Jesse Callier got so nervous before youth-league football games that, well, let him tell it.
“I used to throw up before every single game,” Callier said.
By his days at Warren High School in Downey, Calif., Callier was past that, saying sitting off by himself would calm his nerves.
Now he’s a junior at the University of Washington and ready to go.
“I’m just jumping around, listening to music, having fun,” he said.
And Callier promises to stick to that pregame ritual Saturday when the Huskies open the season against San Diego State, even though he has the huge job of replacing tailback Chris Polk.
“I don’t let that stuff get to me,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and play what the Huskies taught me to do. So I’m excited more than anything. I’m not nervous at all.”
He also knows that the responsibility to step in for Polk is far from his alone. Callier is listed as a co-starter at tailback along with sophomore Bishop Sankey (Gonzaga Prep), and UW coaches have said consistently since January, when Polk declared for the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining, that they expected to go with more of a committee approach in replacing Polk.
“They are (each) going to get series. They are going to get carries by series,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “You are going to see (Callier) and (Sankey). If I feel like (one) guy might be laboring you will see the other guy jump in. And you will see them in there together.
“I think we have a good plan in place for both those kids and hopefully put them in position to be successful.”
Finding the right mix is a key for the Huskies this season. Through the ups and downs of the first three years of the Sarkisian era, Polk was a constant rock of dependability, starting all 38 games and finishing as the second-leading rusher in school history. No player other than Polk has started a game at tailback for UW since Willie Griffin at California in 2008.
Callier and Sankey each say that sharing the job is fine.
“I’m just going to go out there and play my game, and when my number is called, make the best of my opportunities,” Sankey said.
Each has performed well. Callier has rushed for 693 yards on 124 carries in his first two years at UW, an average of 5.6 per attempt. Sankey rushed for 187 yards on 28 carries last season as a true freshman, an average of 6.7.
Getting a few carries here and there is different from being an every-down back. Callier has never had more than 10 carries in a game, Sankey never more than eight.
Sarkisian said he’ll watch how Callier and Sankey handle the increased workload, citing it as one of the factors to determine who gets the most carries – if indeed one separates from the other.
“We will get a better feel for them as the game goes on, as well,” Sarkisian said. “Who can carry the ball three or four times? What does their body language look like? When they carry the ball, what’s their burst look like?”
Neither Callier (listed as 5-foot-10, 211 pounds) nor Sankey (5-10, 200) figures to be the same physical presence as Polk. Sarkisian said Monday that Polk seemed to want to barrel through defenders. Callier and Sankey, he said, aren’t wary of contact, but he said each prefers to find daylight.
“They are very similar,” Sarkisian said. “They both are complete backs. I think sometimes when backs aren’t 220 pounds they get labeled, ‘Oh, they are scatbacks.’ (But) they run with power. They get behind their pads.”