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Neuheisel’s future may lie with the Valley
Will the valley trio come to the rescue?
By: Richard Linde, Posted 18 February 2003

Since Rick Neuheisel’s arrival at Washington, the media have skewered and rotated him endlessly, so much so that he might as well be a pig at a luau—grossly overdone. The latest media roasting, the straight line by the Seattle Times’ “schmooze editorial” and the punch line by the Seattle Post Intelligencer’s “catcher-in-the-lie” article, may prelude Neuheisel’s termination at Washington.

This next season will be critical for the coach’s survival and the fortunes of the Washington Huskies. Neuheisel is the Rollercoaster Tycoon of college football, and the Huskies don't need a rollercoaster ride in 2003, coming off a mediocre 7-6 season.

Because the Huskies return a veteran team led by a senior quarterback, they should be odds on favorites to win the Pac-10 championship. Seconding that notion are a down-year for the rest of the Pac-10 and a relatively easy schedule for the Huskies after they play Ohio State. Arizona State is off the schedule and USC, Oregon and WSU are at home.

Defensively, the Dawgs should be improved with the addition of Phil Snow, who will play a dual role as assistant defensive coordinator and secondary coach. The Huskies secondary should be lightning fast and, up front, they have the wide-bodies to stop the run.

Fans, alumni and boosters will accept nothing short of a 10-2 season; the gauntlet will be thrown and the golden boy must vanquish the opposition, both members of the media and conference foes alike, to save his job.

Standing in his way are potential injuries to key players—only lady luck will tell—and a potentially weak running game. Last season, the Huskies finished near the bottom in Division 1-A football rushing statistics.

Obviously, Neuheisel can’t do much about injuries, but he can buttress the running game, as hopeless a task as it seems.

He returns a veteran offensive line, four/fifths of which are back, that should be even stronger next year.

However, based on its Sun Bowl performance, a mediocre ground game should show up for April's spring game. That should be no surprise to anyone.

But there's hope for the fall, as I look north from my home in Camarillo.

It's my guess that the key to the Huskies’ running game and overall success in the 2003 season lies with the San Joaquin Valley and parts just north.

During the recruiting season in the fall and winter months, the San Joaquin valley is desolate, cold and foggy, a place where a recruiting coordinator would rather face a pack of hostile boosters rather than drive through a Tule to some kid’s house. In the summer, it’s too hot for frying eggs on anyone’s sidewalk, and the buzzards are circling Bakersfield, the "armpit of California." For those reasons, most recruiters from the southland throw the Dawgs a bone, leaving them to hunt the valley, along with Fresno State and rivals to the north.

Enter Kenny James (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) out of Dos Palos high school in the town of Dos Palos (Merced County). The Huskies recruited him away from Washington State and Fresno State in 2002.  

His ability is typified by a 67-yard touchdown run he made against Chowchilla high school in 2001.

After cannonading through the Chowchilla line, James cuts to his right and races down the right sideline avoiding several tacklers. On the Chowchilla thirty, he cuts to his left and heads for the center of the field, into the midst of would-be tacklers. Avoiding them, he races to the left sideline, where he twists away from three tacklers and bolts for the end zone, garnering six points for the Broncos.

At Dos Palos, James (photo above) had seven five-touchdown games; he finished his career with 25 straight games, in which he rushed for more than 100 yards. Not the fastest of the fastest (4.67 seconds in the 40), James, who is a bull to bring down, obviously has the wherewithal to find a way to score--and that’s what matters. James won the Merced Sun-Stars' “Prep Football Player of the Year” honors two years in a row.

This recruiting season, Chuck Heater, Washington’s recruiting coordinator, brought in Louis Rankin (6-feet, 205 pounds, 4.36) out of Lincoln high school in Stockton.

After the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals, Rankin had 40 touchdowns for the season, which ranked him number 2 in the state.

The mercurial Rankin’s power and shiftiness in the open field makes him an ideal candidate to run the ball for the Dawgs this fall as a true freshman.

"I just like to get everybody fired up," Rankin has been quoted as saying. "Let everyone know we play to win."

From just north of the San Joaquin Valley in the Sacramento Valley comes the sleeper of Neuheisel’s recruiting class, C. J. Wallace (6-0, 195, 4-4) , who has been penciled in as a defensive back.  

At Grant high school, Wallace rushed for 1,585 yards and scored 24 touchdowns. He was a standout defensive back. Wallace made the Sacramento Bee’s all-city football team.

Wallace’s shifty, open-field running style reminds me of Lorenzo Booker’s. Booker chose Florida State over Washington and Notre Dame on the 2002 signing day.

Certainly, the Huskies will give C. J. a shot at running back, especially if they suffer injuries at that position.

Three of the returning running backs, Rich Alexis, Chris Singleton and Shelton Sampson, pose some questions. Alexis was hampered by injuries and the inability to find some holes last season. The coaches showed a reluctance to play Singleton, for whatever reason. On the scout team last season, Sampson demonstrated speed and maneuverability, but is he just a track man playing football?

That’s why the trio from the valley is so important.

Wallace, Rankin and James give the Dawgs the potential of a running attack that could be just formidable enough to give quarterback Cody Pickett added time in the pocket.

If called upon, the valley-trio could remove Neuheisel from the media's skewer--for at least one season more.


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