Last season Louis Rankin culminated his career with a season for the ages. The often-criticized running back rushed for 1,294 yards at a 5.6 yards per carry average. That was good enough to place him fifth all-time for single season performances, as he became the first 1,000-yard rusher on Montlake since 1997. Entering the 2008 season, the Huskies will lean on youth in hopes someone emerges as a replacement for Rankin. There are plenty of quality backs in the arsenal, but can one sophomore and six freshman step in and get the job done?
At fullback it's an entirely different story as the Huskies return their two battering rams in junior Paul Homer and senior Luke Kravitz. Both are tough, experienced and will continue to blow open holes when called upon.
Brandon Johnson Hawthorne, CA (Dominguez High School) 5-foot-11, 195-pound, True Sophomore 2007 STATS: 51 rushes for 196 yards and a 3.8 average and two touchdowns, 13 kick returns for 226 yards and a 17.4 average
BIO: Brandon Johnson is the only returning tail back with any college experience, having served as Louis Rankin's back up as a true freshman. His best game was a 121-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Cal Bears. Out of high school, Johnson was the No. 32 rated halfback in the nation and a top ten California running back. Johnson rushed for 1,665 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior, scoring a touchdown in all 14 games, and more than one in 13 contests. As a junior, Johnson helped lead Dominguez High School to a No. 18 USA Today national ranking. Johnson excelled as a true freshman and separated himself from the pack of his fellow class of 2007 running back recruits.
PROJECTION: Everyone assumed that Johnson would be handed the reins as the staring tailback, after showing great promise as a freshman. However, word has come out that Johnson had off-season knee surgery to repair a torn PCL and torn Meniscus. The PCL injury was sustained in high school, and he played through the pain last season. He tore his Meniscus during spring practices and is still not a 100 percent. Johnson informed us that he feels about 75 percent but anticipates being ready to go full strength by the first game. Johnson is participating in full at practices, and being the most experienced back on the staff, it shouldn't hurt his status too much. What could hurt him more is the emergence of true freshman Chris Polk. Regardless, Johnson will get plenty of carries, and should be one of the two featured backs.
Brandon Yakaboski Duvall, WA (Mt. Si High School) 6-foot-0, 190-pound, Redshirt Freshman 2006 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: 220 carries for 1,593 yards and 18 touchdowns
BIO: Brandon Yakaboski redshirted last season as freshman, but not before he impressed coaches and media during fall practices. Yakaboski has a great frame and uses every bit of his 190 pounds to punish defenses with his down hill running style. Yakaboski also has great hands and could be used out of the backfield with great success. Yakaboski was named the 3A KingCo offensive player of the year as both a junior and senior. Yakaboski compiled 3,135 yards and 33 touchdowns during that period.
PROJECTION: Yakaboski turned heads when he arrived at Montlake, and he's made a strong case for playing time in 2008. Yakaboski could provide the Huskies with a good change of pace back, with fellow redshirt freshman Willie Griffin opposite to pound the ball in the middle. Yakaboski has great hands and looks natural when grabbing passes out of the air. He should get a chance to make an impact this season.
Willie Griffin Oakland, CA (McClymonds High school) 5-foot-8, 200-pound, Redshirt Freshman 2006 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: 1,443 yards
BIO: Willie Griffin was the No. 50 ranked running back recruit in the nation for the class of 2007 and a top 100 California player. Griffin is a bulldog who uses his balance and stout frame to punish defenses with an aggressive, straight ahead approach. Griffin has good vision and adequate speed, but doesn't have breakaway speed. He rushed for 1,443 yards as a senior in high school, despite missing two games to injury. Griffin also added 854 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior.
PROJECTION: Griffin showed a lot of promise last season and is the most powerful runner the Huskies have on the roster. At 5-foot-8, 200-pounds, he has great balance, and when he lowers his shoulders, he gets low and is hard to take down. Griffin's bulldog running style should earn him carries this season, especially in short yardage situations. He will be one of the many youngsters given a chance to earn steady playing time.
Chris Polk Redlands, CA (East Valley High School) 5-foot-11, 210-pound, True Freshman 2007 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: 2,561 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns
BIO: True freshman Chris Polk was brought in to be Jake Locker's golden side kick. The high school All-American can do it all, and he's had coaches gushing over his athleticism and football instincts ever since he enrolled in the spring. As a junior in high school, when current Husky teammate Ronnie Fouch was his quarterback at East Valley High School, Polk caught 62 passes for 1,167 yards and 12 touchdowns. Take away his Division-I quarterback and what did Polk do as a senior? He moved to his natural position at running back, where he rushed for 2,561 yards and 29 touchdowns. Keep in mind that Polk did this in a highly competitive California prep league.
PROJECTION: Since Brandon Johnson isn't 100 percent, Polk has gotten ample touches in the offense. He will see the field early and often, but what position he plays is still up in the air. Polk could start the season at running back or slot receiver. Polk is the most explosive skill position player on the roster, and since adding 15 pounds of muscle since high school, he looks the part of a Pac-10 star. Expect great things from Polk as a true freshman, in fact U-Dub might soon be celebrating back-to-back Pac-10 freshman of year awards.
Johri Fogerson Seattle, WA (O'Dea High School) 6-foot-2, 190-pound, True Freshman 2007 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: 2,545 yards and 36 touchdowns
BIO: As a senior Johri Fogerson earned the AP Washington State Player of the Year Award, regardless of position, and the WashingtonPreps 3A state player of the year award, after rushing for 2,545 yards and 36 touchdowns. Fogerson finished his career with a bang, rushing for a state title game record 297 yards and 4 touchdowns. Even more impressive, was the fact that Fogerson did it against one of the best teams in the county, and a Skyline High School defense that barely gave up a touchdown per game all season long. Fogerson was rated the No. 62 athlete in the nation by Rivals.com and should have been higher. He had a ton of quality offers from schools like Oregon, California and Ohio State. Fogerson might even be a more talented safety, and could make the move at some point, much like Nate Williams did last season.
PROJECTION: Johnson and Polk look poised to get the bulk of carries this season. However, a bevy of quality rushers will be vying for back up and situation roles. Fogerson will be right in the mix early, and could provide a spark if injuries or lack of production presents playing time to him. But, if one of the redshirt freshman running backs impresses enough, Fogerson could spend the season learning with a redshirt of his own. There is loads of talent at the running back position, and Fogerson will make an impact at some point in his career, at either tailback or safety.
Terrance Dailey Vacaville, CA (Vacaville High School) 5-foot-10, 195-pound, True Freshman 2007 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: 1,741 yards and 28 touchdowns
BIO: Terrance Dailey may not have been a household name last season, but the 5-foot-10, 195-pound speedster will surprise people in Seattle. Dailey was picking up attention in a hurry when he committed to Washington. Dailey put up mind numbing statistics in high school, amassing 4,076 yards and 56 touchdowns in just two seasons. It didn't go unnoticed either, as Dailey earned numerous accolades. He was named first team all-Monticello Empire League, MEL Back of the Year, all-Metro Team, and all-Sac Joaquin Sectional Team. Dailey also received first team all-state honors for California underclassmen. Dailey is explosive and runs a legitimate 4.45 forty yard dash, and he if he can add bulk, Dailey will have the ideal combination of size and speed to succeed at the collegiate level.
PROJECTION: Dailey is yet another true freshman that will get a shot at playing time early in his career. It may sound redundant, but every back on the roster will get an honest chance to impress coaches and get into the rotation. A year redshirting might serve Dailey well, but someone needs to back up the starters.
David Freeman Inglewood, CA (Inglewood High School) 5-foot-7, 190-pound, True Freshman 2006 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: (Jr.) 1,600 yards and 21 touchdowns
BIO: David Freeman could very well end up being a diamond in the rough for the Huskies. The talented halfback was hurt for much of his senior season and flew under the radar as a result. Freeman was a top-10 California running back heading into his senior season, after earning all-league and all-area honors as a junior. Freeman found himself at Montlake, in large part because his high school coaches, Charles Mincy and Donald Jones were both former all-Pac-10 players at the University of Washington. Freeman has adequate speed, good vision and runs much bigger than he is, which allows him to not go down upon first contact.
PROJECTION: Freeman has bulked up quite a bit since high school and may have given himself a chance to get into the rotation. A redshirt season is the most likely outcome, but once again, there is nothing but freshmen to fill this position, and somebody has to play.
Paul Homer Omaha, NE (Millard North High School) 6-foot-0, 222-pound, True Junior 2007 STATS: 22 rushes and one touchdown, six receptions and eight kick returns for 194 yards, five tackles and one forced fumble
BIO: Paul Homer is the returning starter and will be a rock for this young offense. Last season, Homer earned a Pac-10 All-Academic first-team selection, as well as two tough guy awards for his team. Homer was also awarded the Chuck Niemi Big Hit Award and the Earle T. Glant Tough Husky Award. Homer, along with Locker, will be the vocal leaders of the offense. Homer will always provide plenty of motivation with his all out style of play.
PROJECTION: If he remains healthy, Homer will play in every game for the Huskies in 2008, at fullback and on special teams. He's one of the best special team performers on the roster and his leadership is very valuable.
Luke Kravitz Olympia, WA (Olympia High School) 6-foot-1, 245-pound, Redshirt Senior 2007 STATS: 17 rushes for 34 yards and four touchdowns
BIO: Luke Kravitz combined with Paul Homer make one of the best one-two punches at fullback in the league. Kravitz is a battering ram around the goal line, evident by his four touchdowns last season. He played in 12 of 13 games last season, earning the Husky Fever Offensive 12th Man of the Year Award. Kravitz is also a standout on special teams, and actually lumbered his way to a 42-yard kick return from the up-back position in the Apple Cup. The product of Olympia High School in the state's capital, Kravitz will be playing his fifth and final season at Montlake. Kravitz, much like Homer, is as tough as you will find - expect him to make an impact in his final season, every chance he gets.
PROJECTION: While Homer sees most of the playing time in the middle of the field, Kravitz will be called upon when the Huskies need his 245-pound body to blast them forward for a yard or two. While the Huskies run a lot of shotgun spread offense, limiting his role, they will be calling Kravitz's name around the goal line and on special teams.
Austin Sylvester Reno, NV (Bishop Monogue High School/ The Hun School (N.J.)) 6-foot-1, 245-pound, Redshirt Freshman 2006 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: 79 tackles, 12 sacks and 15 tackles for loss
BIO: Austin Sylvester wanted to be a Husky, and when the Washington staff suggested he take a season to grow at a prep school, the 6-foot-1, 245-pound monster did just that. Sylvester attended The Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey, where he helped lead the team to a 7-2 record (5-0 league) and a Mid-Atlantic Prep League Championship. More importantly, Sylvester earned that Husky scholarship he was after, and came to Montlake, where he earned playing time as a true freshman last season. Sylvester is a beast and should continue the tradition of hard-nosed Husky fullbacks. However, he still could make a switch to linebacker if ever needed.
PROJECTION: Sylvester was one of seven true freshmen to see playing time last season, mainly on special teams. With a season under his belt and two players cemented in front of him at full back, Sylvester will be a valuable asset, doing the dirty work. Sylvester loves contact, and has the perfect combination of mentality and athletic ability to be a stand out on the special teams unit.
Tobias Togi Seattle, WA (Evergreen High School) 6-foot-0, 230-pound, Redshirt Freshman STATS: NA
BIO: Tobias Togi is a walk-on that redshirted his freshman season. Togi played running back and defensive end for an 8-2 Evergreen High School team, scoring 20 touchdowns as a senior. He was a first-team all-Seamount League running back and also the co-defensive lineman of the year.
PROJECTION: Togi is buried behind too many talented fullbacks to see playing time on offense. However, his hard work and versatility has served him well thus far and he's made a couple of nice catches early on. Togi earned a service team special teams player of the week award, and you can never have too many big and athletic players flying around on special teams.