UW tailback Chris Polk battles nerves to win starting role
Husky freshman running back Chris Polk may be a little more nervous than usual heading into his first collegiate game Saturday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Freshman Chris Polk is on the front of the list of Washington's depth chart at tailback.
Saturday afternoon, however, he plans to sit near the bathroom in the back of the bus as the Huskies head to Eugene, Ore., for their opener against the Oregon Ducks.
Polk gets so nervous before games that he usually throws up, often multiple times, a habit dating to when he was 6 years old and due to his advanced abilities was thrown in against a bunch of older kids.
It's something he anticipates will happen again on the way to Autzen Stadium.
"I'll probably try to eat when I get on the bus," he said. "I'll sit on the back so I'm close to the bathroom. I'll probably try to eat a little candy bar or something, but I'm probably just going to throw it up anyway."
It'll all be worth it, however, if the Huskies can throw down the Ducks for the first time since 2003.
The freshman from Redlands, Calif., emerged as the starting tailback despite being listed on the roster all fall as a slotback, the position he played in the spring. He graduated from high school last December and enrolled at UW in time for spring practice.
Polk had played both positions in high school, though he was primarily a tailback his senior season. Washington coaches, satisfied with the progress of some of the other young receivers, decided to try Polk in the backfield at the start of fall camp, and by the second day, Polk said, they told him that he was likely to stay there a while.
Polk appeared to work with the starting unit throughout camp with projected starter Brandon Johnson recovering from injuries. Still, Polk said he was surprised to see on Monday that he was listed as the starter.
"I really didn't have a sense [that he'd be the starter] because when I was running with the [first team], Brandon was hurt, so I thought when he came back he would be the one, and I would have no problem being his sub," Polk said. "I was real surprised they had me there because he played there last year and had game experience, and I'm just a freshman who has nothing. So it was real surprising."
What UW coach Tyrone Willingham says Polk does have, however, is the "wow" factor, the ability to make a big play every time he touches the ball, something he put on display often last season as he rushed for 2,561 yards and earned recognition as the No. 7 running back in the nation by SuperPrep.
"It's a wonderful sensation to have as a coach when you have a player who does that, so it's exciting and we are eager to get that combination [of Polk and quarterback Jake Locker] on the field," Willingham said during the Pac-10 coaches teleconference Tuesday.
Polk doesn't figure to have to shoulder the entire load, though. Johnson is getting healthier and listed as the backup and sure to see some time, as could redshirt freshman Willie Griffin and true freshman David Freeman, also listed as backups.
But it's Polk, who committed to USC late in his junior year before switching last December, lured to UW in part by the prospect of immediate playing time, upon whom the spotlight will shine brightest Saturday.
"I don't want to go down and mess up because I'm expected to do good already as a freshman," Polk said. "So it's like real nerve-wracking. I just want to do the best I can and not let people down."
Garcia to celebrate
comeback after game
Center Juan Garcia, who made what coaches have called a miraculous recovery from a severe foot injury in the spring to reclaim his starting job, said he hopes to be on the field for every play Saturday.
Offensive-line coach Mike Denbrock, however, said coaches will keep a close eye on Garcia from the start to see how his foot is holding up and determine how much he plays.
Garcia said he won't celebrate his recovery until the game ends.
"I think about [taking the field], and it gives me chills," he said. "I can't believe I didn't quit on myself and kept pushing. But at the same time, I'm not going to celebrate or nothing until the game is over and if we win and go back to the locker room, that's when I'll say, 'I did it, I finally came back.' "
• UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said Locker continues to progress in his recovery from a hamstring injury and is "really, really close to 100 percent."
The team was scheduled to practice Tuesday night for the first time since Saturday, which Lappano said would be an additional test of the injury. But Lappano said Locker's improvement seemed evident in recent conditioning drills.
"He worked on it today on the treadmill, and he's feeling pretty fine," Lappano said. "Attitude-wise, you can tell he's pretty confident in it."
• Tight end Michael Gottlieb, listed by Willingham as the regular who is most questionable due to injury, said he thinks he has a chance to play Saturday. Gottlieb suffered a strained hamstring Aug. 11 and has been limited in practice. He said he hoped to test the hamstring in practice Tuesday to get a progress report.
"I took these last couple days off hoping that rest is going to kick it into gear and get it healthy," he said. "I'm going to try it again today and hopefully keep progressing throughout the week."
His backups are senior Walt Winter and freshman Kavario Middleton.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies