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Originally published October 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 7, 2008 at 2:53 PM

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UW's use of freshmen has some fans seeing red

True freshman receiver Cody Bruns had little impact in Washington's 48-14 loss at Arizona on Saturday, on the field for only three or four...

Seattle Times staff reporter

True freshman receiver Cody Bruns had little impact in Washington's 48-14 loss at Arizona on Saturday, on the field for only three or four plays, all in the second half long after the game had been decided.

But the fact that he was thrown into the game, the first of his college career, thereby assuring he can't redshirt this season, resonated with UW fans as much as anything else that happened Saturday.

Running back Terrance Dailey also saw his first action Saturday, meaning 12 true freshmen have played this season, the most in UW history.

Many wondered, on radio talk shows and message boards, if it was worth spending a year of eligibility this late in a season that seems headed nowhere, particularly in the case of Bruns because he played so little. Dailey, who became the team's backup running back when Brandon Johnson suffered a thigh injury, entered in the first half and had six carries for 18 yards and could become a major factor the rest of the season.

On Monday, Willingham again defended using the two players, saying there is still a lot of season left — eight games heading into the Arizona contest — to allow each to see significant time. Bruns was put in the game in part because starting receiver D'Andre Goodwin was limited with bruised ribs.

"Any time you play a freshman at any point other than the first ballgame it raises eyebrows," Willingham said. "But I think if you go back and look over my career over the time that I have been here, we have been very wise in how we have used and utilized our freshmen. And I think that is still consistent with the freshmen we put in on Saturday. When they went in to play there were still eight games that we had remaining. We had injuries that affected their timing of going in and I think also the young men wanted to be involved and help our football team win."

In fact, Bruns and Dailey are making their college debuts at the latest point in the season of any UW player during Willingham's four-year tenure.

The Huskies played seven true freshmen last season, all of whom saw action by the second week.

In 2006, UW played just two true freshmen — fullback Paul Homer and linebacker Donald Butler — who each were in the plans from the beginning of the season.

Washington also played just two true freshmen in Willingham's first year, 2005, linebackers Darrion Jones and Chris Stevens, who also saw action from the beginning.

In both of his first two seasons, Willingham faced decisions whether to put in highly publicized freshmen — running back J.R. Hasty in 2005 and quarterback Jake Locker in 2006 — each time deciding to preserve a redshirt season, instead.

Due to injuries and a player defection, Willingham debated whether to play Hasty until the sixth game of the 2005 season before deciding against it. Locker was ticketed for a redshirt season in 2006 when Isaiah Stanback was injured in the seventh game of the season against Oregon State. Willingham publicly left open the option of playing Locker until the last game of the season, but the quarterback never saw action.

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Of the players who have played this season, one — running back Chris Polk — will be able to redshirt this season, getting a medical redshirt after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. But for the rest, it will be a year of used eligibility, which could have repercussions, such as a smaller fifth-year senior class in 2012. UW has 26 true freshmen this season. Willingham said he did not go into the season with any set number of true freshmen he expected to play.

"I have one rule — play the best players and play them when they are ready to play and ready to contribute and do a great job to help themselves and help the football team. But no, I never had a number because you really don't know how your freshmen will respond," he said. "So you have to watch them, see when they are ready and if they are ready. Then at that time you provide an opportunity to get them in the lineup and help the team."

There has been some speculation that Bruns may have preferred to redshirt. Asked about that after the game Saturday, Bruns said, "I'm willing to do whatever the team needed, whatever they needed me to do."

Bruns' father, Bucky, said Monday that he had no idea where the rumors came from and that "Cody was all excited to play the other night. We knew going into the season that if someone went down, like Goodwin did, that he would be playing. So I think he always had that mindset. He said even though he didn't have a pass thrown his way, he was excited to be out there."

Willingham pointed out that Bruns was in line to play with some solid performances early in fall camp before hurting his back, which sidelined him for a week or so.

"I didn't hear anything about him not wanting that opportunity," Willingham said

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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