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Sunday, October 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Blaine Newnham

It's a shame Stanback's career at UW had to end this way

Special to The Seattle Times

I couldn't get as excited about the Washington game Saturday as my old California buddies were.

They were sensing Rose Bowl for the first time in nearly 50 years, while I was thinking about Isaiah Stanback, already yesterday's news.

Maybe it was because in nearly 25 years of covering the Huskies, only two players had gone out of their way to thank me for a story. One of them was Dana Hall, the gracious cornerback on the national championship team, and the other ... Isaiah Stanback.

"Good to hear from you, man," he said, answering the phone at his mom's house.

It was Thursday, his teammates making final preparations for the game at Cal, and Stanback sacked by the uncertainty of his future and the pain of his past.

Last Sunday, before doctors had fully examined his twisted foot, Stanback hobbled to the stadium to watch films of both Washington's loss to Oregon State and any number of Cal's explosive victories.

He still had hope, for one more game as Washington's quarterback, for a winter of getting ready for the NFL draft, for life as he'd come to know it.

Then, on Monday, came the battery of tests and the announcement he would undergo surgery. On Tuesday, they put pins in his foot and told him to come back in five months.

He said he asked himself the same questions you did as they carted him out of the stadium during the second half of the Huskies' miserable loss to OSU.

"All I was trying to do was make a first down," he said, "and a few minutes later I'm wondering if I would ever play college football again, and if I still had hopes of playing in the NFL."

Stanback watched on television with the rest of us as the Huskies took on Cal. He won't allow himself to check out physically or emotionally, even though he was told he can't put any weight on his foot for two months.

"I'm not asking, 'Why me?' " he said. "Coach Willingham has really helped me through this time."

Stanback watched the television footage of his injury.

"I was trying to freeze that guy so I could get by him for the first down," he said. "I put too much weight on the outside of my foot. That was all."

And a five-year career of pressed-into-service wide receiver and scrambling quarterback during some of Washington's darkest hours was over.

Stanback said he will remember his role in a team turning a corner, winning four out of six games this year when most thought it would win two.

I'm not sure we ever saw Stanback as good as he can be. It was a shame he didn't play more as a sophomore, thrown in at USC when his team had no chance after spending most of the year as the backup to Casey Paus. A shame he didn't play earlier in the final game of that year against the Cougars, a game he almost rescued anyway.

A shame there was so much continuing talk about him being a wide receiver. He came to Washington because Rick Neuheisel promised him a chance to play quarterback.

"He was my guy," Stanback said of Neuheisel. "He had created the kind of family atmosphere I was looking for. People don't understand how hard it was when he left, how confusing, I mean, camera crews cutting you off on the bridge across Montlake Boulevard to get a comment."

Stanback redshirted the final year Neuheisel coached the team. He played wide receiver as a freshman, which was Keith Gilbertson's first year as coach and Cody Pickett's last at quarterback.

The next season, Gilbertson relied more on Paus, a veteran, at quarterback than Stanback. By the time Tyrone Willingham arrived, Stanback was ready for something new.

"I love Coach Willingham," Stanback said. "All of a sudden it was just about winning and losing. No longer were we talking about the stereotypes of an African-American quarterback. We had an African-American coach."

Stanback is sold on Willingham.

"All coaches talk about making you a better student and an athlete," he said, "but coach Willingham really does that. He is a man of his word, I know that."

Stanback already has walked through his graduation from Washington, even though it won't be official until next month. He will concentrate on getting himself ready for the NFL draft, if not this one then the next one.

He is hanging his pro hopes on the recovery that former cornerback Derrick Johnson made from the same injury.

"All he did was run 4.3 for the NFL scouts," said Stanback. "I'm not counting myself out of this year's draft. It will be in God's hands."

The pins won't come out of his foot until the middle of March. Will he still look like the NFL quarterback of the future? Probably not.

"But my time will come," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, my football career is unfinished business."

Comments for Blaine Newnham can be e-mailed to sports@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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Football schedule

DateOpponentTimeTV
Sept. 2San Jose StateW, 35-29
Sept. 9at OklahomaL, 37-20
Sept. 16Fresno StateW, 21-20
Sept. 23UCLAW, 29-19
Sept. 30at ArizonaW, 21-10
Oct. 7at USCL, 26-20
Oct. 14Oregon StateL, 27-17
Oct. 21at CaliforniaL, 31-24, OT
Oct. 28Arizona StateL, 26-23, OT
Nov. 4at OregonL, 34-14
Nov. 11StanfordL, 20-3
Nov. 18at Washington StateW, 35-32

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