Hard road nearing end for seniors

UW FOOTBALL: Thursday night special against UCLA will be home finale for 17 long-suffering Huskies

November 16, 2010 

Nobody really knows how the night will play out.

But to hear University of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian talk about this outgoing group of football players – 17 seniors – he gives a hint of it in his voice. The emotion is palpable.

“By no means has their career been easy, and in a sense it makes me respect them almost maybe more than some other senior classes that I’ve been around because of what they have been through,” Sarkisian said.

The Thursday night extravaganza against UCLA – celebrating a “Blackout” theme in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN – will bring its own excitement because the Huskies must win to stay alive for a bowl bid.

Before that all starts, the large group of seniors, led by quarterback Jake Locker, linebacker Mason Foster and safety Nate Williams, will come out of the tunnel one final time before a game at Husky Stadium. This time, it will be with family and friends on “Senior Night.”

“It’s kind of weird to think about playing a last game here,” Locker said.

The journey has been tiresome. Most of these players were brought in by former coach Tyrone Willingham, experienced a winless season in 2008, and went through the ensuing coaching change.

Last season, they had to lay new groundwork in a rebuilding effort for a program they hoped would be going in a different direction.

“What they signed up for four or five years ago is different than what they are doing now,” Sarkisian said. “And to their credit, from the moment I stepped onto this campus, they have been extremely willing to accept the things that we’ve tried to do.”

And they’ve done it for a second season, too. Maybe that is why Sarkisian has a different bond with this group than he did with the outgoing class of 2009.

“I respect them a lot,” Sarkisian said.

Yet, the postseason – something none of these players has experienced – is still in reach. That is why the second-year UW coach does not want his seniors to get too caught up in the playing-your-final-home-game moment.

“I think you just focus on the task at hand instead of making it a bigger deal than what it is,” UW offensive lineman Gregory Christine said. “At the end of the day, it really is just a football game. They’ve got 11 guys, we’ve got 11 guys – we’ve got to go and play.”

That is all fine and dandy in theory. Christine knows he’ll get a little emotional when the time comes.

“Definitely, I’m going to see my parents, and that will be a little emotional,” Christine said.

“It’s been a roller coaster, if I could put it in one word. ... I think in life, anything that’s bad, you always learn something good from it. This is one of those cases where you learn how to work hard, and you learn everything doesn’t come easy.”

EXTRA POINTS

The team will wear all-back uniforms for the “Blackout” theme Thursday. The end zones will be black as well. Tyee members and UW students have also been contacted to wear black-colored T-shirts. ... As far as Monday practice, Locker again split first-team repetitions with Keith Price. The senior will consult with the team’s medical staff today to see if he gets cleared to return to game action. ... Safety Sean Parker (shoulder stinger) practiced, but in the no-contact red jersey. If he can’t play Thursday, Taz Stevenson would be the team’s top nickel back. ... Wind gusts that reached close to 50 mph were so severe during practice that sideline benches were blown onto the field. So were garbage cans. “I just wanted to make sure (161-pound) Jordan Polk wasn’t flying with them,” Sarkisian joked afterward.

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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