By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Bishop Sankey is polite, humble and calm under pressure — traits that undoubtedly come from growing up in a military household.
But to see him on Monday afternoon, after finding out that University of Washington teammate Jesse Callier had been sidelined with a season-ending knee injury that would leave Sankey as the starter for Saturday’s game at No. 3 LSU? The only way to describe Sankey on that day would be: chill.
“I’m pretty laid-back, for the most part,” Sankey said. “If I do get emotional, it would be before the game, not before (that).”
The sophomore from Spokane has shown unwavering resolve under any circumstances during his young life, whether it was the anger of a rival’s fan base, growing up with an Air Force father or getting his first collegiate start against one of the nation’s most feared defenses.
His unruffled demeanor has to come from father Chris, a tech sergeant at Fairchild Air Force Base. Bishop Sankey, the oldest of four siblings, said that growing up with a military father wasn’t as daunting as people might expect.
“It wasn’t too strict,” he said. “It was just having somebody to talk to, having a mentor and father figure to be around, to help me with football and everything else.”
Sankey’s resolve was tested during the months that followed his Feb. 2011 signing with UW, when fans of rival Washington State tore him apart on message boards after he spurned the Cougars. Sankey had given WSU an oral commitment after his sophomore year at Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep High School, and all indications were that he would become a Cougar.
The Huskies began to pursue him heavily around Dec. 2010, when UW recruit Brendan Bigelow, a prized running back from Fresno, announced he had decided to sign with Cal. Sankey ended up visiting UW and officially signed with the Huskies two months later.
People said negative things to Sankey about the switch when emotions were still running high, but that’s all behind him, he said Monday.
“A few people did (bad-mouth him), but that’s kind of passed now. I haven’t had anything negative said to me in awhile about that situation,” said Sankey, who was held out of the Apple Cup. It was the only game he missed last season, although head coach Steve Sarkisian downplayed the significance of that.
Since choosing UW, Sankey hasn’t looked back with any morsel of regret.
“I love my (UW) teammates,” he said. “I love my coaches. I love the whole situation.”
What made some people question Sankey’s UW choice at the time was the chasm in opportunity when it came to potential playing time. He could have competed for a starting job at WSU right out of the gates. At Washington, the Huskies had junior star Chris Polk with two more years of eligibility, Callier right behind him with three years left, returning senior Johri Fogerson and star freshman in Deontae Cooper, who was coming off knee surgery.
Since then, Polk took an early exit to the NFL, Fogerson transferred to Central Washington, Cooper suffered yet another season-ending knee injury and, during Saturday’s opener against San Diego State, Callier went down with a season-ending knee injury of his own.
That leaves just Sankey and a bunch of untested reserves to carry the load.
As Sarkisian said during his Monday press conference: “Obviously, we’re going to find out more about Bishop Sankey in a hurry.”
Sankey is excited for the opportunity.
“It’s unfortunate that Jesse did get hurt,” Sankey said. “I’m moved that the coaches did trust me enough to carry the load here in the next few games.”
Based on Saturday’s game against San Diego State, Sankey still has a lot to prove. He had 66 yards on 22 carries, most of which came after Callier got hurt. The pair was expected to split time as feature back heading into that game, but Sankey became the go-to runner midway through the first quarter.
His first extended action left some questions to be answered.
“I wish we would have blocked a little better for him,” Sarkisian said. “In turn, I wish he would have shown a little more patience running the ball. But I think that will come in time, getting the experience there.”
Sankey acknowledged that he has some things to work on, but he’s not worried about taking the needed steps to become the main option in UW’s running game.
“There are a lot of things that I could improve on to become a better back,” he said.
He hopes for a better showing Saturday, when the son of an Air Force sergeant will make his first collegiate start against LSU, which has one of the best defenses in college football.
“It means a lot,” Sankey said without blinking an eye or showing any sign of nerves. “They’re a great team, and we’re playing at a great stadium. So I’m excited to go down there.”