During the introduction of the 17 Washington football players making their final Husky Stadium appearance Friday, nobody will hear louder applause than quarterback Keith Price.
The tribute has been earned.
Price is one of those team captains who actually relishes the role. Two weeks ago, when he was forced to the sideline after hurting his right shoulder against UCLA, Price didn’t comport himself like a senior who realized the remainder of his regular season was in jeopardy. He slapped backs and gave encouragement and even flashed that high-beam smile.
A cynic could argue Price was faking it, that deep down, he was angry. Of course he was. Putting on a happy face during a bout of personal frustration is what team captains — and leaders in general — are supposed to do.
Through the good times and the not-so-good times of his accomplished career, Price is proof that big-time college football, despite its public scandals and dirty secrets, still can provide an occasional source of inspiration.
While the purple-clad spectators in the Apple Cup crowd are acknowledging all that’s right with Price, a teammate likely will take his final trip through the Husky Stadium tunnel without the deserving fanfare.
Bishop Sankey, on the short list of the most productive running backs in school history, is eligible to enter the NFL draft. Though the junior hasn’t declared his intentions, it’s almost certain he’ll turn pro. The window opening for football players to parlay their talent into some lucrative paychecks is narrow, and for running backs, it’s but a sliver.
The best of them rarely survive more than six or seven years in the NFL. The best of the best, the Hall of Famers, rarely play beyond the age of 32.
My expertise as a financial adviser is pretty much limited to a rule of thumb: Whatever choices I made, you choose the opposite. But suggesting Sankey would be wise to pursue an NFL career as soon as possible — like, the day after the Huskies return from their bowl trip — complies with any definition of common sense.
Besides, is there a better scenario for Sankey’s final regular-season game than a grudge match against Washington State at Husky Stadium? If Sankey finds his way into the end zone against the Cougars (and let’s be honest; it’s not a matter of “if” he runs for a score, but how often), he’ll break the UW career record of 34 rushing touchdowns he shares with Napoleon Kaufman.
And if he rushes for more than 120 yards — something he has done eight times in 2013 — Sankey will surpass Corey Dillon, who rushed for 1,695 yards in 1996, as the Huskies’ single-season record holder.
The game plans Friday aren’t complicated. Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday will throw short passes and long passes, and, oh, about 50 other passes somewhere in between. It’s an explosive offense the Huskies will try to neutralize by recall: as in, recalling that the most explosive offense ever assembled ain’t squat as long as the other team is moving the chains.
Sankey figures to carry the ball at least 25 times, taking handoffs from a quarterback that could be Price or redshirt freshman Cyler Miles. (Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian is more intrigued by starting-lineup suspense than some of the rest of us are.)
If Price isn’t close to 100 percent healthy, putting him under center as a sentimental Senior Day gesture would be a mistake. Let that shoulder heal, so he can return in the bowl game as the vintage Keith Price, and let Miles operate the ground-control offense that rolled up 692 yards at Oregon State in his first start.
As for Sankey, appreciate him while you can. The first time he touched a ball in a college game, as a kickoff returner at Nebraska in 2011, he didn’t hang on to it. Sankey’s fumble was the turning point in the Cornhuskers’ 51-38 victory.
The typical young college player mopes after making such an egregious mistake, but Sankey, studious and humble, determined to achieve high standards in a low-key manner, is anything but typical. He worked his way from third-team running back on the depth chart, an apparent recruiting bust, to a go-to option in any situation.
Sankey now profiles as a second-round draft choice. Scouts are impressed by his quick burst into the line and the elusiveness he shows when there’s some space to maneuver. He’s not a burner the way Kaufman was, but when he breaks free, he has an uncanny ability to run faster than everybody chasing him.
Sankey is listed at 5-foot-10 and 203 pounds. He’ll be asked to bulk up a bit and get stronger, which requires many hours spent in the weight room. Sankey will respond by spending many hours in said weight room.
Bishop Sankey might not be a star in the NFL, but then, there was a lot of doubt whether he would be a star with the Huskies. How’d that turn out?
He’ll walk off the field Friday as Washington’s career leader in rushing touchdowns and its single-season leader in yards rushing.
And when the Apple Cup is presented upon the Huskies’ victory — my hunch is UW 38, WSU 24 — Sankey will contemplate the next level with only one regret.
After the bowl game, he’ll no longer break a huddle with a crisp clapping of hands, the sound of 11 men with a place to go, initiated by Keith Price.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com