Confidence high for Huskies
Team hopes strong finish last season carries over against BYU
Close won’t be good enough this time.
When the University of Washington football team opened its season this time last year, a narrow loss to a Top 25 program was enough to give the Huskies the kind of momentum that this program had been missing for far too long.
Thanks to a pair of convincing wins to close out that 2009 season, the Huskies begin anew today with plenty of momentum from the start.
This afternoon, all the talk and hope and expectations will finally be on display when UW opens its season against Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
“Our confidence is pretty high right now,” junior receiver Jermaine Kearse said this week. “We didn’t know what we were capable of last year. We’re eager to go out and show what we can do.”
The source of UW’s optimism goes all the way back to last winter, when season-ending victories over Washington State and Cal _ by an aggregate score of 72-10 _ left the Huskies chomping at the bit to get back out on the field and keep the momentum going.
Nine months later, head coach Steve Sarkisian believes that momentum has carried over.
“We haven’t tried to bury it,” he said this week. “We’ve tried to keep it alive in our minds. So I think it’s real. That feeling of winning, that feeling of playing well, that feeling of enjoyment and excitement in the locker room has been inspiring throughout the summer, throughout training camp.
“Whether or not that means we’re going to make the play on third-and-1 or not, I don’t know if it’s going to carry that far. But I think it carries over in the preparation and the build-up, and I think it will in the fourth quarter of this game when it’s tight.”
This time last year, Sarkisian and his staff were trying to manufacture momentum on a team that was coming off an 0-12 season. When the Huskies hung with the 11th-ranked team in the country before eventually losing 31-23, it was generally regarded as one of those dreaded moral victories.
The yes-we-can feeling from that game helped UW beat Idaho the following week and then pull a shocking upset over an injury-plagued USC team to earn the first national ranking in six years.
The ranking didn’t last _ the Huskies went on to lose six of their next seven games _ but the new-found optimism did. And after closing out the season with a pair of impressive wins to finish with a 5-7 record, the Huskies set their sights on a bowl game in 2010 … if not early 2011.
That journey begins today, in a town Sarkisian knows all too well. The former BYU quarterback will take his team into Provo and try to rattle a star freshman who spurned the Huskies as a four-star recruit.
True freshman Jake Heaps from Skyline High School in Sammamish is expected to split time with junior Riley Nelson at quarterback. While the Huskies would have loved to have landed Heaps, they’re more concerned with the immediate future than the post Jake Locker era.
After cruising through late November and December of last year, the Huskies hope to keep on riding that wave of emotion all these months later.
“We definitely finished off strong, and it definitely carried through the offseason,” Kearse said. “The confidence level is high. It made everyone work harder. We tried to have that wave effect, bring everyone back with it.”
When it comes to momentum, Sarkisian knows that today’s outcome could carry some weight, but he’s quick to point out that it won’t brighten or dim expectations too much.
“This game isn’t going to make or break our season,” he said. “If we go out and win this game, it doesn’t mean we’re going to go out and be the Pac-10 champs. And if we go out and don’t win this game, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to be the Pac-10 champs.
“It’s fun for us to go out and play football, to go out on the road in a hostile environment and to grow as a football team. So we’re embracing the opportunity.”
Only this time, close won’t be good enough.