By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — If University of Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian could go back in time and pick any quarterback to lead his team this Saturday afternoon, he wouldn’t have to think long before making his choice.
Joe Montana, Sarkisian said, is hands-down the greatest of all time.
“Without a doubt,” the Huskies’ coach said this week.
Since the Hall of Famer won’t be eligible to play when the Huskies play at Oregon State on Saturday, Sarkisian will have to settle for a second-generation replacement.
Nick Montana, son of the legendary passer, is likely to make his debut as UW’s starting quarterback — or at least that’s what Sarkisian was saying Thursday.
One day after telling reporters that he would not name a starting quarterback for the OSU game, Sarkisian announced Thursday — first via Twitter, and then to reporters after an early-evening practice — that Montana would replace injured Keith Price as the starter.
“It just felt right,” Sarkisian told the media after Thursday’s practice. “I loved how Nick had looked the last couple of days. Keith’s not 100 percent, obviously. … I think he’ll be available in emergency status on Saturday. For our team, (starting Montana) is the right thing to do.”
Price sprained his left knee during the third quarter of Saturday’s loss to USC and has yet to practice this week. While Sarkisian had hoped to get him on the practice field Thursday, he mostly limped around on a brace while Montana and redshirting freshman Derrick Brown took the snaps.
“It’s tough to put a kid in there that hasn’t practiced all week,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t think it’s fair to Keith; I don’t think it’s fair to our football team.”
That leaves the Huskies’ fate in the hands of a redshirt freshman who has played in just four games during his UW career. While Montana has shown some flashes, it’s safe to say that he is still firmly hidden in his father’s legendary shadow.
When asked this week to compare the son to his Hall of Fame father, Sarkisian winced.
“I think they are both about 6-(foot-) 2, blonde hair, pretty lean guys,” he said.
“You’re talking about the greatest of all time,” he added about Joe Montana. “Geez, the poor guy (Nick) is just trying to play.”
The younger Montana, who has not been made available to reporters this week, has said in the past that his father’s legacy is a source of pride — but not something he feels the need to chase.
As Nick Montana told The Herald in August 2010: “It’s an honor to have him as my dad; I love him. I’m just trying to make a name for myself.”
Sarkisian has shown no hint of concern with his first-time starter, but he did admit Thursday evening that Montana likely would have some butterflies before Saturday’s game.
“That’s natural,” Sarkisian said. “I’m sure he’s going to have a few nerves. All competitors do because you love the opportunity to go compete. But one play, and you start playing.”
Sarkisian actually made his decision late Wednesday night, after watching tape of a rain-soaked practice on the field adjacent to Husky Stadium. He said he was so impressed with the way that Montana handled the elements that he called to anoint him the starter immediately after turning off the tape.
“I thought he’d thrown the ball about as good as I’ve seen a guy throw it in those elements,” Sarkisian said. “I was just really impressed with what he did.”
Joe Montana attended Thursday’s practice, along with Nick’s mother, Jennifer. Sarkisian said he hadn’t spoken with the Hall of Famer about the decision, but he acknowledged that Joe Montana might have had a bounce in his step.
“I think he’s just a proud dad,” Sarkisian said.
Defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu sat out Thursday’s practice with a sore ankle, but Sarkisian tried to downplay the injury by saying “he’ll play” against Oregon State on Saturday. For whatever it’s worth, Sarkisian has been known to be misleading about the injury status of players in days leading up to a game. … Sarkisian said he expects Price to be back on the practice field next week. The sophomore could be available should Montana suffer an injury Saturday, as the Huskies’ next two quarterbacks in line are current redshirts Brown and Thomas Vincent (King’s High School).