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Sunday, April 22, 2007 - Page updated at 09:01 PM

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UW running back: "I have a lot to prove"

Seattle Times staff reporter

The interview was nearing its conclusion when a coach reminded J.R. Hasty that he'd better just end it so as not to miss even a second of an upcoming tutoring session.

And about as fast as he ran while scoring 92 touchdowns while playing at Bellevue High School, Hasty was off.

"I don't see it happening again," Hasty had vowed moments earlier of the events that led to him being declared academically ineligible for the 2006 season.

But until the day he actually steps onto the field as a running back for Washington and begins to fulfill all those expectations that accompanied his arrival as the most-heralded recruit of Tyrone Willingham's first class, he knows questions will remain.

"I feel I have a lot to prove," he admitted.

Which is why, as UW's spring ball begins today, Willingham sounds as much cautious as optimistic on the topic of Hasty, indicating that football is secondary to getting everything else in order.

"The first thing is we're hoping that he continues the process of being the person that we'd like him to be and doing all the things that need to be done in this system," said Willingham when asked what he'd like to see out of Hasty this spring.

UW spring football

The Huskies will have 15 practices beginning today and concluding with the annual Purple-White game April 28 at 12:45 p.m. at Husky Stadium. That game is free.

Here are five key questions facing UW this spring:

Who's the quarterback?

Actually, this one may have been cleared up pretty quickly. UW coach Tyrone Willingham said last week that Jake Locker is the starter for now, and while Carl Bonnell has more experience, he's not healthy, opening the door for Locker to take control for good. And given the lavish praise UW coaches have heaped on Locker, there's little reason to think he won't be the starter for as long as he stays at UW.

Who plays guard?

UW's biggest offensive question mark may be finding guards to replace the graduated Stanley Daniels and Clay Walker. Those two played virtually every down last year, and of the four main contenders to take over, only one has seen action as an offensive linemen for the Huskies — Casey Bulyca, pegged as a co-starter at right guard along with Ryan Tolar. Morgan Rosborough and Jordan White-Frisbee, who is apparently on his way to health after battling foot problems the last two years, will compete on the other side.

Will there be enough bodies in the secondary?

The Huskies enter spring with just eight defensive backs on the roster, including two walk-ons and two who missed last season because of injury. Reinforcements are coming in the fall, however, and coaches say two or three true freshmen are likely to be called on to play. For now, the Huskies are hoping to see some good signs from the likes of cornerback Jordan Murchison (junior-college transfer who missed last year because of injury) and strong safety Mesphin Forrester (likely replacement for graduated starter C.J. Wallace).

How about running backs?

UW has just two tailbacks on the roster this spring — Louis Rankin and J.R. Hasty — and just two fullbacks — Paul Homer and Luke Kravitz. Like the secondary, there are lots of new bodies coming in the fall. For now, Homer and Kravitz will get lots of opportunities to fill in at tailback.

Who are some other key players to watch?

Former Bellevue star E.J. Savannah will battle it out with Chris Stevens to take over for the graduated Scott White at weakside linebacker; Donald Butler moves up to take over for Tahj Bomar at middle linebacker; incoming JC transfer Jared Ballman takes over at punter and could also handle some kicking duties this spring with Ryan Perkins still getting back to full health; Ronnie Fouch finished up high school earlier this year so he could enroll at UW in time for spring ball and will compete for the No. 3 quarterback job.

Bob Condotta

Hasty is eligible for spring practice and should he continue on the same road through the spring and summer quarters, he apparently will be good to go next fall.

And Hasty says not to worry, that he has learned his lesson.

"Last year, I wasn't taking it seriously enough," he said. "Not as serious as I should have been and not as serious as I am now. Fall quarter, I did real well. Winter quarter, I did pretty good. So I'm trying to finish up strong and make my chances of playing greater."

Hasty didn't do that last year, and fell behind in the number of credits needed to be eligible, putting him in catch-up mode. And which is why until the fall arrives and he has done the work needed, his name figures to be etched in pencil, not pen, on the depth chart.

In what would seem a sign that he may have received his wake-up call, Hasty shirks little blame for what happened.

"I was messing up, slacking off, being lazy," he said. "Going through that stage the first year of the typical stuff you might think of — too much hanging out, socializing. I look at it now and realize I really did mess up big time."

It wasn't just academics that fell behind, however.

Hasty looked just like the running back the Huskies were hoping to get during practice in the fall of 2005 as a true freshman — the same form that allowed him to score a state-record 50 touchdowns as a senior at Bellevue — and coaches flirted with the idea of playing him on several occasions before deciding on a redshirt.

But after the season, he said, he decided to add bulk, thinking bigger would be better.

And when spring 2006 rolled around, his quickness and instincts weren't as readily there, leaving him third on the depth chart out of three scholarship running backs when the spring ended.

Hasty, listed as a junior but with three years of eligibility remaining, said he weighed 208 to 210 pounds last spring, up from 195 his final season at Bellevue.

"I'd never been that heavy in my life," he said. "So that was kind of messing with me. I think I was trying to get a little stronger and I took it a little too far and got a bit overweight. I didn't like how I was playing with it. I know that can't happen again."

So now he's down to 200 and said, "I'm a lot faster than I was last year."

Just in time, as this looms as a make-or-break spring for Hasty. He and senior Louis Rankin are the only tailbacks on the roster — scholarship or otherwise — meaning he'll get all the chances he wants to impress coaches and make his case for a significant role this coming season.

But the backfield gets crowded again in the fall, as the Huskies signed five running backs in February, and two or three figure to get a chance to play immediately.

"We're going to be in real good shape this spring because there's only four of us [including two fullbacks] to take all the running-back reps," Hasty said. "There's a chance of me and Louis playing a lot more because the coaches will see us a lot."

Last fall, Hasty was forced to watch games from the seats of Husky Stadium or on television. After being declared ineligible in the summer, he couldn't practice until late September when he was deemed eligible to return to workouts, but not to full playing status.

"It was real hard for me, all that stuff that was happening," he said. "It was pretty much all on me, doing that to myself. It was a real eye-opener. But as a young guy, it can happen to anybody. As long as you stay on top of your game, you will be on top of it, so that's the plan now, to stay on top of everything — class and football."

Through it all, he says the thought of leaving never entered his mind. He intends to stay, and play, as a Husky.

"I always knew I was coming back," he said. "Right when it happened, they told me I was ineligible for this football season but that 'we still want you to play for us.' But they told me they want me to learn from it. I did. I did learn a lot. I wasn't going anywhere. I'm going to stay here until they kick me out."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company




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