You’re never going to see Keishawn Bierria play for Washington again after Saturday, but the legacy he’s built should be felt for seasons to come.
Bierria is a touchstone. He is the gateway between an era of unfulfilled promise under Steve Sarkisian and a potential golden era with Chris Petersen. Every bit of information he’s learned over five years has been passed down to the team’s younger players like sophomore safety Taylor Rapp and junior linebackers Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett.
UW’s young players are learning a lesson from Bierria this week leading up the Saturday showdown with No. 9 Penn State (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl. Instead of making the final game of his college career about him, Bierria would rather make it about those who will carry on after he’s graduated.
“It’s kind of hit me but at the end of the day, I’m always going to be here for my brothers,” Bierria said. “I’m just trying to be there for them. These last few weeks, these last few days, I’ve been trying to slow myself down and understand where I’m at right now and make the best of the moment.”
So much has changed from when Bierria arrived in 2013 through now.
The Huskies were breaking into the conversation of being a Top 25 team when Sarkisian left for USC. In came Petersen, his staff and a new way of doing things.
He was a composite three-star prospect who took a redshirt during the 2013 campaign, his first season at UW.
Bierria became something of a blueprint for UW’s new regime when it came to developing players. He was trusted in his first full season to play all 14 games. Bierria earned four starts and was named a captain against rival Oregon.
From there, he’d become a three-year starter and a building block for one of the best defenses in college football.
“He’s a unique guy that he’s such a good player and he’s always working to get better himself,” Petersen said. “It’s nice to watch his game continue to grow and become a real detailed player.
“The best thing that he does is his presence on the field and in the locker room with the guys.”
Burr-Kirven said Bierria’s ability to lead is why he’s a two-time winner of the Guy Flaherty Most Inspirational Award.
Bierria is only the fifth player in program history to win the award twice.
“I think ever since I got here, he’s always been a leader,” Burr-Kirven said. “You hear his voice no matter if its winter workouts or during the game. He’s always barking and telling guys we have to keep going, we have to keep pushing.
“It’s a testament to the fact that he’s a great player on the field but he’s been such a mentor to so many guys on this team.”
Go through every possible achievement and Bierria’s done it.
The past two seasons have seen him be named to the second-team All-Pac 12 team and he also won a team academic achievement award this year.
He’s won a Pac-12 championship and even reached the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Attaining those sort of credentials is another reason why Bierria is so respected by his teammates. Rapp said he learned a lot but the biggest lesson he took from Bierria was how to be a leader.
“I had to emerge as a leader and step up as a leader. Kevin (King), Sidney (Jones) and Budda (Baker) were all leaders in the secondary” said Rapp, of the three defensive backs who all became second-round NFL draft picks. “I had to come up and step up as a leader. He taught me by example how to come a leader.”
Petersen said Bierria possesses the “it factor” that allows him to be a leader who, at the same time, can be selfless for the benefit of others.
UW returns several defensive starters for next season including Bartlett and Burr-Kirven at linebacker. Getting another linebacker to fill Bierria’s spot on the field shouldn’t be difficult.
The real challenge will be seeing who takes over Bierria’s role as the team’s emotional leader.
“He’s been here a long time and he’s one of those guys where its like, ‘Wow. Where did this go? Keishawn’s actually going to be done,’” Petersen said. “You’re here for a long time and it just goes so fast. I’m excited for him to play this game.”