To Washington coach Jim Lambright there are no sweeter words in
the English language than I'm staying. The problem is, in recent
years Lambright hasn't heard these words nearly enough. Since
1995 four of his top players have left school early to enter the
NFL draft, leaving Lambright each season to ponder what might
have been. So when quarterback Brock Huard strolled into
Lambright's office one morning last January and told the
56-year-old coach that he had decided to stick around for his
junior year, you can forgive Lambright for nearly falling out of
"Extreme happiness is the only way to describe the way I felt,"
Lambright says. "I felt a whole lot better--I mean a whole lot
better--about the upcoming season."
As well he should. Without Huard, Washington doesn't get within
a whiff of the Pac-10 title. With Huard, the Huskies could very
well surprise defending national co-champion Nebraska on Sept.
26, and are a serious threat to win the conference.
Huard likely would have been the third quarterback selected in
last April's NFL draft, and popular opinion had him leaving
Washington for the lucre. Now that Huard is staying, Lambright
has rewritten his playbook to cater even more to his
quarterback's talents. In 1997 Huard threw for 2,140 yards and
23 touchdowns and set the school single-season record for
passing efficiency (156.4). Look for this year's totals to
mushroom, because Lambright wants Huard to drop back and throw
about 40 times a game, as opposed to his '97 average of 24
"We're going to spread the field out with more wideouts,"
Lambright says. "We're going to put the offense in Brock's hands
and see where he takes us."
Not a bad idea, considering that only four other starters return
on offense. Three of those are back from an offensive line that
allowed the fewest sacks in the Pac-10, but Lambright needs to
find replacements at every skill position except quarterback and
fullback. One of the new starters will be sophomore split end
Ja'Warren Hooker, who touched the ball only eight times in '97
but turned four of those into touchdowns (three receiving, one
on a kickoff runback). In March he won the 55 meters at the 1998
NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, and that speed will
help stretch the field for Huard, creating space underneath for
players like senior tight end Reggie Davis.
"The bottom line is winning," says Huard. "This season we'll have
to find a different way to do that. If it means me throwing the
ball more, them I'm excited about that."
The Huskies will need to score often, because their defense is
as capable of surrendering points as their offense is of putting
them up. Washington is projected to start just four seniors on D
and will once again be a relatively undersized unit. What the
team needs is for junior defensive tackle Toalei
Mulitauaopele--who at 6'5", 320 pounds has the playmaking
potential of former Huskies All-America Steve Emtman--to finally
blossom and live up to his billing. In fact, the same could be
said about a dozen or so defensive players. "We need to have
young players emerge, no question," Lambright says. "But with
Brock back, we'll always have a chance."
Now, if Lambright can somehow persuade Huard to come back for
his senior season, there's no telling how far a more experienced
Huskies team could go in '99. Let the speculation begin.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Staying power Huard, who returns to an even larger role, is the strength of the offense. [Brock Huard throwing pass in game]
1997 record: 8-4 (5-3, 4th in Pac-10)
Final ranking: No. 18 AP, No. 18 coaches' poll
1997 Averages OFFENSE DEFENSE
Scoring 33.5 21.5
Rushing Yards 161.3 118.8
Passing Yards 253.6 222.4
Total Yards 414.9 341.2
For the first time in his tenure, coach Jim Lambright allowed
underclassmen to be candidates for co-captain. Quarterback Brock
Huard and linebacker Lester Towns, both juniors, were among the
four selected. Towns had five sacks and led the Huskies with 89
tackles in '97.... Last year, guard Chad Ward became the first
true freshman to start on the offensive line since Jeff Pahukoa
Schedule strength: 15th of 112
Sept. 26 at Nebraska By this game, the Huskers will have won 44
straight in Lincoln. Last visitor to win there? Washington, in
Nov. 14 vs. UCLA A game with Pac-10 championship implications,
it also could be Huard's last at home.
The Bottom Line
Though Huard will be fun to watch, the Huskies lack the depth and
experience to be considered national title contenders.