UW football walk-on Joshua Gage is stepping up
Spring football depth charts are best written in pencil, often subject to as much daily change as the stock market. That's especially true for...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Spring football depth charts are best written in pencil, often subject to as much daily change as the stock market.
That's especially true for the Washington defense, which has a new coordinator, Ed Donatell.
Still, even if for just a little while, there's the name of Joshua Gage atop the two-deep at outside linebacker during the first week of practice for the Huskies.
It's there in large part because of the presumably temporary absence of E.J. Savannah, the team's leading tackler last season. Savannah and J.R. Hasty are not allowed to practice because they failed to live up to team responsibilities in the offseason, coach Tyrone Willingham has said.
But it's also a reflection of the steady rise Gage has made the past few years from a high-school senior without any college scholarship offers to earning a full ride at UW.
"That's what I worked for," Gage said this week of seeing his name listed with the first team. "I was happy to see it, just happy for the opportunity and thankful for it."
That's all he's ever really wanted, he said.
He wanted it so much that after his sophomore year at Orcas Island High School he and his parents orchestrated a move to a bigger high school in Southern California in the hopes that he could attract some college attention.
"Orcas is so small," he said. "I just wanted to play at a bigger school."
He landed at Edison High in Huntington Beach, an area where his parents had gone to high school. Gage played for a coach who knew Gage's father, a former college player.
Gage earned team MVP honors as a running back and linebacker but only received interest from a few junior colleges.
His family, however, had maintained its home on Orcas Island and he was still considered an in-state resident, so he decided to enroll at Washington and walk on in fall 2005.
"If I was going to go anywhere, I wanted to play Division I," said Gage, a junior in terms of eligibility.
And unlike a lot of walk-ons, who are players the coaches recruited, he was an unknown.
"I didn't know anything about him until he got here," said UW linebackers coach Chris Tormey.
But Gage made a fast impression by quickly grasping the defense and earning the trust of coaches.
"As a walk-on, you sort of have to earn your way," Tormey said of Gage, who is 6 feet 2, 225 pounds. "He showed early on that he picked things up really well and that he was athletic and he just continued to work hard, and when he had his opportunities, he knew what to do. That's a big part of it — how well can you pick it up mentally."
Gage saw his first significant playing time last season, serving on most special teams and as a backup linebacker, making three tackles against Arizona and 13 in all.
"He was productive when he was in the game," Tormey said. "He didn't hurt us, and now he's kind of taken that experience and grown with it and turned into a good player."
Shortly before school started last fall, UW coaches awarded Gage a scholarship, as proof of his ascendancy.
Gage will likely return to backup duty when Savannah returns. With other scholarship freshmen coming in at what is already one of UW's deepest positions, there is no guarantee of regular playing time.
But Tormey says Gage will "have his opportunities to play."
And life has been good for Gage of late — he got married a couple of months ago.
And, while Gage understands that some will question what's wrong if a walk-on is playing, he lets it slide.
"You hear that, but I don't let it bother me," Gage said. "I just go out there and do the best I can. That's all you can really control."
• Willingham said the team spent more time than usual working on deep passes in its first practice Thursday, saying that's an area the Huskies want to emphasize because of the strong arm of quarterback Jake Locker and a receiving corps that coaches say is exceptionally fast.
"That's one of the areas we are excited about improving in our passing game, being able to throw the deep ball better because we know that our quarterback has the ability to do it and has done it excellent on occasion," Willingham said. "And it's also an area we feel features the skills of our young receivers."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies
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