SEATTLE – Verbally committed to Washington State University in late January 2011, Bishop Sankey arrived on Montlake with a quiet demeanor and open mind.
Keith Price was his host.
“I remember the first time I met him, he was at my house on his recruiting trip and he told me he was committed to Wazzu,” Price said. “I said, ‘Oh, Lord.’ ”
Sankey was part of a crop of backs brought in to prepare behind Chris Polk and eventually replace him.
Last season, Sankey began as the backup. After taking over the starting job the first game for an injured Jesse Callier, Sankey would finish the year with 1,439 yards – third-most in a single season in school history.
Through two games, he’s leading the nation with an average of 184.5 yards per game.
He picked up blitzes Saturday in Washington’s 34-24 win over Illinois. He caught a dump-off pass and scored. He ran for a career-high 208 yards.
Sankey, quiet, smart and stout, has played two games this season with casual dominance. No high-churning knees, no preening. He’s doing his work without flash. Efficiency will have to do.
“Bishop Sankey was tremendous,” said Steve Sarkisian, coach of the 17th-ranked Huskies. “Some of the runs he had, then his ability to have an effect in the passing game – not just catching the ball, but in protection – I thought he was tremendous as well.”
Sankey is 5-foot-10 and 203 pounds. The running back he idolizes is 5-9 and 213 pounds. That’s Javon Ringer, formerly of Michigan State and the Tennessee Titans.
When Sankey was still living in Ohio and in junior high, he watched Dayton-native Ringer. Ringer was one of the most-recruited backs in the country, yet did Sankey a solid despite his growing fame.
Sankey was in junior high and wanted to race him. Ringer obliged and won. It increased Sankey’s appreciation for Ringer.
“That’s kind of something I never forget,” Sankey said.
He has that clear memory, but is stumped when trying to describe his own running style. Sankey said he hasn’t really thought about it. He conceded he might have pretty good field vision.
Washington’s seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the second half against Illinois on Saturday is proof that modestly-offered thought is correct.
The Huskies used the same formation all seven plays. Sankey carried the ball five times, gaining 61 yards. The only variation to the start of the plays during the drive was a pitch to Sankey on the first snap. Otherwise, the ball was handed to him out of a shotgun formation with the pistol alignment.
The first snap, he ran to the right, then cutback for a gain of five yards. The second, he slipped just off the right end of the line where tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins had his man turned out. Sankey hit that hole, then bounced out to the sideline. Gain of 25.
The next snap, he ran toward the middle with his initial steps. Too much traffic. On his toes, he slid right, parallel to the line, then floored it through a hole he found. Gain of eight.
Callier replaced him for two snaps. When Sankey returned, Illinois overloaded the right side. Sankey headed toward the middle, then slid left twice before curling around the outside. He lowered his shoulder and was banged out at the 1-yard line. Gain of 22.
The next play he took the direct route – straight ahead for a 1-yard touchdown.
“As a running back, you just have to get a feel for it,” Sankey said. “It’s something that we practice through repetition and you get a better feel for it. Kind of what I did in the game, just open my eyes up and get a feel for where the defense was flowing.”
Sankey has rushed for 1,142 yards his past seven games, which would count as the 10th-best season in Washington’s history. He’s rushed for more than 200 yards in two of his last three games after picking up a career-high 208 versus Illinois.
It’s unlikely he can keep the same pace for a full season, but, if he can and receive the same number of carries as last year, he would finish with 1,792 rushing yards. That would break Corey Dillon’s single-season school record of 1,695.
“He’s a hard worker, one of the hardest workers on the team.” Price said. “You’ll see him in the weight room. One of the first ones in and the last one to leave every day.”
Sankey says his visit to Washington just felt right, so he changed his commitment. Price has a more specific theory for the change.
“Hopefully, it was hanging out with me,” Price said with a laugh.
Regardless, the decision landed Washington a back that has done historical things, yet appears to just be getting firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas