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Originally published December 10, 2011 at 5:16 PM | Page modified December 11, 2011 at 1:44 PM

Washington's Chris Polk not thinking about pro prospects just yet

Running back concentrating on Alamo Bowl, not on decision on whether to turn pro

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The conventional wisdom about Chris Polk's future at Washington are the same words that describe Polk once he turns the corner on a running play — he's as good as gone.

But when Polk met with reporters earlier this week, the junior running back insisted he has yet to make a decision, and hasn't even really started the process of evaluating it.

"I actually haven't really thought of that because that wouldn't be fair to my teammates or my coaches and all the fans to have my mind elsewhere," he said. "Right now, I'm just thinking about Baylor and thinking about this game (Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29). I think my decision process will probably set in after the bowl game, but as of right now I'm not even worried about that."

In fact, he said he hasn't sent in an application to the NFL to get feedback on where he would likely be drafted, a step many underclassmen take before deciding to declare. The deadline to decide is Jan. 18.

As a fourth-year junior, Polk has a year of eligibility remaining. And because he redshirted due to injury as a freshman in 2008, he could have left after last season. He decided to stay, citing in part his desire to finish his degree. He's now done that — he walked in graduation in June and is taking the final credits now to complete his degree in American Ethnic Studies.

He's also mentioned wanting to become the school's career leading rusher — he's 205 yards away from breaking the mark of 4,106 set by Napoleon Kaufman from 1991-94.

But as with other factors that will play into the decision, Polk won't definitively say that would be a reason to come back.

"Somewhat, yes, it factors in my decision," said Polk, who was the only UW player named to the first team of the All-Pac-12 squad this year after rushing for 1,341 yards. "But God has a plan for me. If it's meant for me to get it, I'll get it. If I don't, I won't. I haven't really thought about that. I wouldn't mind coming back to college another year and just rewriting history. We'll see how it plays out."

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said he'll meet with Polk at some point soon to begin talks about his future.

Washington has not had a player leave early for the NFL since Sarkisian arrived after the 2008 season. The last Huskies to leave early were receiver Reggie Williams and defensive lineman Terry "Tank" Johnson following the 2003 season.

Jake Locker famously decided following the 2009 season to stay one more year, then imprinted himself as a Husky legend by leading Washington to its first winning season and bowl since 2002.

But as Sarkisian noted, while there are some similarities in their situations, there also are some critical differences.

"They are similar in the fact that he's a junior and he's thinking about making the decision to enter the NFL draft," Sarkisian said. "I think (for) both guys there is a lot of positives to leaving and there are positives to staying and you try to figure out and weigh those and what is the best for your immediate future and also your long-term future. That's why they are different, they are both different positions, different players, different times, different eras."

The position aspect of it could be the most crucial, some observers say.

Quarterbacks, who are playing the most mentally demanding position in the game, often are encouraged to stay in college as long as possible to polish their craft.

Running backs, playing maybe the most physically punishing position, usually are not discouraged from leaving as soon as there is a viable market for them. Running backs generally have one of the lowest average career life spans in the NFL.

"There is a belief that running backs have only so many hits they can take and the body can only absorb so much punishment," said Rob Rang, a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, a partner of CBSSports.com. "Therefore, once a player has established himself as a legit NFL back, as Polk has, the best choice would be to leave now."

Rang says Polk would have a chance to climb into the first round, but says it's more likely he would be taken in the second, in part because of the changing dynamics of the position in the NFL.

"NFL teams are shifting away from featuring one lead runner," he said. "Teams simply don't see the value in using this high of a pick on players they may rotate often. Secondly, Polk does not possess elite breakaway speed. Most importantly, considering the physical nature with which he runs, there will be concerns as to how much tread is left on Polk's tires. As such, the medical grade he is given by NFL team doctors will play a critical role in determining his final draft status."

Rang says there are some subtle things Polk could likely get better at by staying, notably pass blocking. But he says "that doesn't warrant the risk you would take by coming back. Anybody who is being honest would advise him that now is the time to go."

Polk said the prediction of the round in which he might be selected won't be a determining factor, saying "it doesn't matter to me because who's the person telling me? You never know what these coaches are thinking or GMs are thinking. Rounds: It's just a prediction, it's not true or false or whatever. It's important not to just go off that."

Instead, he said he'll simply do what feels right.

"I gotta do what's best for me," he said. "I've got to really evaluate the situation, look at both sides — the pros and cons of leaving or going. But it's going to be a real tough decision to make. I'm going to have to do a lot of praying on it and really, really study and just evaluate my options. Because at the end of the day, it's my life, so what I can do could potentially help or hurt me, so I've got to do what's best."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @bcondotta.

High five
Here are UW's top five career rushers:
Player Years Yds
Napoleon Kaufman 1991-94 4,106
Chris Polk 2008-2011 3,902
Joe Steele 1976-79 3,168
Greg Lewis 1987-90 2,903
Vince Weathersby 1985-88 2,811

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