — distanced himself from the UW program.
Williams is already out of the NFL after following his selection as the ninth overall pick in the 2004 draft with five seasons made up of unfulfilled potential and off-the-field problems.
The young cornerback, Nate Robinson, eventually gave up football and blossomed into an NBA star.
And Cooper met the most tragic destiny of all. After spending parts of five seasons in the NFL, the 26-year old disappeared and was believed to have drowned, along with two friends, when their fishing boat capsized off the coast of Florida in 2009.
Tuiasosopo, a former fullback whose brother Marques was one of the greatest quarterbacks in UW history, summed up the past eight years in a single word.
“Change,” he said. “Change is one of those things that's going to happen. It never pans out like you thought it would.
“The thing with Marquis was very tragic. I was very close to him and his family, and I still can't believe it. But, unfortunately, that's how life is. Everyone grows through trials and tribulations.”
Seven starters from that 2002 bowl team went on to get drafted. Two others — cornerback Roc Alexander and running back Rich Alexis — also played parts of three seasons in the NFL, while Robinson was a first-round pick in the NBA draft.
Since that group, just four UW players have been selected in NFL drafts — and that says a lot about where the program has gone since the 2002 Sun Bowl.
The most impressive success story of the past eight years may well be the 2010 Huskies. Two years after hitting a program low with an 0-12 season, UW is back in the postseason and ready for a rematch with Nebraska.
On paper, the Cornhuskers seem to have all the advantages — Nebraska beat the Huskies 56-21 in late September — and there's also a marked difference in terms of bowl experience. Nebraska has played in bowls in each of the past two seasons, including a 33-0 pounding of Arizona in last year's Holiday Bowl.
For UW's current players, the whole bowl scene will be an all new experience. So they'll have to rely on the advice of others.
“There is nothing more exciting than going to your first bowl game. I remember mine,” said Marques Tuiasosopo, a current UW assistant strength coach who started in the 1999 Holiday Bowl and led the Huskies to a Rose Bowl victory the following year. “These guys will be fired up at practice, fired up getting down there (to San Diego).”
Former Husky Elliot Silvers, who was on five teams that went to bowl games during the late 1990s and earlier this century, said the week leading up to the game has plenty of distractions but will also be among the memories that these players will carry for years.
“In college football, it's all about the games, but the experience you share with your teammates along the way is what will last forever,” he said. “Fifteen years later, no one is going to remember the one veer option play you ran to score a touchdown. They're going to remember the events leading up to the game.”
Plenty of former Huskies have memories of bowl weeks over the years, as this is one of the rare UW teams that brings no experience to the postseason. The last time this program went seven consecutive years without a bowl appearance was in the early 1970s, when the Huskies were making the coaching transition from Jim Owens to Don James.
Now the 2010 Huskies can add themselves to the long list of bowl teams at UW. And as of this week, they still don't really know what to expect.
“We're excited for it. We're ready for it,” senior linebacker Mason Foster said. “We've never been to a bowl before, so we're definitely looking forward to hanging out together in San Diego. And I'm definitely looking forward to these last few weeks hanging out with my brothers.”
That's the part that can never be taken away. Because, as Zach Tuiasosopo aptly said last week: “You never know how things are going to work out.”
Defensive end Talia Crichton said he “feels a little bit of pain” in his injured knee but that he expects to play against Nebraska. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt is still waiting to see how Crichton's injury holds up in the coming days. … Defensive tackle Chris Robinson sat out Saturday's practice because of knee swelling, leaving UW with only three healthy non-redshirts at the position.
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