SEATTLE — Bishop Sankey is naturally quiet and reserved, which carries over to everything from talking to the media to simply tossing the ball to the nearest official after he scores a touchdown.
So it’s not surprising that all the attention Washington’s star running back has received this year — both because of uplifting stories about his family and for his play on the field — feels a bit awkward. It’s doesn’t suit Sankey to be self-congratulatory.
“I’m just trying to get ready for each game and try and be productive each week to help the team out,” Sankey said.
By the end of this season, Sankey may own the Washington record books. In the long lineage of Huskies running backs, from Hugh McElhenny to Napoleon Kaufman, Sankey is on pace to trump them all.
Sankey ranks No. 3 in the country averaging 145 yards per game. With three regular-season games remaining, Sankey needs just 390 yards to better Corey Dillon’s school record of 1,695 yards rushing set in the 1996 season. Dillon set his mark in 12 games. With the Huskies already bowl eligible, Sankey has a chance at a 13th game that could help him establish a record likely to stand for quite some time.
“If it happens, it happens. It’s not something I’ve really been focusing on. I’ve just been trying to prepare each week and get better as a player,” Sankey said. “If that’s the case, it’ll take care of itself.”
If Sankey can get to Dillon’s record, it’ll add to an already memorable junior season. He’s set a career high in yards rushing in a game two times, including 241 yards rushing against California that might have approached McElhenny’s 1950 school record of 296 yards if not for the Huskies holding such a big lead.
Sankey has benefited from the Huskies’ new up-tempo offense, which has led to the team running more plays and more chances for Sankey to carry the load. He also has a chance at setting the school mark for career rushing touchdowns by the end of his junior season.
Sankey’s also missed chances to add to his rushing load because of blowouts against Idaho State, California and Colorado where he was pulled early to give his backups some experience. And now he gets a shot at No. 13 UCLA on Friday after the Bruins allowed 149 yards last week to Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey.
“This guy, he’s a glider, and he’s tough to tackle. He’s a really good football player,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said, referring to Sankey. “You’re talking about two of the very best backs in the nation, maybe the two best in the nation, back-to-back. It’s really a challenge.”
Secondary to Sankey’s on-field production has been the off-field story of his grandfather Albert getting to see his grandson play in college for the first time following a cornea transplant in late September. Albert Sankey became a cult figure among Washington fans after seeing Bishop play for the first time at Stanford on Oct. 5, when the Huskies nearly upset the Cardinal and a positive play for Washington seemed to happen every time the elder Sankey was shown on the television broadcast.
“If you had walked in my shoes, that’s a miracle in itself that a man was blind for five years and then able to see his grandson,” Albert Sankey said in a phone interview. “It’s a humbling feeling. It’s a joyful feeling.”
Albert Sankey was a regular in his grandson’s football life, often traveling from Alabama to where Bishop was living to watch him play youth football. When he got to high school and Albert Sankey’s vision began to fail, other parents in the stands would verbally relay what was happening on the field during Bishop’s games.
He knew his grandson was a very good running back, but seeing him in person brought a new appreciation.
“He’s gotten better. He’s focused on the game,” Albert Sankey said. “I like to say he turned into the type of player I expected him to be.”