New faces, places for Washington football this spring
The beginning of spring football practice brings with it a few new faces — and a few old ones in new places. Or guys like Tripper...
Seattle Times staff reporter
The beginning of spring football practice brings with it a few new faces — and a few old ones in new places.
Or guys like Tripper Johnson, who is a little of both.
A 25-year-old former star from Newport High School in Bellevue, Johnson strapped on football gear for the first time since 1999 on Thursday as the Washington Huskies began spring drills. He's attempting to make the team as a walk-on after eight years playing minor-league baseball. Johnson, who was a first-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2000 and signed a contract worth an estimated $1.5 million, was also an all-state football player at Newport and will initially play safety for the Huskies.
"I'm a little nervous, a little anxious to get out there," he said before practice. "I understand it's going to take some time to figure some things out, but I'm excited to get out there."
Consider fifth-year senior Johnie Kirton, meanwhile, an old Dawg learning new tricks.
A tight end the past three years and once heralded as the next great Husky at that position, he lined up Thursday at defensive tackle after making a mutual decision with coaches to change positions.
Coaches made the move to help shore up a depth-depleted defensive line; they think they have enough young talent emerging at tight end.
"I'm excited to play on the other side of the ball," he said, adding that he has been helped by the encouragement of teammates. "They tell me every day they see me being a beast and doing good things."
Kirton also brings a new perspective to football as one of three current Huskies who spent last quarter studying in South Africa through a Comparative History of Ideas program, accompanied by former UW football player Anthony Kelley. The three, including fullback Luke Kravitz and walk-on cornerback Desmond Davis, spent mornings studying and afternoons helping teach sports or English and math at local schools. They were based at the University of Port Elizabeth, Kirton said.
Kirton said he now has a greater appreciation for "the simple things we take for granted."
He said, "We would give kids a tennis ball and within two weeks the ball was rubbed bald; there was no fuzz on it. That's how much they loved it and cherished it."
Kirton, Kravitz and Davis will all start at the bottom of the depth chart because they missed offseason workouts, but Kirton said it was worth it.
"It's one of those experiences you can't let go," he said.
Kirton said he weighs 280 pounds and thinks he'll be able to make a quick transition.
"On offense you have to think a lot more," he said. "Not that I can't think, but defense is more — you can just go wherever. Just go get the ball, go take the ball, then you've done your job. Technique is the only thing I have to pick up."
Said defensive-line coach Randy Hart: "He knows he's got nine months from right now [left] so it's whatever he can learn in nine months. That's why spring practice is really important for him."
Johnson can relate.
He essentially gave up baseball after failing to rise above Class AA. He had a late offer this spring from the Atlanta Braves but decided against it to pursue football.
"This is something I always wanted to do," he said. "When I'm 40 years old, I want to look back on it and say, 'At least I tried.' So I'm glad I'm here."
• Eric Radovich has been named as the permanent replacement for Lou Gellerman as the public-address announcer for home football games. Radovich becomes the third PA announcer at Husky Stadium since 1949, following Wendell Broyles and Gellerman. Radovich worked the final five games last season after Gellerman retired.
• Johnson is listed as a junior but said his eligibility is still being reviewed and he might have four years remaining. At issue are a few classes he took at Bellevue Community College and a few others he took on line. He said school officials are working with the NCAA to determine whether he was ever a full-time student. If not, he will have four years of eligibility left. If so, he will have two.
• LB E.J. Savannah and RB J.R. Hasty are not practicing with the team as punishment for what coach Tyrone Willingham said was failing to "live up to all the responsibilities of the football team." The two watched the beginning of practice Thursday before running Husky Stadium steps.
• The Huskies practiced in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts. They will have another no-contact practice today and put on full pads Saturday.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.