Hey Craig, change your ways

  • By John Sleeper / Herald columnist
  • Wednesday, December 7, 2005 9:00pm
  • Sports

First, understand that Craig Chambers didn’t have any of this in mind when he was recruited by and signed on to play football for the University of Washington.

At the time, Rick Neuheisel was still the head coach. The program still was reasonably competitive. Chambers, a former Jackson High School star receiver, had no reasonable expectation that the program was about to collapse under a scandal; that Neuheisel would be fired for gambling and lying to then-athletic director Barbara Hedges; that under-par recruiting would leave the talent cupboard virtually bare, to the tune of a 3-19 record over the past two seasons.

Chambers had no idea. None of the 2003 recruiting class did.

What is now the UW football program in no way resembles what Chambers or any of his classmates thought it would be.

In that way, we cannot blame Chambers for wanting out. We assume he mulled it over for some time and sought opinions from many, including his brother Richie, a former Husky linebacker. Through no fault of his, the program went through a rugged transition period, a process with which it still struggles.

Yet, there were times when Chambers got in his own way. And it had to do with his own work ethic, which he himself admitted lagged at times.

Chambers’ path at Washington was anything but smooth.

He considered leaving during the 2004 season, his redshirt-freshman year, before he turned it around in the last four games. Despite playing in just five contests, Chambers finished the season with 19 catches, second on the team, for 408 yards and two touchdowns.

He followed that up this past season with 31 catches for 573 yards and six touchdowns. One scoring play was the storied 69-yard Hail Mary pass from Isaiah Stanback at the end of the first half at Arizona that led to Washington’s only Pac-10 Conference victory in the past two years.

Chambers’ trademark was the acrobatic catch, in which he could use his 6-foot-4 height and great leaping ability to beat defensive backs to the ball. Physically, no UW receiver was his match.

Yet, throughout Chambers’ time at Washington, more than a few of his superiors considered him an enigma. Former coach Keith Gilbertson would be very open in his frustration at Chambers’ work ethic, a complaint that current Husky receivers coach Eric Yarber echoed.

Asked early this season why Chambers wasn’t playing, first-year UW head coach Tyrone Willingham told reporters that other receivers practiced better.

Washington offensive coordinator Tim Lappano has said that Chambers wasn’t consistent in catching the football and that his routes were sloppy.

Work ethic. Attention to detail. Those shortcomings followed Chambers throughout his time as a Husky. As a result, his playing time was spotty, despite his obvious physical skills.

We wonder what Chambers’ playing time and numbers would have been had he worked harder in practice. We wonder what his teammates thought of Chambers after his redshirt-freshman year, when he decided to eschew summer workouts with them, preferring to get away from football in favor of getting rest.

We wonder about the private reaction of his teammates and coaches when Chambers’ mother, Susan, called KJR-AM to complain – on the air – about her son’s lack of playing time and say that he should consider a transfer if he didn’t play more in the future.

Given all that, Chambers is doing the right thing by leaving and getting a new start for his remaining two years of eligibility.

That is, with one forewarning.

Chambers has to take it upon himself to turn around his approach to practice. If he believes that he can slog through the daily grind without consequence to his playing time – regardless of his destination – he’s badly mistaken.

Montana, whose head coach is former Husky assistant Bobby Hauck, is mentioned as one possible option. Hauck is no pushover. Should Chambers bring the same, lethargic manner to Grizzly practices that he showed at Montlake, he’ll see no more playing time than he did at Washington.

Hauck, an excitable sort, will leave no question in Chambers’ mind as to the reason.

We wish Chambers well. We also hope he has the capacity to look at himself, recognize his own errors in judgment and mature into a star – on and off the field.

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