SEATTLE — Chris Polk plans on spending his ride to Autzen Stadium in the back of the bus.
It’s close to the bathroom there. Fewer teammates to see him regurgitate that day’s lunch.
“I can’t help it, it just comes out,” said Polk, a freshman tailback who will start for Washington in its season opener at Oregon. “It just pops up anywhere, sometimes it’s on the field. In the spring game it was on the sideline. It just pops up randomly, I really can’t control it. It just comes out.”
Polk has apparently vomited his way through a so-far illustrious football career, starting this nervous habit as a six-year-old.
“I was playing with 10-year-olds,” he explains. “I never played with people my age.”
He won’t start playing against athletes his own age on Saturday. Against Oregon, the 18-year-old Polk will become the first true freshman to start an opener at tailback for the Huskies, and the first true freshman tailback Tyrone Willingham can ever recall starting.
Polk admits that all of this has him a bit nervous.
“I was nervous during the spring game, because that crowd was huge, but the crowd Saturday night is going to be 10 times as big,” he said. “I’m nervous right now, I’m already feeling it. I’m just going to have to get over it and start playing.”
That could mean bad things for the Autzen Stadium turf.
“I might even throw up on the field,” he said. “I might. I hope they don’t see it though. Maybe I’ll have a little bag in my pocket.”
Despite a strong spring playing slotback — Polk graduated early from high school in order to participate in spring football — and a fall camp of playing with the first-team offense, Polk said he wasn’t expecting the start.
“It was a real surprise to me,” said Polk. “I was really happy to see my name (on the depth chart). I feel like all that work has paid off. I was just ecstatic when I saw my name on the top of the depth chart.”
Sophomore Brandon Johnson, the only tailback with game experience on Washington’s roster, missed much of fall camp with a calf injury, but Polk figured he’d be back with the second team when Johnson returned to practice.
“I thought when he came back, he’d be the one, and I had no problem being his sub or whatever,” said Polk.
In addition to getting over his nervousness, Polk also needs to adjust to the college game. The biggest challenge might be blocking opponents that are bigger and faster than anything he saw in high school.
“The blocking is real hard,” he said. “It’s way harder than I thought. I didn’t expect those big guys to move as fast as they do, I didn’t expect they’d come in with such force. I’ve just got to work on my technique and I think I’ll be all right.”
Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano thinks Polk is adjusting well to that aspect of the game
“He’s willing, I think that’s where you start,” Lappano said. “Some guys aren’t willing, and we’re not going to have any of that. If you’re going to play tailback at the University of Washington, you’re going to block. His willingness is there, his toughness is there, his technique is good, it’s not good enough yet, but it’s good and he’s getting better at it. But I like it because he’s willing. He’ll go in there and put his face on you.”
On Saturday, opposing defenders might also have to contend with what’s coming out of that face.
Who needs rest?: Center Juan Garcia hopes to play the entire game Saturday, despite being limited all fall while recovering from a Lisfranc sprain.
“I’m playing the whole game, there’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “I’ve been working out hard and unless I completely go out there and choke and blow it or get blown off the ball, which ain’t happening, I’m playing from the first play to the last.”
Garcia, however, won’t play the whole game if it’s bad for the team. He said that he respects offensive line coach Mike Denbrock enough to listen if Denbrock says resting, or even benching Garcia is best for the team.
Denbrock doesn’t know how much Garcia can or will play, but hopes the six-year senior is on the field as much as possible.
“He’s not going to do anything to jeopardize the success of this football team by any stretch of the imagination, he’s just not that type of person,” Denbrock said. “When the lights come on, we’re just going to see how it goes. The more snaps he can play, the better it is for us.”
A sixth starter: Ryan Tolar started 12 of 13 games at left guard last season, and was a rivals.com second-team freshman All-American, but when the depth chart came out Monday, he was listed as a backup at both guard positions and center.
Being out of the starting lineup doesn’t mean Tolar won’t have a big role, however.
“I consider Ryan Tolar our sixth starter if you can have such a thing,” Denbrock said. “You can only list five guys as starters on the depth chart, but Ryan Tolar is a starter in my mind, and I’ve made it clear to him that he’s going to play a very significant role in what we do. Even though he’s not listed necessarily as one of the first five guys, he’s right in the mix with the other five guys.”
Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at email@example.com. For more on University of Washington sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com /huskiesblog