True freshman must try to fill injured Husky’s shoes

  • JOHN SLEEPER / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, November 2, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By JOHN SLEEPER

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – In truth, it will be difficult for the Washington Huskies to replace Curtis Williams.

The Huskies will try, however, with someone who was playing high school football in Helena, Mont., a year ago.

Meet Greg Carothers, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound true freshman. The plan for the Huskies’ game Saturday against Arizona is to move Hakim Akbar from free safety to Williams’ spot at strong safety. Carothers, Akbar’s understudy at free safety, will start there against Arizona.

“I’m confident where I’m at,” Carothers said. “I’m playing the same position. I’m going to try my best.”

Washington’s coaches had hoped the move would never be necessary. Akbar and Williams, together, made up the strongest pair of safeties in the Pacific-10 Conference and among the best in the nation.

The two drove fear in receivers who dared cross the middle in pass patterns. Both would prepare each other before games by talking about being, in Akbar’s words, “the baddest guys out there.”

But Williams’ injury Saturday – he is at Stanford Medical Center with a dangerous spinal-cord contusion – changed all that. Although Carothers has shown promise, Williams was a leader in the secondary, calling out formations.

Akbar played strong safety a year ago. He’s used to the position. Carothers is the logical one to step in, having played the most between himself, freshman Jimmy Newell and walk-on Owen Biddle.

It was thought before the season that safety was one of the thinnest positions on the team. Behind Akbar and Williams was no one with any experience. In the spring, Biddle was given a look, but a walk-on could hardly be expected to fill a starting position.

When they came into fall camp in August, Carothers and Newell immediately showed potential. Carothers was the basher, a fearsome hitter who was Montana’s defensive player of the year. Newell, a South Kitsap High School grad, was ranked the 16th-best defensive back in the nation by Rivals.com.

While Carothers will get the starting nod, Newell likely will play more than he ever has at Washington.

“Both are bright enough to step in,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “Greg has played more.”

Carothers, especially, was thrown into the fire early, having played in all eight games. And not just on special teams.

Washington asks a lot of its safeties. It’s no accident that Akbar and Williams are among the team’s leaders in tackles, because they are asked to contribute heavily in run support. They also read plays rapidly and have the physical quickness to get back into pass coverage.

The demands are such that Carothers was called on to give relief to Akbar.

To the surprise of more than a few, Carothers did the job.

“Montana’s not really thought of as a big football-talent area,” he said. “I didn’t know how I was going to handle it. It hasn’t been as bad as I thought. I think it’s been going real well.”

From a purely physical standpoint, Carothers has done an impressive job. He has 12 tackles, seven solo, and a sack. He seems comfortable, as comfortable as a 19-year-old can be in big-time college football.

“It’s like, ‘Welcome to school; you’re playing,’” Newell said. “But it’s the ninth game now. It’s beginning to make more sense out there on the field.”

They will be picked on, simply because of their youth. Williams made himself into a feared safety after waffling around as a reserve tailback. Carothers isn’t Williams. And he knows it.

“I definitely have big shoes to fill,” he said. “But coaches told ‘Ack’ and Curtis that I was going to play, and they helped me. I wouldn’t be able to play at all if they hadn’t helped me.”

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