December 26, 2010 in Sports

Huskies’ Polk gets toughness from mom

Scott M. Johnson Everett Herald
Associated Press photo

Chris Polk has rushed for more yards in his first two seasons than any other UW running back in school history.
(Full-size photo)

The first time that Marquis Persley realized his “little cousin” had become a man was in the fall of 2006.

Persley, then a senior at East Valley High School in Redlands, Calif., was playing in a game against Rialto Carter when his 190-pound cousin bowled over a much bigger lineman to score one of his four touchdowns on the afternoon.

“He didn’t really run through him; it was more over him,” Persley said earlier this month, the awe still in his voice more than four years later. “He didn’t break stride. And the kid (on defense) was pretty big. I don’t know if he’s playing college ball anywhere, but he’s on (the East Valley running back’s) highlight tape.”

Since that day, Persley has watched his cousin run over plenty of would-be tacklers through the years. Now a reserve defensive back on the University of Washington football team, Persley is no longer just Chris Polk’s cousin but also a huge fan.

“He’s just naturally talented and gifted,” said Persley, who is one year ahead of Polk in school and a cousin by marriage. “I’ve never seen anyone get full speed in three steps like he does; it’s crazy.”

While putting together the most productive first two seasons ever by a UW running back, Polk has become a man before our very eyes.

Forget NFL scouting dreamboat Jake Locker, tackling machine Mason Foster and big-play wideout Jermaine Kearse – on the Huskies’ run to the 2010 Holiday Bowl, there has been no bigger piece than Polk. More substance than style, the 214-pound sophomore has carried UW on his back for most of December.

“If I can I will put the team on my shoulders, whatever it takes to win,” Polk said earlier this month, shortly after running for a career-high 284 yards to lead the Huskies to an Apple Cup victory and their first bowl eligibility in eight years. “Three carries or 20, I’m going to do whatever it takes.”

He’s known more for his toughness than his breakaway speed, and yet Polk simply shrugs when asked about the source of that inner strength.

His older cousin didn’t have to think twice.

“Actually, to be honest, it’s his mom,” Persley said when asked about Polk’s tough running style. “If you ever get to know his mom, she’s tough. She’s a tough lady, no doubt.”

How tough?

Edrena Polk used to prepare her sons for the violence of football by taking Chris and his older brother, Lawrence, into the yard, throwing on some pads and daring them to get by her.

“She would wear her gear and get up and tackle us, actually gear up until I ran her over,” Chris Polk said earlier this month. “I ran her over. She was OK. I think I was 10 (years old). I got her one good time, and she just gave up, like ‘yeah, you are ready’.”

Edrena Polk said she still remembers the incident like it was yesterday.

“He laid me down,” the former track star and softball player said. “I couldn’t breathe for a minute.”

Edrena Polk said there was a method to her madness.

“He was a softie,” she said earlier this week of the Huskies’ sophomore tailback. “I wanted him to be the best at what he likes. He didn’t have a father when he was growing up, and I was mom and dad. It is what a dad would do.”

While a lot of Polk’s background has a Bunyanesque quality, his arrival at UW was less than legendary. After reversing on a verbal commitment to USC so that he could get a better chance to play right away, Polk enrolled at UW in the spring and was only a bit player on the 0-12 team of 2008. He carried the ball just 20 times, for an unimpressive 33 yards, before going down with a season-ending shoulder injury and getting a redshirt to maintain four more years of eligibility.

The new staff led by head coach Steve Sarkisian brought no promises in terms of Polk’s role with the team.

“He was still at a point in his career where he was coming back from a shoulder injury, so he was out of the football world a little bit,” said running backs coach Joel Thomas. “When you get injured, unless you’ve been through it, it’s really difficult. I think he was looking for guidance, so to speak.”

Polk came into this season with a more mature approach to the game. He was having another decent season on the field before closing with 508 rushing yards and four touchdowns during the three-game winning streak that secured bowl eligibility down the stretch.

Polk finished the year with 1,238 rushing yards, giving him more rushing yards (2,351) in his first two seasons than any runner in UW history.

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