By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — Keith Price should be feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. He should be heading into his senior season knowing the University of Washington’s 2013 season will be in many ways defined by his ability to bounce back from a disappointing 2012 season.
But if the Huskies quarterback is stressed with his team’s season opener less than a week away, well then we should all be so lucky to be under such pressure.
Lounging in cushy chair, comfortable as can be both in attire — T-shirt, gym shorts and sandals — and with his surroundings, a gathering of media that wants to know how he’ll improve upon a rough junior season, Price is at ease, giving frank and thoughtful answers, flashing that Keith Price grin, even laughing when a reporter notes that opponents scored 60 points off of his turnovers last season.
“We coming hard today,” Price said with a chuckle. “I have to protect the ball better. It’s been a real point of emphasis through spring ball, through fall camp — checking the ball down, trusting the guys around me and not trying to force the ball to my playmakers. We have enough playmakers to win games, so I just have to be smart with my decisions.”
Price may not let outside pressure get to him, but make no mistake about it, he knows he can’t be the same player he was in 2012 if the Huskies are finally going to take a step forward after three straight 7-6 campaigns. Following a breakout 2011 season in which he threw for 3,063 yards, completed 66.9 percent of his passes and threw for 33 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, Price saw his production drop last year, completing 60.9 percent of his pass attempts for 2,726 yards, 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
With Steve Sarkisian cranking up the tempo on his offense this year, more will be on Price’s plate than ever, and he’s ready — and yes, relaxed — with Boise State coming up on Saturday.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” he said. “I know the way I’m expected to play. I expect a lot out of myself; I don’t need other people telling me I need to play better. I expect a lot out of myself, so hopefully I can get back to that.”
While his head coach comes across as a bit on edge, saying, “Come on, dude” to a reporter who has the nerve to ask whether his star tight end, Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be disciplined for the opener now that the opener is less than a week away, Price is as cool as can be as the season that will define his Husky tenure rapidly approaches. With a big senior year, Price can not only leave his mark in the UW record books — he’s already one of the most prolific passers in school history — he can also be the quarterback who helps lead the Huskies back to national relevance. If he struggles again, however; if the offensive line once again has Price running for his life and taking a weekly beating, then another mediocre season seems the most likely scenario. Yet even though he’s well aware of all of that, Price isn’t letting it get to him. Instead, he’s determined to put in the work necessary to make sure last year’s struggles remain in the past.
“I did some serious soul searching,” Price said. “Just getting back to the fundamentals, what I do best. Make sure I clean up some things as far as my footwork, as far as me just distributing the ball better. I think accuracy is one of my strong points, and I have to get back to that.”
The good news for the Huskies is that there are plenty of reasons to believe Price will indeed be better, from his improved health — “I feel awesome,” he said — to the added weapons on offense like freshmen wide receivers John Ross and Damore’ea Stringfellow, to what should be a more dependable line, to what he has shown his coaches and teammates ever since the Huskies ended last season with two crushing losses to Washington State and Boise State.
“I think Keith’s going to go out and play really good football,” Sarkisian said. “Nothing I’ve seen through spring ball and through training camp appears to me to be a guy playing under pressure. I think there’s the natural butterflies we all get when we go to perform, and if you don’t get ‘em, then check your pulse. … But that’s part of being a competitor. I think the one thing for Keith is to quiet things down around him, focus on his job and play the football he’s capable of playing. When he does, he’ll be great. And that’s what I expect him to be.”
On both sides of the ball, the Huskies have faith in their senior leader.
“We have complete 100 percent confidence Keith Price and his abilities,” said running back Bishop Sankey.
Added safety Sean Parker: “His poise rubs off on the offense. He keeps everybody in line. He’s like the point guard, he runs the offense. As long as he’s going, the offense rolls with him.
So yeah, Price’s coach, his teammates, and Husky fans everywhere expect the quarterback to be better. He gets that.
“I understand that I need to perform at a very high level, so I’m going to do whatever it takes,” Price said.
But don’t expect Price to cave under that pressure, or to get distracted by the prospect of opening a new stadium on Saturday night against a ranked opponent. He’s just focused on the task at hand.
“I’ve got a lot of things on my plate right now,” he said, “so I’m really not too worried about anything else but Boise.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.