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Originally published Friday, August 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Huskies Football | The heat is on at tailback position

One of the selling points Washington coaches used to convince Terrance Dailey to sign with the Huskies last February was the lure of immediate playing time, thanks to a relatively shallow pool of talent at the time.

Seattle Times staff reporter

One of the selling points Washington coaches used to convince Terrance Dailey to sign with the Huskies last February was the lure of immediate playing time, thanks to a relatively shallow pool of talent at the time.

"That's honestly what I was thinking," said Dailey, a standout at Vacaville High in California.

But suddenly, a UW backfield that was often as easy to count as 1-2-3 the past few years is nearing double digits, turning it into one of the most competitive spots on the team.

With the move this week of Chris Polk from the receiver spot he primarily played last spring to running back, the Huskies now have seven scholarship tailbacks.

"I thought I was going to have to work hard," Dailey said. "But now I'm going to have to work even harder. There's a lot of competition coming in this year."

Indeed, Dailey is one of four true freshmen at the spot, including Polk, who arrived last winter and participated in spring ball. They join three who came in last year — sophomore Brandon Johnson and redshirt freshmen Brandon Yakaboski and Willie Griffin.

Coaches say they will take the next week or so to sort it out, most notably, determining whether Polk will stay at tailback or move back to a hybrid receiver/running back role at slotback, and whether the numbers might mean that freshman Johri Fogerson of O'Dea High might be better used as a safety.

"I think in another seven to 10 days we'll have a better idea of where we are going, for sure," said first-year running backs coach Steve Gervais, formerly the coach at Skyline High. "The other kids are definitely running backs, but Johri has the ability to go either way."

Fogerson says he'd like to stay at running back and for now, UW coaches say a move hasn't been discussed.

But at some point, choices will have to be made. And while the Huskies are just four days into camp, the coaches make it sound as if they will be presented with the happy choice of having to pick between steak or lobster.

"They are a pretty talented group," said offensive coordinator Tim Lappano. "We are in pretty good shape there."

The biggest issue is inexperience. Johnson is the only one to have appeared in a game, gaining 196 yards last season, 121 against California.

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He had surgery in May to repair a torn posterior cruciate ligament and meniscus suffered during the spring, and coach Tyrone Willingham said "he still isn't 100 percent."

Gervais, however, says "he's having a great camp" and Johnson says he's refocused after what he admits was a sometimes rocky offseason. He said the cold weather in Seattle this spring delayed his recovery, and that he also had some tense moments in the classroom before becoming eligible.

"It was my mistake," he said, "and it won't happen again."

Gervais says, "Yakaboski is having a great camp and Willie [Griffin] is going everything we expected of him."

Polk is the wild card. Generally regarded as one of the top running backs on the West Coast last year at East Valley High in Redlands, Calif., he originally committed to USC before changing his mind. He was used primarily at receiver in the spring, but with the Huskies having recruited young talent at that spot, is now being tried in the backfield.

"He's showing some great signs," Gervais said of Polk, who averaged 10.9 yards per carry last season. "We all know he has great speed and quickness and burst and the ability to make plays. We want to get a good look at him in the backfield and see what we really think. It's still early as far as the evaluation of Chris."

Then there are the newcomers — Dailey, Fogerson and David Freeman of Inglewood, Calif.

Freeman was the most lightly-recruited of the trio but has been impressive early on, displaying what Gervais calls "great quickness." Gervais praises Fogerson's athleticism, balance and vision, and says Dailey has the needed speed.

But they can't all play.

"We're going to have to figure it out in the next couple of weeks where to plug them in," Lappano said.

Hasty to Central Washington

One person who could have been in that mix at tailback is J.R. Hasty. But after a troubled career at UW, his scholarship was not renewed with the Huskies this summer, and Thursday it was announced that Hasty will resume his career at Central Washington.

Central is Division II, so Hasty is immediately eligible and has two years of eligibility remaining. He said a few weeks ago he hoped to stay as close to home as possible and didn't want to sit out another year, as would have been necessary had he transferred to a Division I school. His father, James, played two years at Central in the mid-1980s before transferring to Washington State.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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