Second Chance For Husky Secondary
Sept. 5, 2008
By Benton Strong
Finding a secondary in college football with a more sporadic historythan the group of seniors in the Husky defensive backfield might bean exercise in futility. Nevertheless, it does not matter so much wherethese well-traveled safeties and corners came from, they are herenow and ready to win.
The Washington back row features four seniors who have bravedthrough roller-coaster careers in a program that's been on a prettywild ride itself. Only two of the four actually started their careers at UW.Mesphin Forrester and Darin Harris came in as part of the 2004 classsigned by then-head coach Keith Gilbertson. A year later the coachwas gone, the team had finished 1-10, Forrester had redshirted andHarris had seen time in every game on special teams.
Not exactly the beginning they expected when they signed up.
In 2005, Tyrone Willingham took over and Harris' spot appeared tosolidify when he started the first two games of the year, notching aninterception to open the game against Pac-10 rival California.
'After that I didn't start again until Arizona State,' Harris said. 'Butwe lost that one too so it wasn't a good feeling.'
The following season, Harris found out he had a cracked vertebraand his football career was in jeopardy.
'I didn't know if I would play football again,' he said. 'I wanted toplay, but I didn't know if I could.'
During that same 2005 season Forrester played in just four gamesfor the 2-9 Huskies. Help, however, was on the way.
Also a freshman in 2005, albeit at UCLA, was a cornerback namedByron Velega. The Long Beach Polytechnic graduate played in all 12games for the Bruins in 2005, notching significant time in a 21-17 winover the Huskies.
Velega transferred from UCLA, spent a year out of football, changedhis last name to Davenport and found himself in Seattle trying to makethe rotation of a secondary that had just lost two players to the NFL.Unfortunately he injured a hamstring and was severely limitedduring the season, including missing all of the first two games.
'My hamstring was the first injury I had ever had in my life,'Davenport said. 'When I popped my left one I didn't know what waswrong. I freaked out because I had never been hurt. Then, in the firstweek of camp, it happened again and it really messes with you.'Davenport started seven games in 2007, making 50 tackles andgrabbing one interception.
Davenport joined the team at the same time as another transfer,safety Jason Wells. From Mt. San Antonio College, Wells came in andstarted half of the Huskies games in 2006. The following year was notnearly as successful, however, as he went down with a season-endingknee injury after five games. Wells would not compete with the teamagain until fall camp in 2008.
Between the four players they have missed nearly three full yearsdue to injury. Only Forrester has avoided a serious ailment. They haveattended five different schools and played in 97 games.
Needless to say, they've been up and down the field a few times.As the 2008 season gets underway, these four highly-seasonedveterans have one more chance to do what only one of them has done:Have a winning season and go to a bowl game. Only Davenport hasachieved that.
'I did talk to him about that when he first came [to Washington],'Forrester said. 'He was at UCLA when we played them and he talkedto me about how they had gone to a bowl and how much fun they had.He just told me about all of the fun activities they do that week and theexperience of the game, and that's something I'm hoping that I will getto experience this year.'
Part of the team's strategy to get to that point has been to moveForrester to cornerback, where he will provide veteran leadershipin front of a couple of younger players and alongside Davenport.Sophomore Vonzell McDowell got three starts as a true freshman,but will still look to that leadership, as well as classmate QuintonRichardson, who redshirted the 2007 season.
'That experience is key,' Forrester said. 'I remember my first gameagainst San Jose State. I was so nervous. You know you're out there tomake plays, but you have so many distractions because you've neverplayed with so many people in the stands. You're used to 3,000 peoplein a high school stadium.'
Wells, however, is quick to say that these players have come intothe program as elite athletes that want to play and will work for it.
'The young guys have come in believing they can play,' Wells said.'We have a program that allows that. If these guys learn the defensebetter than someone older than them does, then they will play. You'renot getting recruited to redshirt. You're here to play and we have thatattitude from day one.'
That attitude has been part of the change in attitude in the UWprogram that the players feel will help them get to a bowl game andrebound from a rough 2007 season.
'We're going to hold our end of the bargain up,' Harris said. 'Itstarts with the defensive linemen and we have guys there that canmake things happen. But [the secondary] have to be good as a unitand I think we can be this year. I believe in our guys and our coachingstaff.'
For Harris a successful year would be the fulfillment of a dream hehas had since a young age and one he thought he had lost.
'In the third grade, I said that I wanted to play football at theUniversity of Washington and play in the NFL,' he said. 'Now I playhere and it's my dream. It's no one else's dream and no one elseis going to make it happen for me. I'm not going to let my dreamdie easily. I'm a football player -- it's what I like to do. If I like doingsomething then I should do it.'
He and Forrester have been here for the long-haul, with somebumps along the way. They understand the desire to take the programto the next level.
'It has been a tough ride these five years,' Forrester said. 'I camein with coach Gilbertson and coach (Phil) Snow was my defensivecoordinator and I thought they'd be here for my whole time. Now it'smy senior year and I feel we'll get this bowl game. It's hard being herefive years and not getting that bowl game. We've had rough years andhaven't even been over .500 since I've been here. There has been alot of adversity that I've fought through since I've been here and I justwant to win so badly. I would do anything to play in a bowl game.
'We have good football players and a good team, but we justhaven't been winning the games. We always talk about that and that'sour only goal.'
And as far as leadership goes, this unit has the only player who cansay he knows what it takes to get there.
'I know what it is like to win,' Davenport said. 'I've been to a bowlgame. I see it in everybody. Everybody wants to be in a bowl game,especially the seniors. It's the time to do it. I'm the only one on theroster that knows. Everyone's attitude is really good. Our experiencegoes a long way throughout the course of the season.'
That experience is in the unit with the brightest spotlight on it. Withthe questions swirling around as to whether the team can stop anyone,confidence emanates from these four tried and tested competitors.
When you get to where they've gotten, and been through what they'vebeen through, the old clichés start to really resonate. Especially theone Wells gave about winning.
'I'm out here to win football games. I love winning and there reallyis nothing else.'