Vying for playing time

  • By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
  • Monday, August 22, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

SEATTLE — It’s a story almost as old as the pigskin itself.

Kid shows up for his first year of football practice. Kid gets hurt, misses practice time, gets lost in the shuffle. Before he knows it, another group of kids come along and pushes him further into the depths of the coaches’ unconsc


It was the way things were going for Michael Hartvigson, a tight end from Bothell who arrived at the University of Washington last fall. A shoulder injury sidelined him early in the season, he eventually underwent surgery, and he all but disappeared on a team desperate to find help at tight end.

That was last year.

Despite a fresh infusion of tight ends, led by star freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Hartvigson is very much in UW’s plans for this season.

“So far, it’s been a great camp,” Hartvigson said this week. “I had a pretty long season (in 2010). I hit the weight room over the summer, and that helped out a lot. My shoulder’s doing great.”

Hartvigson is one of three Huskies who missed part of the 2010 season and are fighting for playing time this year. While he’s currently splitting time with Seferian-Jenkins as the first-team tight end, teammates Will Mahan and Johri Fogerson are trying to re-establish roles.

Mahan’s path is the most black-and-white. After tearing two knee ligaments on his plant leg during a September practice drill, the senior punter sat out the final 12 games of last season and watched teammate Kiel Rasp shine in his role. Mahan earned a medical hardship to return for another season, and now he and Rasp are engaged in a neck-and-neck battle for punting duties.

“Neither of them has given us a reason to say, ‘Hey, you’re out of it,'” head coach Steve Sarkisian said two days ago. “They are doing a nice job. I hope as the season goes on there is a chance for both of them to be part of this thing, because they both deserve it.”

Mahan said he’s looking at this season as a bonus year.

“I’m not supposed to be here right now,” he said. “To be able to come back and play again, I really just take it one day at a time. I feel like I’m more focused out there.”

He’s also gained a greater appreciation for the game.

“I used to hate walking from my apartment down to workouts,” he said. “And now I really don’t mind. Actually, I enjoy it.”

Like Mahan, Fogerson got hurt last season and watched helplessly as a teammate stepped into his role and ran with it. After Fogerson suffered a hip pointer in the 2010 season opener, then-freshman Jesse Callier stepped into his shoes as starting tailback Chris Polk’s primary backup and rushed for 433 yards.

Now Polk, Callier and Fogerson are back, along with impressive freshman Bishop Sankey. Even Polk’s knee injury, which could keep him out of the opener and possibly another game, hasn’t cleared the way for Fogerson to find playing time.

Sarkisian said last week, before the Polk injury, that finding a role for Fogerson was difficult on a team with so many running backs.

“It’s a little bit challenging,” Sarkisian said last week, adding that the most obvious long-term role for Fogerson could be as a return man.

Sarkisian said that Fogerson, who hobbled through the spring, finally looks to be fully recovered from the hip injury. But the senior running back is also trying to re-earn the trust of the coaching staff after a March arrest in Mill Creek — he pled guilty to a charge of eluding the police but had charges of marijuana possession dropped — nearly cost him his spot on the team.

Fogerson has shown the burst that helped him rush for 46 yards and catch 17 passes as Polk’s primary backup in 2009, and the coaches have noticed.

“Johri’s having a good camp,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said this week. “He’s back healthy, and there’s a very good role he can play for us.”

And then there’s Hartvigson, who appears to have a set role on a team desperate for tight end help. He wasn’t expected to contribute much as a true freshman but, in hindsight, probably could have been a factor had he stayed healthy.

The 2010 Huskies lost Kavario Middleton to a suspension, Dorson Boyce to a position change and eventually lost Chris Izbicki when the junior struggled so badly that he quit a couple weeks before the Holiday Bowl.

But shoulder soreness that bothered Hartvigson last August eventually required surgery.

“Last year, the job was wide open,” he said. “It was horrible, just the worst feeling, watching from the sidelines.”

He isn’t the only UW player who feels that way. At least three Huskies are glad to be back on the field and have their injury problems behind them.

Said Hartvigson: “One less thing to worry about, I guess.”

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