SEATTLE — Chris Izbicki has lost more than just a few pounds since the end of the last University of Washington football season. He also shed the baggage.
The Huskies’ sophomore tight end is leaner, meaner and cleaner than he was as a second-year freshman last fall. Izbicki has quit drinking, has a new coaching staff and feels like he’s got a new lease on life.
“It’s like a new life, a whole new opportunity in my career,” said Izbicki, who has gone from 249 pounds to 234 since the spring. “I welcome it with open arms, and I’m super excited for the opportunity.”
Of all the positions that have gotten a clean slate from the Huskies’ new coaching staff, the tight ends may have benefited the most. Both Izbicki and Kavario Middleton fell into the canyon of forgotten players under the old coaching staff, and now they look like big pieces to the puzzle that is new coach Steve Sarkisian’s offense.
Izbicki said he feels like he’s got the most to prove.
A blue-chip recruit out of Kirkland’s Lake Washington High School in 2006, Izbicki arrived at UW with huge expectations. After redshirting as a freshman, he found himself in the coaching staff’s doghouse one year ago when he was charged with two alcohol-related misdemeanors while attending a concert at White River Amphitheater. He didn’t play a single snap in 2008 and is still waiting to make his official debut in a college game.
Looking back on it, the 20-year-old Izbicki said the White River incident changed his life for the better. He hasn’t had a drink in more than a year and said his new healthy lifestyle is a big reason why he was able to shed 15 pounds.
“I put the whole drinking thing behind me, and now I’m looking forward to concentrating on football,” said Izbicki, who said he hasn’t had an alcoholic beverage since attending the KUBE 93 Summer Jam at White River on July 20, 2008. “That’s why it was a whole maturing process. Last year’s experience really helped me to mature.”
While Izbicki was never told upfront that his arrest was the reason for the year-long benching, he doesn’t need anyone to spell it out for him.
“It was a punishment. I’m not going to lie, it was,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “I tried to do whatever I could to get back on the field, but it just never worked out for me.”
Izbicki went on to describe the experience as a “miserable” one.
“It really kind of put me to the point where I was struggling to still be in love with football,” he said. “Looking back on it now, it helped me mature and become a better football player. It was definitely one of the hardest seasons of my life, and I’m definitely looking forward to this season.”
The impetus behind Middleton’s lack of playing time in 2008 was less obvious. As a true freshman, he started the first two games of the year and caught eight passes. But his opportunities dwindled, and Middleton finished the season with just 12 receptions for 82 yards.
“I wouldn’t know,” he said Tuesday when asked what happened to his playing time during the final weeks of the 2008 season. “It wasn’t on me. I busted my butt to do what I could do.”
Like his teammate and fellow tight end, Middleton is looking forward to his new lease on life under a new coaching staff.
“It’s a fresh start,” he said. “That’s how I’m looking at it. Last year was last year, and now I’m getting the opportunity to show what I can do.”
Sarkisian already has been impressed with what he’s seen, not only from Izbicki and Middleton but also from junior-college transfer Dorson Boyce. Sarkisian said that Izbicki’s spot atop the depth chart is being challenged, which will help him in the long run.
The former USC assistant also knows how important tight ends are to his system.
“We don’t want to be a team that lines up in three and four wides every time,” he said. “We like to have multiple tight ends on the field because of the run threat, but to have the ability to be able to still throw the ball to those guys is critical to our system.”
Izbicki knows there will be plenty of opportunities in the passing game. And this year, he promises to be ready.
“Single tight end, double tight end, whatever,” he said. “It’s the perfect situation for me.”
Not that the lighter, cleaner Izbicki has shed everything from the end of last season. In fact, the massive tight end has added one thing.
“I kind of have a chip on my shoulder because of that whole experience,” he said. “I just couldn’t wait to get back at it and get back on the field again.”
Tuesday’s practice was extended by one play after the offense and defense had each “won” 10 plays. Cornerback Justin Glenn, a redshirt freshman from Kamiak High School, finished the session in style by breaking up a pass to Jermaine Kearse to give the defense bragging rights for the night. … Cornerback Dominique Gaisie did not practice because he’s trying to clear up an academic issue. Sarkisian said he hopes to have Gaisie back later this week. … Only about 100 fans attended Tuesday’s open practice, but Sarkisian shrugged off the small turnout by pointing out that it was a weekday afternoon. “I’m anticipating our Saturdays will get a pretty decent crowd,” he said. “That’s the least of my worries right now.” … The Huskies will don shoulder pads for the first time this afternoon. On Saturday, they’ll wear full pads.