SEATTLE – If nothing else, Roy Lewis and Chris Handy bring plenty of enthusiasm to the University of Washington defensive backfield.
Sitting around for a year builds up a certain amount of eagerness.
Lewis and Handy have both played plenty of NCAA Division I football in the Western Athletic Conference. In fact, they’ve even played against each other. Now, both hope to be part of the answer to the Huskies’ most pressing need on defense – filling the two cornerback spots left vacated by 2004 starters Derrick Johnson and Sam Cunningham.
“It puts pressure on us this year, but things will be OK,” Lewis said. “I thrive under pressure, so I’m ready to accept the challenge.”
Of the five players competing at cornerback, four did not play for Washington last year. The only one who did, junior Matt Fountaine, played in all 11 games, starting two, but was used mostly as a nickleback. Junior Kim Taylor didn’t play in any games last season after moving from safety. Josh Okoebor transferred from Valley (Calif.) Community College and went through spring drills in 2004 but didn’t play during the season.
But most of the attention will be paid to Lewis and Handy. Lewis, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, redshirted last season after transferring from San Jose State. Handy, a 5-11 junior, started at Nevada for two years before attending Pasadena CC last year, sitting out the football season.
Both said not being able to play last season (Lewis did participate on the UW scout team) was difficult.
“It was real tough sitting back knowing I couldn’t help the team,” Lewis said. “I just played my role on the scout team to try to make my teammates better.”
“All I could do was watch TV on Saturdays,” Handy said. “It was very hard to stay motivated and stay in shape. I tried, but I still didn’t do enough.”
Handy has played at Husky Stadium before. At Nevada in 2003, he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the Wolf Pack’s 28-17 victory over Washington. In two years at Nevada, Handy started 14 games, making 78 tackles. He was dismissed from the Wolf Pack for his role in a fight. Handy pled guilty to battery charges. After going to Pasadena, he committed to join his former Nevada coach, Washington linebackers coach Chris Tormey, at Washington.
“It was the biggest mistake of my life,” Handy said. “I wish I could take back what I did. That’s not who I am and it’s something that would never happen again. But getting here, getting a fresh start, is exciting.”
As a freshman at San Jose State in 2003, Lewis played in 10 games, starting five and making 42 tackles, including 14 against Nevada. But a coaching change led Lewis to decide to transfer. With his former high school teammate Dashon Goldson and his cousin Matt Hemphill already at Washington, Lewis decided to continue his career in Seattle.
“It was a good fit for me,” Lewis said. “I knew some people here. I’d been recruited by Washington out of high school. I knew this was a place that would help me reach my goal of playing at the next level.”
Both players realize that when people look at the Washington defense, most of the focus is on the experienced front seven while questions surround the secondary, particularly the cornerback spots.
“Nobody wants to be looked at as a weakness,” Handy said. “We want people to look at us and worry about throwing because they know we’re back there.”
Lewis said there is a greater emphasis on being an attacking, aggressive defense that will focus on creating more turnovers. Last year, the Huskies had 10 interceptions but just three from their corners (two by Cunningham, one by Fountaine). Both players intend to provide a boost in that category and in turn, hopefully improve Washington’s win total, whether they win a starting job or not.
“I’m just ready to contribute to the team,” Lewis said. “A starter is just the person who is on the field at the beginning. I’m here to have a big contribution to the team and I can do that as a starter or coming off the bench.”
“The only reason I’d be disappointed not to start would be because I didn’t do enough to start,” Handy added. “I wouldn’t be disappointed if someone just beat me out. But I came here to start, I didn’t come here to sit and watch and ease into it. I’m ready to help this team right now.”