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March 28, 2006

Huskies focused entering Spring

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SEATTLE - Washington athletic director Todd Turner was discussing plans for improving 86-year-old Husky Stadium. Along with some extensive long-term goals, he said he wants to immediately add banners or signs in the stadium's public areas to represent the school's history of 30 bowl games.

''There's not a bowl thing up there,'' said Turner, who also served as athletic director at Vanderbilt of the Southeastern Conference and North Carolina State of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

''In the SEC, the ACC, we celebrated our successes,'' he said Monday. ''I see missed opportunity here for recruiting. We have 18-year-old recruits who don't know who Don James was, who've never heard of Steve Emtman.''

The Huskies also have a roster of players who have never played in a bowl game. That - and two consecutive last-place finishes in the Pac-10 - tends to damper any celebrations. So do dwindling ticket sales - Turner said this upcoming season will likely have fewer than 50,000 season-ticket holders, unheard of around the UW.

No wonder the only bowl references now in Husky Stadium are buried beneath it, on the walls of a tunnel leading to the locker rooms.

Yet despite having won just one of their last 16 conference games, not having settled on a starting quarterback for 2006 and needing to replace four-fifths of their offensive line before the Sept. 2 season opener against San Jose State, some Huskies were speaking the b-word heading into spring workouts that begin on Thursday.

Coach Tyrone Willingham was first. He won't allow expectations to be on anything less entering his second Washington season.

''With expectation of our program, yes, we should be in a bowl game,'' Willingham said, after being asked about prospects of being including in one of the six bowls with Pac-10 tie-ins.

His 2006 team may do well to merely keep up with what has happened recently on campus.

''You had the young man who won the national championship in golf (James Lepp), the young women who won the national championship in volleyball, and the (men's) basketball team that has made back-to-back Sweet 16s,'' Willingham said.

''I expect us to be a very, very successful program ... to keep the Washington Husky name out there on the tongues of people throughout the country.''

Having a starting quarterback would help.

Willingham actually has one in incumbent Isaiah Stanback. He completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,136 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions while starting all 11 games last season. He also ran for 515 yards and five more scores.

But given the opportunity to name his senior as the starter over junior Johnny DuRocher entering spring practice, the coach said the quarterback position ''was as open as they come.''

Then again, Willingham said ''all 22'' positions are open.

''I don't think we've reached a level yet where I don't have to be concerned about a position,'' he said.

DuRocher, a former transfer from Oregon, replaced a struggling Stanback in a second-half rain storm during a late-season loss to Oregon State. DuRocher broke his wrist in that game, giving Stanback the job back.

''Even though (Stanback) has the majority of the starts from last year - that experience should bode well for him - he has to come out and play at an All-American level,'' Willingham said. ''That's what we expect. If you're a starter, you should play like a starter. And you should practice like the starter.''

Jake Locker, a star prep quarterback, will be joining Stanback and DuRocher by fall practice. Locker, The Associated Press' Washington state high school Class 3A football Player of the Year, is currently playing baseball for Ferndale High School.

While Locker has been swinging bats, Stanback has been running. He ran a personal-best 10.7 seconds in the 100-meter dash for the Husky track team last weekend in a meet at Arizona State. He is also running on the 4x100-meter relay team.

As for football, Stanback is used to tough public love from his coach. In a flashback to last November, Stanback smiled when asked yet again what he thought of Willingham not clearly stating he was his quarterback. He said he and Willingham have had many sit-down talks in the offseason, ''and I've learned how good a person he is.

''He just keeps me working,'' Stanback said of the notoriously stern Willingham. ''He keeps everyone working.''

Notes: Turner said season-ticket sales are projected to fall another 7 percent to 8 percent, which would duplicate the drop in 2005. After averaging at least 70,000 per game in total attendance in every season since 1990, the Huskies have averaged 64,737 and 64,326 the last two years. ''That concerns me,'' Turner said. ''The bottom line is, we have to give people the expectations we are going to win.'' ... Louis Rankin and Kenny James remain the top two running backs on the depth chart. But Willingham said he is excited at the big-play potential of J.R. Hasty, The AP's 2004 Washington state high school player of the year who redshirted last season ... The Huskies will conduct 14 practices between Thursday and April 21. The annual spring game is April 22.

For more coverage of the Arizona Wildcats, check out GOAZCats.com.

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