August 31, 2011 in Sports

Price era set to begin at Washington

Scott M. Johnson Everett Herald
Associated Press photo

New UW starting QB Keith Price started against Oregon last year.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – The latest sign that there is a new era in University of Washington football came Monday afternoon, shortly after head coach Steve Sarkisian finished his weekly news conference.

The podium sat empty.

While past seasons have seen quarterback Jake Locker follow Sarkisian by sitting down in front of the cameras, when it was Keith Price’s turn to step into the limelight, the sophomore quarterback just ambled quietly at the back of the room.

Eventually, the microphones and cameras surrounded UW’s new starter. And the first question was an obvious one.

Are the Huskies ready for the Keith Price era to begin?

Or, more to the point, is Keith Price ready to begin his era as leader of the Huskies?

“I’m too ready,” Price said Monday. “I’m anxious.”

And he’s not the only one. Sarkisian said earlier Monday that he doesn’t know quite what to expect when the Price era begins Saturday, when the Huskies host Eastern Washington at Husky Stadium.

“Oh, I’m curious, like you are,” Sarkisian told reporters Monday when asked what he expects to see from Price on Saturday. “You never know. The lights are on.”

Although this is Price’s first season as full-time starter, he’s been in the spotlight before.

His first touchdown pass came in the fourth quarter of a game at USC last season, when he stepped in for a hobbled Locker and threw a 1-yard TD pass to tight end Chris Izbicki for the go-ahead score on the first snap. A month later, he made his first start at top-ranked Oregon and helped keep the Huskies in the game into the third quarter.

Price carried the poise of a veteran in both situations.

Of the USC game, he said: “I didn’t have time to get nervous. It happened randomly. I was just ready when my number was called.”

Of the start at Oregon, Price said: “It doesn’t get any harder than the No. 1 team in the nation. That’s just going to better me.”

How much better Price is for the experience will be on display Saturday. While facing a team from a lower division – EWU plays in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), which is a level down from UW’s Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) – the Huskies’ new quarterback has a chance to show whether he’s grown enough to become a full-time starter.

Teammates seem to believe that Price has the tools to make a smooth transition into his new role.

“He has a presence in the huddle,” senior receiver Jermaine Kearse said Monday. “It’s just fun to play with him and play around him. … I’ve accepted the fact that Jake’s not here. Keith is a great quarterback, and I have all the faith in him.”

It’s tempting to say that Price is stepping into the shoes of a UW legend, but the truth is that the Huskies’ most recent starting quarterback might be more replaceable than expected.

Locker had a .400 winning percentage as starter at UW, going 16-24 in three-plus seasons at the helm. His completion percentage of 55.4 ranked ninth among the 10 Pac-10 starters last season, and the Huskies ranked dead last in the conference in third-down efficiency (32.1 percent) during Locker’s senior season.

But during Sarkisian’s first two seasons at UW, Locker provided an experienced leader at the position. Price seems to have won over the coaches and teammates with his leadership and decision-making, but he has yet to prove himself as a long-term starter.

Price is eager for the opportunity.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life,” he said. “I started playing football when I was 7, so I just can’t wait.”

Asked whether he had any concerns going into his first season opener as a starter, Price smiled and said: “No, no. I’m just ready to play.”

Sarkisian won’t go as far as to say that he’s concerned about his new quarterback, but he admits that the graduation of his most experienced quarterback adds curiosity to his latest opener.

“I’ve gotten no indication to think that (Price is) going to come out Saturday – or a week from Saturday, or week from that – that he’s not going to perform,” Sarkisian said Monday. “But not every game is going to be his best ball game. So there are going to be points in these games that he’s going to have to learn from.”

Sarkisian just hopes that the opener marks a good first step in the Keith Price era at UW.

“He better be ready,” Sarkisian said. “We’re playing.”

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