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Originally published Friday, October 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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UW Football | Difficult career fails to dispirit TE Michael Gottlieb

Training camp derailed everything. Michael Gottlieb had invested so much in this season, and suddenly everything changed. The Washington Huskies senior...

Seattle Times staff reporter

SATURDAY

UW @ Arizona, 4:30 p.m., Versus

Training camp derailed everything. Michael Gottlieb had invested so much in this season, and suddenly everything changed. The Washington Huskies senior tight end pulled his left hamstring lunging for a pass, missed four weeks and now he's scrambling to make up for lost time.

Only eight games remain in his undistinguished college career, and his football world is in chaos.

But to look at him, you'd never suspect the Huskies (0-4 overall, 0-2 Pac-10) were winless as they travel to Arizona (3-1, 1-0) Saturday with redshirt freshman quarterback Ronnie Fouch making his first start. And a young receiving corps could be missing its most productive pass catcher in D'Andre Goodwin, who's questionable with bruised ribs.

"Mike has a real knack for understanding if you work hard, good things will happen, and if things don't happen that way, then you can really laugh about it and flush it and move on," said Juanita High assistant head coach Don Papasedero, who coached Gottlieb at Mercer Island High. "He doesn't dwell on the negative, and that's hard for young kids to get."

Gottlieb is the epitome of easygoing, which is a blessing and a curse. He is forthright to the point where he wonders if he's squandered a golden opportunity at a school that has a reputation for producing NFL tight ends.

"I know I'm not the guy or I haven't been the guy that gets mentioned with the other great tight ends, and I want to be mentioned in that group," he said. "I know I only have so much time. I haven't done what I came here to do and what I think I can do. That's something that adds to the urgency a little bit."

But in the next breath, he said: "If my career were to end [now], I would be fine with that. I would be happy where I was. My personal expectations were met. I did what I came here to do."

That's the conundrum of Gottlieb.

Theoretically, he should be more productive in an anemic passing game that ranks seventh in the Pac-10 at 209.2 yards. He's got good size (6 feet 5, 249 pounds), soft hands and more experience than any of the skill players.

And yet, Gottlieb has just four receptions and 65 yards.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. This was supposed to be his breakout year. He waited so patiently in the beginning and hoped for a big payoff.

Gottlieb, a former walk-on, arrived at Montlake as a linebacker who finished with the second-most tackles in Mercer Island High history. But UW coaches believed he was too tall to play linebacker. They made him a long snapper that first year and told him to concentrate on playing tight end.

The process was painstakingly slow. He redshirted in 2004 and played special teams in '05. As a sophomore, he started six games and six more as a junior.

Gottlieb got on the field because he did the dirty work. He was the designated blocker

But all of that was going to change this season. Gottlieb, who has yet to catch a touchdown pass, lobbied offensive coordinator Tim Lappano for a pass-catching role when the team uses three- and four-receiver formations.

Then he felt a pop in the back of his leg Aug. 11.

Gottlieb missed the season opener at Oregon and BYU the following week. When he returned Sept. 13, he discovered old reputations die hard. Lappano used him primarily on run downs.

"It's tough," he said. "I understand coach Lappano has got his own philosophy and I respect it. I know especially when we got Jake [Locker] in there that we wanted to spread the field out with four receivers.

"In the beginning, I kind of wanted to show them that when we spread the field out, stick me out there with the receivers. I can catch the ball, block and do other things. Some weeks we use the tight ends and sometimes we don't."

Gottlieb admits he can't rescue the Huskies by himself, and it remains to be seen whether he's next in a long line of distinguished tight ends.

Still, five years at UW have taught him a few life lessons.

"I've learned that you don't have a lot of time to sit back and just think about the big picture," he said. "I want to do everything I can to get to a bowl game. This isn't about me.

"In the bigger picture that's what makes my heart sink a little bit. Thinking I could get out of here without going to a bowl game. That hurts. That's where my heart is at."

Notes

• Coach Tyrone Willingham is unsure how much WR D'Andre Goodwin (ribs) and RB David Freeman (ankles) will be able to contribute Saturday.

• WR Cody Bruns will likely play and become the 11th true freshman to play this season. WR Anthony Boyles, however, might remain on the sideline and could still be redshirted.

Tripper Johnson, the backup at both safety positions, is scheduled to start while freshman FS Johri Fogerson recovers from an ankle injury. Last week, Johnson started at strong safety and Nate Williams moved to free safety.

• RB Terrance Dailey continues to battle an illness, Willingham said.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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