SEATTLE — The way Jordan Polk sees it, three things were working against him coming out of high school.
Stature, divided interests and Steve Prefontaine.
“Coming from Oregon, everybody thinks it’s a track town or a basketball town,” said Polk, a 5-foot-8 receiver on the University of Washington football team and a member of the school’s indoor track team. “Football’s not really big (in Portland).
“I don’t care what other people say. I know my ability; the coaches know my ability.”
Now in his second season at UW, Polk is hoping to get a chance to show his abilities as both a receiver and return man.
He’s part of a receiving corps that has, thus far in camp, been more about potential than production, and the diminutive Polk has found a way to stand out above his bigger teammates.
“He’s been doing a great job,” quarterback Jake Locker said earlier this week. “He’s really stepping up. He’s taken it upon himself to put himself in a good position to make plays.”
Polk was one of a dozen true freshmen to play at UW last season, but he was mainly used on special teams. While working with the No. 2 offense at the current camp, Polk seems to have done enough to garner playing time at the receiver position.
“I think you’ll see him quite a bit,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said Thursday. “He’s a dynamic player. He’s a kid who made a lot of plays in the spring, he came out and worked really hard in the summer, and he’s made a lot of plays this camp . I’m excited about him.”
With a new coaching staff and the opportunity to play his way into the crowded rotation at receiver, Polk spent a good part of his offseason getting a step ahead. He worked out twice a day and spent time catching passes from Locker and backup quarterback Ronnie Fouch on the practice field. Polk made sure to do whatever he could do to compete for playing time.
“Now I know what I have to do,” he said. “I know what I’ve got to do to be successful. In the offseason, I worked hard, and I’ve done what I was taught to do.”
On a receiving corps that returns its top three wideouts in terms of receptions — D’Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar — the Huskies’ receivers are trying to stick out under the eye of the new coaching staff.
“Everybody’s getting a chance to show what they can do,” said Polk, who is a distant cousin to Huskies running back Chris Polk. “When they get that opportunity to get in, they’ve got to make plays. That’s what’s going to separate everybody: making plays.”
After spending 2008 as the team’s top kickoff return man, Polk is hoping to make more plays with the offense this season. His speed and playmaking ability have teammates excited about the possibilities.
“The good thing about him is that he’s so dangerous when he gets the ball in his hands,” Locker said. “A lot of times, he can run a four-yard route and turn it into an 80-yard touchdown.”
Of course, Polk hardly looks the part. He’s built more like a kicker than a play-maker, and yet Polk has found a way to make it at the Division I level.
“He’s so tough and competitive,” receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty said. “He doesn’t know he’s only 160 pounds, and he plays accordingly. He plays with a big heart.”
Said Polk: “I think that’s what separates me from other guys. I play with my heart, and I’m a very emotional guy. I don’t let my emotions take over, but I play with emotion.”
Polk’s speed helps make up for any limitations in terms of stature. While he claims to have never run a 40-yard dash — the most common gauge of speed in football circles — Polk won an Oregon state title by running the 100 in 10.63 seconds as a high school senior. He ran a 6.93 in the 60-meter dash at the Husky Indoor Preview in January, thereby qualifying for the finals in that event.
“When it’s football time, I’m a football guy,” he said. “When it’s time for track, I run track. I can do multiple things. I can turn it on and turn it off. I know when to use my track speed and when to use my football speed. That’s the key right there.”
This time of year, the only running Polk cares to do is on a football field. And he hopes that this time, he’ll catch a few passes too.
By the looks of things, he’ll get plenty of chances.
“To have a guy with that kind of speed, who also has the hands to go with it, you’ve got a weapon on your hands,” Dougherty said. “He’s pretty special as far as that goes.”
Several Huskies are banged up right now, although none of the injuries appear to be serious. Running back Johri Fogerson (ankle) sat out most of Thursday’s practice, but Sarkisian said he could have played if it had been a game day. Also limited Thursday were starting fullback Paul Homer (hamstring) and starting center Ryan Tolar (foot). Defensive lineman Craig Noble (knee swelling), linebacker Matt Houston (unknown), safeties Jason Wells (Achilles) and Victor Aiyewa (head) and offensive linemen Terence Thomas (foot) and Morgan Rosborough (shoulder) sat out the session. … Two freshmen — fullback Tobias Togi and wide receiver James Johnson — are back practicing, while safety Greg Walker was wearing a red no-contact jersey Thursday to protect a sore elbow. Linebacker E.J. Savannah (shoulder) was back working with the No. 1 defense. … Freshman cornerback Desmond Trufant, whose brother Marcus plays for the Seahawks, practiced for the first time Thursday. He had been out while finishing a class to get eligible.