By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Keith Heyward watches the way Will Shamburger approaches a team meeting, and he can’t help but make sure Washington’s younger players watch him, too.
Shamburger, a fifth-year senior safety, comes to these meetings equipped with pen and paper.
“I tell the freshmen, ‘look at him, man,’” said Heyward, UW’s second-year defensive backs coach. “He’s a 5th-year senior that’s played a lot of ball, and he’s still taking notes.”
If Shamburger’s teammates truly do learn from him, they aren’t the only ones. The 6-foot, 192-pound safety from Compton, Calif., spends part of his week, along with teammate and longtime friend Keith Price, helping elementary school students in a P.E. class at Greenlake Elementary.
Sometimes it’s kickball. Other days, soccer.
“Today we’re doing basketball,” Shamburger said with no lack of enthusiasm after Tuesday’s practice in the Dempsey Indoor practice facility.
With a 4-2 record at the season’s halfway point, UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday that he addressed his team earlier in the day about the need to begin the second half of the season the same way they endeavor to begin the second half of each game — with a metaphorical touchdown.
That desire might not resonate within any player as much as it does with Shamburger, who signed with Washington after the Huskies finished 0-12 during the disastrous season of 2008.
He made that decision, he said, in part because Sarkisian extended a scholarship offer after Shamburger tore his ACL playing basketball, while many other schools shied away.
He spent most of his career as a backup, but has started each game this season at safety, and is one of a handful of defensive starters who play special teams, too.
So the final six games of Shamburger’s career — in the regular season, anyway — are upon him, though he says his goals are no different than anyone else on the team, senior or not.
“I just want victories,” he said.
And: “I want to be part of the legacy where I came to the program with coach Sark and we changed the program. The whole collective team became a family. That’s where the bottom line comes down to, having a family, someone who you know has your back. I feel like I want to leave a legacy of being a family.”
First, he and the Huskies just want to beat Arizona State, which enters Saturday’s 3 p.m. matchup in Tempe with a 7-game winning streak against Washington.
It’s the second week in a row the Huskies play someone they haven’t defeated during Sarkisian’s tenure at Washington — and, by proxy, Shamburger’s. Oregon extended its series winning streak over UW to 10 last week.
And Washington’s secondary took the brunt of that defeat, yielding 366 passing yards to Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, and joining in UW’s team-wide effort that allowed Mariota to scramble around for another 88 yards rushing.
“We got aligned, for the most part,” Heyward said. “There were a couple snaps where we did not get aligned, but it just came down to executing our assignments. That’s where we had our breakdowns, was just executing the assignments.”
Similar breakdowns could again be costly this week against dual-threat ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, who isn’t as fast as Mariota or as accurate of a passer, but can still do both effectively enough to give a defense fits.
So that is the focus this week of Shamburger and the rest of UW’s defense. As for the future, he wants to play in the NFL, but acknowledges that a backup plan is always necessary.
The latter could involve more of what he’s doing at Greenlake.
“After college and stuff like that, I’d like to work with kids and have a youth program,” Shamburger said. “Teach them the rules of life.”
Rule 1: Take plenty of notes during meetings.