SEATTLE – Alameda Ta’amu has done and seen a lot since he arrived at the University of Washington in the fall of 2008.
Now in his third year as a starting defensive tackle, the junior has been through the worst season in program history, has watched his coaching staff get overhauled and has banged heads with several future NFL players.
But there’s still one thing Ta’amu wants to experience before he leaves the program. And he knows that won’t happen unless he accomplishes another.
The junior class on the UW football team feels as close to a bowl game as it has ever been. But to get there, Ta’amu and his classmates have to finally win a road game.
“It’s kind of annoying, actually,” Ta’amu said of never being a part of a road win at UW. “Hopefully we can get one this weekend.”
The last time the Huskies won a football game on the road was Nov. 3, 2007, when coach Tyrone Willingham earned a victory over his former team in Stanford, Calif.
Thirty-four months and 12 losses later, the Huskies are still trying to win another.
Second-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, whose team will open its season at Brigham Young University on Saturday afternoon, believes this year’s team has enough experienced leaders to bring home a road win. He counted off several of them Monday afternoon, not realizing that three of the seven players he named – juniors Jermaine Kearse, Senio Kelemete and Cort Dennison – have yet to be a part of a victory on the road.
For Sarkisian, ending the streak comes down to one simple word. Finishing has been the coach’s mantra for most of the past month.
“It’s something that is stressed at every practice and that I think guys are starting to understand,” Sarkisian said of his constant reminder about the importance of finishing plays, drives and games.
The Huskies lost all five of their road games last season, but three of them – an overtime loss at Notre Dame, a last-second heartbreaker at Arizona State and a one-point defeat at UCLA – were well within UW’s reach in the final minute. Had the Huskies finished those games, Sarkisian maintains, they may well have wrapped up the 2009 regular season with an 8-4 record and that ever-elusive trip to a bowl game.
“It’s all about finishing, like Coach Sark says,” Ta’amu said Tuesday night. “In past years, we haven’t been finishers. But this year’s going to be different.”
Of the 105 players on UW’s roster, only nine have experienced a road victory. One of them – senior quarterback Jake Locker – said last year’s near-misses will help this fall.
“The positions we were in last year give us a little bit of experience,” Locker said. “It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, and I think we were able to go back each week and look at certain drives, certain points in the game where it was a vital point in the process of this game and us winning, and we didn’t get it done. So I think there’s been a focus on when we’re ahead, finishing drives and keeping ourselves ahead.”
While Locker and six teammates have been in on celebratory return trips in the distant past, most of the current Huskies don’t know what it’s like to fly back from a game in a good mood.
“Usually the talk’s down, people are trying to keep to themselves. I know I have (been like that) in the past,” junior cornerback Quinton Richardson said. “Now I’m just happy to see what it’s going to be like.”
When it comes to road games, there are certainly friendlier environments than the one that awaits UW in Provo, Utah, this Saturday. The temperatures are expected to be in the 90s, and the elevation of about 4,500 feet will test the Huskies’ lungs.