New Leaders Emerge This Spring

April 24, 2007

By Joshua Mayers
The Daily

The cold winter and last year's seniors are both gone. Spring is here, a season of new life and a time for new leaders to emerge.

As the weather outside heats up, so does the competition on the football field.

In the spirit of that competition, Jake Locker, Donald Butler and E.J. Savannah have stepped up and earned their starting spot in the spring.

All have little-to-no game experience, but each has proven he is ready for the added responsibility.

'Spring practice is one of the best opportunities for an individual player to make his statement or try to establish his position,' coach Tyrone Willingham said.

'I love a man that can be a leader in the community, a leader in the classroom and a leader on the football .'

'These three certainly have.

Even before practices began, Willingham was open, if not excited, to name the prized Locker as his starting quarterback.

But the first-year quarterback has made sure to earn the admiration of his teammates.

'I don't even think of him as a freshman,' center Juan Garcia said to The Seattle Times. 'To me, he's a senior.'

Garcia is a senior with four years of experience.

'I love a man that can be a leader in the community, a leader in the classroom and a leader on the football field,' Willingham said. 'That, to me, is what it should all be about, and I think [Locker] embodies that.'

Much of the attention and expectations have fallen upon the young signal-caller's shoulders, but after a scrimmage that was also open to former Husky players, Locker expressed a selfless goal.

'We're all trying to bring the program back to what it was,' he said.

Like Locker's success as a quarterback, Butler and Savannah are two emerging stars from the linebacker position.

With two of last year's starters gone, Willingham challenged the linebackers to work hard and come back better than before.

'I always ask, `how are you returning?'' the third-year coach said. 'Are they returning as a better player than a year ago?'

Butler and Savannah have. So far, they have out-competed a linebacker group of 12 for the open starting spots.

For Butler, it is all about confidence and self-belief.

'It's a lot [to take on], but I'm the man to do it,' he said. 'From what I've done last year and into this year, I know I can do it.'

With his leader's mentality in the offseason and after adding five pounds of muscle, which makes him 240 pounds, Butler has earned the No. 1 spot on the depth chart at the middle linebacker position. He's like the quarterback of the defense.

Alongside Butler is Savannah, a junior linebacker who has been dealing with injuries during his three years at Washington.

Finally healthy, the Bellevue graduate is ready to demonstrate the potential that Husky football fans have been waiting for since he helped lead one of the most dominant high school teams in this state's history.

'I'm more comfortable, and it just comes with time and experience,' Savannah said. 'This is how I should be playing. I feel good out there.'

He came into the spring in a tight competition with Chris Stevens, but his knack for making plays accelerated the decision process.

'When he hit people [in high school], it was kind of electric,' Willingham said. 'Balls and body parts seemed to just go flying in different directions.'

With these three new leaders, the only direction the Washington football program will be going is up.

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