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Will Polk stay or go?

Mon., Dec. 26, 2011

Running back Chris Polk is just 205 yards away from being the Washington Huskies’ all-time leading rusher. (Associated Press)
Running back Chris Polk is just 205 yards away from being the Washington Huskies’ all-time leading rusher. (Associated Press)

Huskies hoping junior RB will return

Fans of the Baylor Bears aren’t the only ones who will be watching this week’s Alamo Bowl with a split sense of appreciation and dread over the possibility that a junior star may be playing his final game in San Antonio.

While this almost certainly lines up to be the final collegiate game for Heisman Trophy winner and Baylor star Robert Griffin III, the Huskies may well be getting a final look at the focus of their offense as well.

Before Chris Polk can truly clash with his internal dialogue of should-I-stay-or-should-I-go, the junior running back has one more game – and one more stab at a prestigious UW record that might be out of reach if he decides to pass up his final year at the school.

Polk, who needs 205 rushing yards to pass Napoleon Kaufman as the Huskies’ all-time leading rusher, said earlier this month that standing atop the UW rushing charts would be quite an honor – but not the main factor in his decision.

“Somewhat, yes, it factors in my decision,” he said after a UW practice in Seattle earlier this month. “But God has a plan for me. If it’s meant for me to get it I’ll get it. If I don’t, I won’t.”

Polk’s main motivation, he has maintained throughout the process, is to go when he feels he is most ready. He knew coming into his junior year – his fourth season at UW – that he still had plenty of work to do in terms of pass-blocking, catching the football and establishing himself as a breakaway threat. Polk has shown marked improvement in all three areas, but the question still remains as to whether he feels he’s become proficient enough at each to survive in the NFL.

“I’m still young, still trying to perfect my craft,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve reached my full potential yet, so we have to see what happens.”

Having already walked through graduation (in the summer) and earned his final six credits toward an American Ethnics Studies degree (during the winter quarter), Polk can make his decision based solely on football. He said earlier this month that his projected draft slot was of zero importance to him, even though scouts have him rated as high as a second-round pick.

What’s fairly clear is that Polk’s draft stock can’t get much higher. He’s not a true burner in terms of speed, and his spot as the No. 4 halfback on Rob Rang’s board of prospects for CBS Sports marks quite a leap from where Polk was about this time last year.

But Polk maintains that he’s not even paying attention to draft projections, saying: “As long as I go (somewhere in the draft’s seven rounds), I go. I’m not really into the rounds. I just want to see if I’m able to take my talents to the next level. Hopefully I am.”

One knock on Polk is a lack of breakaway speed. There are also questions about how his no-abandon running style might translate to the next level, where bigger and stronger defenders could leave Polk nursing wear-and-tear injuries throughout his career.

The latter notion makes UW coach Steve Sarkisian chuckle.

“I don’t understand that,” the coach said earlier this month. “A running back is a running back, and you carry the ball. I think he runs with good pad level, he runs physical, and he takes care of his body.”

No matter what Polk decides to do, his place in Huskies’ lore has already been solidified. Sarkisian has said on numerous occasions that he has been the single biggest symbol of UW’s recent turnaround, and any discussion of all-time UW runners will include Polk regardless of if he breaks Kaufman’s record.

Sarkisian maintains that he hasn’t given too much thought to the possibility of life after Polk, but it could be a major concern should the fourth-year junior decide to pass up his senior year and jump into the NFL waters.

It’s a decision that Polk is likely to announce sometime after Thursday.

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