Sharp Corner

by Mason Kelley

On a crisp autumn afternoon, the Huskies take the field to battle Oregon State in the first of three games against Northwest teams. A hard-fought first quarter comes to a thrilling end for Washington when cornerback Derrick Johnson returns an interception 42 yards for a touchdown to put the Huskies ahead, 17-10.

On the Beavers' first possession of the second quarter, quarterback Derek Anderson takes the snap and begins his drop. Trapped inside his own 20-yard line and needing to make something happen, he sees his receiver break downfield.

He never sees Chris Massey.

The Husky cornerback lurks until the right moment, reading Anderson's eyes before stepping in front of the throw for the interception. By the time Anderson does see Massey, he is well on his way to the end zone to give UW a 24-10 lead that they would never relinquish, and an emotional lift that would help carry them to thrilling road wins against Oregon and Washington State.

'It was just a crazy interception,' says Massey, who played wide receiver in high school. 'I took it off the quarterback's right arm and ... I was gone. I didn't have anybody else in my sight. I was going straight for the end zone.'

Massey's never had much trouble finding the goal, it's just that the goal he seeks to score in now is a little bigger than the one he focused on as a youth.

'It was soccer that kept me out of football, because I started soccer so early,' Massey says. 'My parents didn't want me to get involved in football too early; they wanted me to wait until I had a little bit of meat on me.'

Once he hit the eighth grade, Massey joined a Pop Warner league in his hometown of Moreno Valley, Calif. He enjoyed the game, but didn't intend to pursue it any further. The Huskies can thank some constructive peer pressure for helping produce their anchor on the corner.

Massey joined the team, using the speed and cutback skills he had learned in soccer to excel as a wide receiver. During his junior year at Valley View High School, colleges began to take interest, though not for his outstanding pass-catching ability. It was his quick feet, again perfected through years of soccer training, that caught the eye of college scouts, who envisioned Massey turning on a dime to swat away passes as a lock-down cornerback.

Massey, though, wasn't so sure.

'I wanted to play receiver in college, but wasn't recruited much at that position,' he says. 'I had played a little bit of corner in high school, but I had no clue what I was doing. The scouts said they could see it in my hips and feet. I have really quick feet and they said I could be converted into a corner.'

While many teams vied for Massey's services, only one stood out.

'I wanted to get away from home and experience a new life,' he says. 'Seattle was the place for me to be. Coming up here to Washington, there is a lot of tradition. It is a big-time football program.'

Massey red-shirted his freshman year but found himself starting in the Rose Bowl as a sophomore. He has enjoyed his time a corner, but confesses to every now and then having an itch to work out with the offense.

'Actually, this summer I was playing a little receiver during seven on seven and I was eating those guys up,' Massey jokes. 'It was fun to get out there and play another position.'

While he may not get the chance to battle Reggie Williams and Charles Frederick for touchdowns, Massey's experience as a receiver gives him an advantage on defense.

'It definitely helps me out,' he says. 'I know what their actions are going to be, based on how they line up. Having played receiver, I can read where they open up and when they'll break.'

Another aspect of Massey's game is his penchant for sacking the quarterback. Massey has perfected the corner blitz and loves his chance to score a big hit.

'On corner blitzes the quarterback is not really expecting it, so you get a couple of blindside shots,' he says. 'Coming off the edge is fun.'

During his career, Massey has returned both an interception and a blocked field goal for touchdowns, though he says that the interception was more meaningful. In that game, the Huskies made five interceptions, as the defensive backs came together as a unit.

'We had a couple of losses coming into the game but the DBs finally stepped up and made some plays,' he says. 'The whole team got into in and sparked us for a couple of games that led to the Northwest title.'

A large part of Massey's success stems from the support of his parents, Walter and Avril, and his sister, Nicolle. Once they found his love for football, they nurtured it and now make it to every game they can.

'They have always been very supportive,' Massey says. 'They took me to NFL games and to a couple of Rose Bowls. I got to witness what Pac-10 football was all about.'

Having his family in the stands gives Massey a little extra lift before each game.

'My family tries to come to almost every game,' he says. 'They live in California so they have to fly up every weekend, which obviously costs a lot of money. I really appreciate my family for doing that.'

On the cusp of this, his final season at Washington, Massey has high hopes for 2003. A Pac-10 title is always the goal at Washington, and Massey would love to save his family money by traveling to see them in January, in the form of a trip to the Rose Bowl. He knows that this year's team has talent; it's simply a matter of playing hard for 60 minutes in every game.

'I want to make sure I am accountable on the field and make sure that everyone is accountable,' he says. 'There are only 11 people out on defense at one time. If just one person messes up, the other team could score a touchdown.'

Despite his success, Massey still feels that he has much to prove. If he takes what he has learned from his days as a youth soccer star and a standout high school wide receiver, fans can expect to see replays of that crisp autumn afternoon a few more times this season.

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