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My 10 top Wildcards for 2009
Malamute, 26 March 2009

Heading into spring practices, everybody has got his Top 10 or some thingamajig or the other.  Bob Condotta's blog lists his Top 10 Huskies for 2009; ESPN blogger Ted Miller is posting his Top 30 Pac-10 players, day-by-day. Not to be outdone, I'm listing my Top 10 Wildcards for 2009, all in one article.

For the purposes of this article, the definition of a “wildcard” is a player coming off injury or a player getting out of former coach Ty Willingham’s doghouse or a player coming off a missed season for one or more reasons. Two of my wildcards are incoming JC transfers and one played with the scout team last season.

These wildcards have plenty of ability, but one or more factors, such as an injury, academics, or attitude, question their playability for next season.  Some nagging doubts that come to mind at the mention of their names place them in a special category.

10. William Mahan (Can he gain admissions to UW -- not that it is a specific problem I know about, but always an iffy thing with JCs in general at UW -- and step up a notch to FBS-level football?)    

Mahan is a Bakersfield JC transfer expected to shoulder the punting duties vacated by Jared Ballman who has graduated. Coach Steve Sarkisian calls him the top JC punter in the country, as attested by renowned kicking coach Chris Sailer, who rates him as one of the best. Mahan (5-11, 180) is listed in Sailor’s coveted “top 12” for the 2009 class, as a result of the competition held at the 7th Annual National Kicking & Snapping Event sponsored by Nike and run by Sailer. The kicking took place January 17-18, 2009 in Las Vegas.

Because he arrived late on the scene at Washington, Sarkisian recruited for special teams last year and Mahan will be an important cog in that unit. In the 2007 season, Mahan punted 34 times for 1300 yards, with an average of 38.2 yards per punt. He had a long of 54 yards. 

Mahan is a junior with three to play two.

Also, see his link from Chris Sailer kicking.

9. Mykenna Ikehara (Can Ikehara successfully make the transition from the scout team to a starting role?)

Ikehara (6-3, 291) drew rave reviews playing center on the scout team last year. The redshirt freshman is expected to contend with Mat Sedillo and Ryan Tollar for the starting center position left open by graduating senior Juan Garcia. According to some people, Ikehara may just win that battle for the starting slot. Ikehara is one of 14 Polynesians on the team, counting the incoming freshmen. 

8. Demetrius Bronson (Will Bronson be the power running back Coach Sarkisian is looking for?)

Checking in late last year because of academics, Bronson (5-10, 215) could be the power runner of whom Sarkisian is searching and needs badly. A late qualifier, Bronson enrolled in January and was impressive. One scouting service evaluates him as follows:

“Bronson flashes good power and speed as a running back prospect. He blends a compact, thickly-built upper-body with a longer, rangier lower-body that still has room for added bulk to compliment his current downhill running style. Presses the hole quickly and flashes the speed to bounce it outside or the shiftiness to avoid the in-line trash.” See the link for the complete evaluation.

7. Brandon Johnson (Can Johnson make the transition from Willingham's doghouse to meet the challenge of a clean slate?)

Two years ago as a true freshman, Johnson (5-10, 210) reeled off 121 yards against Cal on 23 carries. Led by TB Louis Rankin, the Huskies posted 334 rushing yards on the Bears that day in a 37-23 victory. The Huskies averaged 203.1 yards on the ground in 2007, and since most of the offensive line was returning in 2008, big things were expected for the running game and Johnson.

Last year, the Huskies averaged just 99.3 yards on the ground, with Johnson posting 194 yards rushing on 76 attempts, at a clip of 2.55 yards per carry. Johnson was in Willingham’s doghouse last season and reportedly didn’t even trip to the last game of the season against Cal. Johnson is one of two Huskies who has been given a clean slate from the coaching staff.

Given a second chance, will he make the most of it?

6. Johnny Tivao (Can Tivao make the JC transition to UW, always a tough hill to climb at Washington?)

Tivao (5-11, 330) out of Cerritos JC, is slated to play defensive tackle. As a freshman at Cerritos, Tivao posted 71 tackles and won Cerritos’ MVP award. He and possibly Craig Noble (listed below) needs to jump start a defensive front seven that gave up an average of 240.6 yards rushing per game last season. Tivavo carries a low pad level and is a two-gap player. 

Tivao is a junior with three to play two.

Check out this article about defensive tackles at USC, written by Nick Daschel.

5. Curtis Shaw (Can he make a successful return to Washington and leave his personal problems behind him?)

Shaw (5-11, 190) missed the 2008 season for personal reasons. As a true freshman in 2007, Shaw played in 12 games and rushed 7 times for 12 yards; he caught 5 passes for 47 yards. Playing on special teams, he returned 2 kicks for 56 yards. Shaw is apparently bigger now, physically, and is expected to help out at running back and special teams.

4. Craig Noble (Academic issues ruled the 4-star DT out of action last season, but now is he ready to go?)

It has been rumored that Noble may be given a shot on the offensive line in 2009. Considering the anemic running game last season, the OL appears to be in dire straits. But so is the defensive line, and it could be a wishy-washy Hamlet thing for the coaches as far as Noble is concerned, in a “to be or not to be” situation as far as which side of the line he’ll play. I think the DL needs a jolt of electricity, and at 6-3, 285, Noble could provide some high-tension line voltage. Coming out of Taft high school in Woodland Hills, California, Noble says he’s best at bull rushing and stopping the run.

3. E. J. Savannah (Can Savannah make the transition from Willingham's doghouse, to fulfill the promise of a clean slate?

LB Savannah missed the entire season last year (while ineligible/suspended/departed, take your pick) and is the number eight player in Bob Condotta’s top 10 Huskies. In 2007, he led the Huskies in tackles, registering 111 tackles and was named the KJR player of the year.

Condotta writes, “… he was suspended for part of the spring, apparently for missing some off-season workouts, and after returning for the end of spring drills, suffered a broken humerus bone in an off-field incident. He then was suspended for the start of fall camp, apparently mostly for academic reasons (Savannah insists he was eligible) before finally deciding a few weeks in to leave the team.” If Savannah gets his act together, I predict defensive coordinator Nick Holt will say “he’s awesome.”

2. Jason Wells (Can Wells put his injuries behind him?)

As a result of the Huskies Pro Timing Day on March 10, Condotta writes, “The most noteworthy thing actually wasn't any of the former UW players getting timed, by pro scouts but the sight of safety Jason Wells on crutches --- a number of current UW players came to support their teammates and see what Pro Day is all about. The safety said he suffered a torn Achilles (his right) in a recent workout and will miss spring practice. He said through a spokesman that he hopes to be ready for the start of fall camp in August. Wells sat out last season as a redshirt to rehab a knee injury suffered in 2007 and it was hoped that he would return healthy and compete to regain a spot as a starting safety.”

Recovering successfully from injury is his only question mark.

1. Chris Polk (Can Polk fulfill his exceptional promise and fight off injury?)

At the Chow Down to Washington banquet in 2008, coach Willingham talked about Polk and how he had recruited him away from USC. Polk’s family was split down the middle on his recruitment, but Tyrone said that he had Polk’s mother on his side, his ace in the hole. Big things were expected from the true freshman last year, but he played in only two games, having suffered a shoulder injury (a torn labrum), which required surgery.

Last season, Polk rushed 20 times for 33 yards, running tentatively up the middle most of the time and clearly was not ready yet for prime time.

-- By the way, did you catch Nick Daschel's column on spring football at the Washington schools? Click on the link.

-- Honorable mention: Anthony Boyles, Morgan Rosborough, Johri Fogerson, Erik Folk, Ronnie Fouch, Chris Izbicki, De'Shon Mathews, Kavorio Middleton, Ben Ossai, Alameda Ta'amu, Ryan Tolar.

Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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