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16 Washington After turning a cameo role into a smash hit, running back Rich Alexis now plays the lead

One-and-done. That's what Rick Neuheisel had in mind when he
sent freshman running back Rich Alexis onto the Husky Stadium
field against Miami in the third quarter of Washington's second
game of last season. Neuheisel knew that Alexis's parents were
watching the nationally televised game in Coral Springs, Fla.,
and that it might be the only time they would see the Huskies
play all season. So he sent his third-string back into the
huddle for one play only and called 19 Option. "I wanted to show
his parents that he was doing O.K.," recalls Neuheisel.

On a first-and-10 at the 50-yard line, with Washington leading
21-9, Alexis took the pitch and sprinted 50 yards for a
touchdown. Neuheisel sent Alexis in for another play. Then
another. By January, after the Huskies' 34-24 victory over Purdue
in the Rose Bowl, Alexis had accumulated more rushing yardage
(738) than any other true freshman in school history. "It was
obvious against Miami that Rich was special," says Neuheisel.
"After he scored, I said to myself, God, I must be a genius."

Alexis had drawn little interest from colleges because he had
played only one full season of high school football, as a senior.
His parents wouldn't let him try out for the sport because they
considered it too dangerous, so he forged their signatures on a
consent form and hid his uniform in the garage. "When they
finally discovered I was playing, I convinced them that football
could provide me with a scholarship," says Alexis. "So they let

Joining Alexis in the Huskies' backfield will probably be
sophomore quarterback Cody Pickett, who has thrown six passes in
his career and will get the first shot at succeeding Marques
Tuiasosopo. On defense, end Larry Tripplett and fellow linemen
Marcus Roberson, a senior, and Ossim Hatem, a junior, will need
to pressure opposing passers to help a young secondary that will
be tested right away: The Huskies open at home against Michigan,
then travel to Miami.

"We need to have success early to gain confidence," says
Neuheisel, "but this team knows what it takes to win." So does
Neuheisel: All he needs is another ingenious substitution.

--Lars Anderson

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Alexis, who had to overcome his parents' objection to football, ran for 738 yards as a true freshman.


2000 record: 11-1 (7-1, T1 in Pac 10)
Final ranking: No. 3 AP, No. 3 coaches' poll

Come-from-behind victories by Washington among its last 18 wins,
including eight of 11 last season.

An opposing team's coach sizes up the Huskies

The offense won't fall off as much as people believe. Paul
Arnold's move from running back to receiver will make a big
difference, and the line could be the best in the Pac 10. If
Jerramy Stevens stays out of trouble [he pleaded guilty in June
to a misdemeanor charge of hit and run causing property damage
and was sentenced to 240 hours of community service], he'll be
the top tight end in the league.... Defensive end Larry Tripplett
is a force on the inside. He'll lead a group of guys who'll blitz
you all day.

Strength: 17th of 117

15 at Miami
29 at California
Oct. 6 USC
13 at UCLA
27 at Arizona State
10 at Oregon State