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Originally published April 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 5, 2007 at 9:01 PM

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Football | Former Huskies trying to move on

As UW goes through spring practice without them, the five players whose careers ended suddenly last season make plans for their futures.

Seattle Times staff reporter

From a junior to a senior, in one week

My how time flies {$326} Defensive reserve Chris Hemphill was one of five Huskies declared a senior near the end of the 2006 season. His roster listing is nearly identical except for his school year.

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Their former Washington teammates headed to Husky Stadium for another spring practice, but Chris Hemphill, Durrell Moss and Marlon Wood turned instead into the school's Intramural Activities Center a few hundred yards away.

There, they conducted their own spring workout, football still fresh on their minds and in their futures — Hemphill and Moss, defensive backs planning to play this fall at Central Washington; Wood, a receiver and returner hoping for a shot in the NFL.

They probably could have used the athletic-department facilities if they wanted, but Wood says sardonically, "Personally, I don't feel like being in that area."

The trio was among five players — kicker Michael Braunstein and offensive lineman William Kava are the others — who figured a year ago they'd still be Huskies going through the final spring before their senior seasons.

Instead, their UW careers were suddenly over. The week of the Stanford game, each was publicly declared a senior after having been listed all season as a junior.

"People tell me all the time, 'That's really messed up how that happened,' " Hemphill says. "I didn't even get to be in the senior picture and other things like that. I really wanted to share in things like that."

Perplexing timing

It's not uncommon in college football for players who have been in a program for four years not to return for a fifth year of eligibility. Players can get a fifth year if they have redshirted for one season, but only at the discretion of the coach. It happens to a player or two in every program just about every year as coaches seek ways to make room for new players within the 85-scholarship limit.

But it generally happens in the quiet of the offseason, not two days before a critical game. Washington coach Tyrone Willingham said he told the players of his plans before the end of the season so they could be acknowledged as seniors before playing their final game.

Along with the timing, what made this newsworthy was that Braunstein and Hemphill were key contributors who wanted to stay and were eligible to do so. Generally, those not invited back aren't significant players or have injury problems.

Another surprise was the confusing situation with Wood. Unlike the others, it was determined that Wood had no more eligibility left and had been incorrectly listed as a junior.

Washington now lists players on its football roster by academic year and not by how much athletic eligibility they have remaining.

Thus, quarterback Jake Locker — whom the Huskies took great pains last season to redshirt to preserve a year of eligibility — is listed as a sophomore.

Willingham insists the change isn't because of what happened in November and would have occurred anyway. He says it's getting the roster in line with his philosophy that fifth years are "a privilege and an honor" and have to be earned, and aren't granted until the end.

"We were just trying to get it all consolidated, and maybe we hadn't taken the time to do that," Willingham said.

"Still hurts a little bit"

The five players left behind have varying attitudes about it now.

Hemphill and Wood remain bitter — Hemphill saying he still doesn't know why he wasn't wanted back, Wood upset that his situation wasn't more clearly explained to him. Braunstein is now kicking for Ohio University and says he's moving on happily. Moss and Kava, meanwhile, made mutual decisions not to come back and have no complaints.

"It still hurts a little bit inside the way things happened, especially with spring ball starting," says Hemphill, who started two games at free safety last season. "I wish I could be out there."

Especially when he looks at the roster and sees that there are just three scholarship safeties on hand, with UW likely to count heavily on incoming freshmen to add depth in the fall.

"They only have [senior cornerback] Roy [Lewis] coming back with any leadership in the secondary," Hemphill says. "And he can't do it all by himself. I felt like I could have been that other guy back there to lead and teach."

As for the reason Hemphill wasn't asked back, Willingham says "I think I've communicated [it] very well" to Hemphill.

But Willingham won't go into specifics, saying there are certain general standards regarding playing, academics and being a citizen that must be met for a player to get a fifth year.

Hemphill counters that he was never in trouble academically — he should graduate by the end of the summer quarter — or with the law, and that the way he played at the end of the season should have indicated he was making progress.

Rumblings at the time were that Hemphill had been suspended for a few games — he played in just seven of 12 games last season — after having words with secondary coach J.D. Williams.

Hemphill admits, "I said some things I shouldn't have" out of frustration during a practice, but that he wasn't suspended for the incident.

"People made more of that than it was," he says.

Hemphill says Willingham told him early in the year he might not be asked back because the coach "wanted more improvement" in his play. Hemphill thought he showed that when he started against Oregon due to injury and led UW with 14 tackles, and also had an interception and a 34-yard return that led to a touchdown.

"But I feel like that just went in one ear and out the other," he says. "I wasn't what they were looking for, I guess. I have to take that as a man and respect his decision and take this opportunity [at Central Washington] to show them what they missed out on."

Hemphill originally looked into transferring to a Division I school, but said he couldn't graduate in time to take advantage of a since-rescinded rule allowing players to transfer and be eligible immediately if they have already received their undergraduate degree.

So Hemphill will instead attend Central Washington, a Division II school in Ellensburg, and play football alongside Moss and another former Husky, receiver Charles Smith, who wasn't asked back after running into academic trouble last year.

At Central, Hemphill could team in the secondary with a former UW signee, Keauntea Bankhead.

Love for football

Hemphill, Moss and Smith typically work out at the IMA each afternoon to prepare for next fall.

"We love football that much — that we are willing to go to a lower division to play," says Hemphill.

They are often joined in their workouts by Wood, who also is still attending classes at UW and still perplexed about the way his Huskies career ended.

Wood came to Washington in 2005 as a transfer from Pasadena (Calif.) City College, part of Willingham's first recruiting class. He attended Alabama State in the 2002-03 season and ran track, but didn't play football. He didn't compete in any sport the following year after returning to his home in Tampa, Fla., for a while to deal with a family issue.

While Wood says he understands that last year marked his fifth season of football eligibility — the eligibility clock starts once a student enrolls, whether playing or not — he says he was led to believe UW would help him try to get an additional season due to the family issue in 2003.

"But I don't think coach was going to give my year back, anyway," Wood says. "I think he thought it was time for the younger guys to get a chance to play, so it wasn't really worth [pursuing] it. I didn't feel like they needed me here anymore."

Wood says no coach told him directly his UW career was over, and he heard it from teammates at practice and by reading the newspaper.

"That last week of the Wazzu game, they would talk about sending the seniors out right, and they'd name guys like Sonny [Shackelford], and they didn't even call my name out, so I didn't know what to think," he says.

Wood returned a kickoff 87 yards late in the second quarter against Washington State that set up a UW score in the Huskies' 35-32 win, though that gives him little consolation when assessing his career.

"It seems like I wasn't even here," Wood says. "I want to say it happened so fast, but it felt like it burned really slow. I don't even know what to think."

"Wouldn't that be sweet?"

Braunstein, who initially made the most noise on his way out protesting his treatment, is now at Ohio University in Athens.

Braunstein was able to enroll after doing what Hemphill couldn't, graduating from UW in the spring and enrolling at Ohio as a graduate student. He is taking classes in Ohio's sports-administration program, fulfilling a long-desired goal to get into that field.

"Ultimately, for my life and my career, I'm in the best position possible," he says.

Ohio played in the GMAC Bowl last year. "Maybe I'll play in my first bowl game, huh?" he says. "Wouldn't that be sweet?"

Kava and Moss, meanwhile, say they made their own decisions to leave the Washington football team.

Kava, who signed with UW in 2001, spent two years with the Huskies before leaving for a two-year Mormon mission. He returned in 2005, but his knees have bothered him since high school, and he decided last year he couldn't play anymore.

Moss, a defensive back from Orange, Calif., who started two games in 2005, battled family issues all last season.

"My heart really wasn't in playing anymore," he says.

In fact, he almost didn't come back for last season and concluded it would be his last after meeting with Willingham midway through. But with the family issues cleared up, he decided to give football one more shot and will play at Central this fall.

Moss, Wood, Hemphill and Kava plan on graduating from Washington, and all say they were kept on scholarship through the academic year, as promised.

Wood says he is getting a degree in political science and plans to take the LSAT, and Kava also might pursue law school. Hemphill and Moss are close to graduating with degrees in American Ethnic Studies.

Hemphill says he wouldn't be as upset if he had been told up front he might have only four years, but says coach Rick Neuheisel promised him five when he signed in 2003 (UW officials say it's technically against NCAA rules to promise players any more than one year at a time on scholarship).

Willingham says he told all players when he took over of his philosophy that even if redshirted early in their careers, they have to earn a fifth year.

Heart of the matter

With current players apparently understanding their situations, the new roster designations mostly will probably just confuse fans, who might wonder how J.R. Hasty is a junior when he has three years of eligibility left.

Most schools list players solely by athletic eligibility. Washington officials say players next fall might be listed by both athletic and academic years as some schools do.

Is Locker's designation as a sophomore misleading given that the main reason he was redshirted last year was to preserve a fifth season of eligibility?

"Well, I hope he never gets it," Willingham says of a fifth year, "that he's that good [and heads to the NFL early]."

It's left to Kava to get to the heart of the matter.

"When I came here in 2001, I got it pretty quickly that as much as they say it's a game, it's pretty much a business at the same time," he said. "That's just the way it goes."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

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