SEATTLE – E.J. Savannah stood on the sideline after Thursday’s practice, signing autographs for a few young Husky fans and shaking hands with some older ones.
One man welcomed Savannah back and told the linebacker that Washington football fans had missed him. For Savannah, the feeling was mutual.
“I just appreciate being here, being with the guys and being able to play football,” said Savannah. “This is what I love and I’m just glad to be back out here.”
The UW football career of Savannah, who led the Huskies in tackles in 2007, looked to be finished last September when he asked for and was granted his release. Savannah had been in trouble with Tyrone Willingham and his staff before, but when his indefinite suspension in the fall of 2008 extended into the early part of the season, Savannah decided it was time to leave.
Willingham cited academics as one of the reasons for the suspension, but Savannah maintains that he was eligible at the time. He admits to having missed some offseason workouts, using a broken arm as an excuse, though he didn’t think that was enough to merit a long suspension.
“I don’t know what it was,” he said. “I think me and the old coaching staff just didn’t see eye to eye. I didn’t agree with a lot of their philosophies and their coaching style… (The arm) shouldn’t have been an excuse, but that was my excuse at the time. I shouldn’t have used that as an excuse, but I learned from it. I’ll be a better player for it.
Savannah left the team and school, but continued to work out and never transferred.
When Steve Sarkisian was hired, Savannah and the new UW coach met, and Sarkisian, who was offering a clean slate to the current roster, extended that policy to Savannah as well.
“He was just like everybody else to me,” Sarkisian said. “You’re going to show us who you are in all facets. Everything counts whether it’s on the field or off the field in the classroom. Everything counts, and I’ve been proud of E.J. He’s done a nice job.”
It’s still early, however, and Savannah knows he’ll have to prove some doubters wrong. Last fall’s suspension wasn’t his first problem with the old coaching staff, as he was also suspended for part of spring practice last year and was held out of the starting lineup at times two seasons ago for disciplinary reasons.
Now in his final season of eligibility, Savannah said he’s ready to move forward and that he’s learned from his past mistakes.
“I learned that football can just be taken away from you,” he said. “I learned that my freshman year, but I was still young and I don’t think I realized it to that extent, but man, I’m doing everything I can just to stay right on the football field and with this team.”