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Originally published Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 8:27 PM

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Washington football opener offers fresh start for two legends

Billy Joe Hobert and Corey Dillon never played together as Huskies, but they share a similar story as players who carried the team to dizzying heights before leaving school prematurely under clouds of controversy. Their relationships with the University of Washington soured over the years, and neither had never returned to watch a game on Montlake — until Saturday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A game that marked the beginning of the Steve Sarkisian era also celebrated the return of two of the most decorated and controversial figures in Washington Huskies football history.

Billy Joe Hobert and Corey Dillon never played together as Huskies, but they share a similar story as players who carried the team to dizzying heights before leaving school prematurely under clouds of controversy.

Their relationships with the University of Washington soured over the years, and neither had returned to watch a game on Montlake — until Saturday.

"I can't speak for Corey, but from my perspective, the communication lines were cut off for me," said Hobert, the 1992 Rose Bowl MVP who led UW to a share of the '91 national championship. "From my standpoint, I felt like I had no reason to come back."

Make no mistake, this day was all about Sarkisian and the new-look Huskies, who faced No. 11-ranked Louisiana State in front of a nationally televised audience and a sold-out Husky Stadium crowd.

But as they watched from the sideline with a small crowd of former players, Hobert and Dillon said Sarkisian's open-door policy to alumni paved the way for their return.

"I just thought the way things transpired, with me going off and joining the league [NFL] and being drafted, that there was a lot of sourness," Dillon said. "My whole priorities shifted, and I didn't think about past stuff."

The last time Dillon was at Husky Stadium, he had a game for the ages. He ran for 222 yards and caught an 83-yard touchdown pass against San Jose State in 1996, setting NCAA records for rushing yards and all-purpose yards (305) in one quarter.

He set school records for rushing yards (1,695) and touchdowns (24) in a season, but things turned contentious with the coaching staff and school administration when Dillon decided to forgo his final year and declare for the NFL draft.

The four-time Pro Bowl player played 10 years in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots, with whom he won a Super Bowl ring following the 2004 season. His 11,241 yards and 82 touchdowns rank 17th and 16th, respectively, on the NFL's all-time lists.

After retiring in 2007, he moved to Calabasas, Calif., where he lives with his wife, Desiree, and three daughters.

"To be welcomed back or not, it really didn't affect me at all because I'm off doing my own thing anyway, trying to be a Hall of Fame dad. So all of this other stuff really don't affect me so much," Dillon said. "It got to a point where I kind of just let some of that stuff go. I'm going to be a bigger person. If they want to welcome me back, then I'll come back and try to help them rebuild and be a part of the purple and gold again."

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Hobert admits his relationship with UW hasn't fully healed, but he hopes to one day be inducted in the Husky Hall of Fame.

"I don't know what [our relationship] is," he said. "One thing I've learned in my life is to take one day at a time, and regardless of what it leads to, it's nice to be here and that's all I can look at."

Perhaps the most polarizing Husky ever, Hobert represents the best and worst of times for UW.

Washington was 27-0 when he played. But his series of loans totaling $50,000 from a Huskies booster launched a Pac-10 investigation that led to league probation and coach Don James' resignation.

Hobert, 38, is still unapologetic after all these years.

"I can't tell you how many times people would ask me that maybe you should say sorry or apologize for what you did. And I can honestly tell you I have not lost one night of sleep because what I did, I didn't do on my own," said Hobert who lives in San Clemente, Calif., with his wife and five kids.

"I didn't take out the loan without going through the proper protocol, and people don't know that. They always assume that I got the loan on my own, but that wasn't the case.

"In my mind, I know I did not do anything wrong."

Hobert said there's more to his story and plans to release a book with details.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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