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Originally published October 31, 2011 at 9:09 PM | Page modified November 1, 2011 at 12:46 AM

Steve Kelley

Chris Polk is UW's best running back ever

Chris Polk's combination of speed and power makes him Washington's greatest running back.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Saturday

Oregon @ UW, 7:30 p.m., ROOT Sports

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Chris Polk is that quick right cross you can't duck. He's that collision you can't avoid. He's an elbow to the chops. A knee to the gut. A pain in the neck and the shoulder and the chest.

Washington's junior tailback is a hitter, even when he gets hit. He punishes would-be tacklers. He sends a message every time he lowers his pads and blasts into a hole. He gains yards after contact.

It's going to hurt to hit Chris Polk. It's going to hurt, 30, maybe 40 times a day.

Even when he was in high school, when he was smaller and not only played tailback, but also was a wide receiver and slotback, Polk was a punisher.

"The one thing that was very clear in his play in high school was how physical he finished his runs," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said at Monday's weekly news conference. "Even when he was a wide receiver he was a physical guy."

But Polk also is an artful dodger, as elusive as a memory. That zero-to-60 sprinter that runs past you in a blink. He's iron and mercury, solid and fast.

Without Polk, Washington wouldn't have risen so quickly from its 0-12 disaster of 2008. Without Polk, there wouldn't have been a Holiday Bowl last year. Without Polk, Washington wouldn't have six wins coming into Saturday night's final game at Husky Stadium against Oregon.

Sarkisian's first Husky tailback is the best running back in the school's history. Polk has speed similar to Napoleon Kaufman. He has the combination of speed and power of Corey Dillon. And he has a feel for the game like Hugh McElhenny.

He is the best back in the Pac-12. Oregon's LaMichael James might be better for Oregon's system, because of his speed and ability to get around the edge. But Polk is more complete.

Polk scored five touchdowns in the late-night win over Arizona, tying a one-game Washington record set by McElhenny and Dillon. He also became the first Washington back to have more than 100 yards both rushing and receiving in the same game.

Eighteen times he has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game, breaking Kaufman's school record. Barring injury, Polk will be the Huskies' all-time leading rusher, passing Kaufman.

"Napoleon was more of a speed, downhill back, which is nothing against Chris because he has the speed in the open field to run away from guys, too," said Damon Huard, who was Kaufman's quarterback. "I guess the biggest difference might be the size. Chris is more of a bruiser. Both get the job done. Both are exciting players. They're the two best backs to ever play at this school.

"Chris is more of a punishing back. The way guys bounce off him, the way he gets stronger as the game goes on. I think Chris is even more of a complete back because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and to pass protect."

In 1996, Dillon was a meteor. He came to Washington in mid-August and announced he was leaving for the NFL after the Holiday Bowl in December.

But in those remarkable four months, he scored a Washington-record 25 touchdowns. He didn't start the first three games but finished with 1,695 rushing yards, a school season record.

"Corey was a fantastic teammate," said Brock Huard, Dillon's quarterback. "He loved to play football. He was a warrior. Just never complained, even when Rashaan Shehee was starting at the beginning of the year. And he was an unbelievably physically dominant runner.

"Chris is light on his feet, short steps and kind of bounds away. Corey was the same way. Between the tackles, they're going to put their shoulder pads down and run through tackles. But in the open field, they're going to rise up like Michael Johnson and show you some of their elite speed."

If I had one handoff to one Washington back that would mean a national championship, I'd probably give the ball to Dillon. But for 60 minutes, for the many things he can do, I would want Polk at tailback.

"If we need 1 yard, I'd give it to Chris Polk," Damon said. "If it's a draw and I need him to get it to the house, I'd probably give it to Napoleon."

"From the 5, I'll take Corey Dillon," Brock said. "If I have to score from the 50, I'll take Napoleon Kaufman.

"But from the 25-yard line I think I might take Chris Polk."

The last few weeks probably will be the last of Polk's Husky career.

Pay close attention to him. You'll be watching the best of the best of the Washington tailbacks.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Rushing stars
Chris Polk is on pace to be the all-time UW rushing leader.
Player Years Yards
1. Napoleon Kaufman 1991-94 4,106
2. Chris Polk 2008- 3,577*
3. Joe Steele 1976-79 3,168
4. Greg Lewis 1987-90 2,903
5. Vince Weathersby 1985-88 2,811
6. Jacque Robinson 1981-84 2,636
7. Hugh McElhenny 1949-51 2,499
* At least four games remaining this season

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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