Steve Sarkisian opens Washington football spring practices to public
Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian promises that every second of the team's 15 spring workouts will be open to the public and the media, starting with the first one Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Husky Stadium.
Times staff reporter
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Of all the new things that figure to greet Washington's football players at their first practice under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian today, this one might seem the most odd — fans in the stands.
Part of Sarkisian's makeover of the Huskies' program is to lift the veil on practice to fans and media. He promises that every second of the team's 15 spring workouts will be open, starting with the first one today at 4 p.m. at Husky Stadium.
Former coach Tyrone Willingham closed virtually all practices, spring and fall, to the media after the first 25 minutes. Practices were open to Tyee Club members — season-ticket holders who also pay an additional donation — and to select groups at specific times, but otherwise were off-limits to the public.
Sarkisian, however, is inviting just about anyone who wants to come. Rival coaches Paul Wulff of Washington State and Chip Kelly of Oregon might be denied admission, but that's about it.
Part of the reason is public relations.
After the disaster of the four-year Willingham era, which concluded with an 0-12 season, Washington is looking for all the help it can get in filling Husky Stadium.
Washington officials say the school is at an 83 percent renewal rate for season tickets from a year ago, or about 36,000 total, and 88 percent on Tyee seats.
Factoring in the economy and the program's recent struggles, athletic director Scott Woodward says "that's pretty good."
But it's far from the days when the school could count on filling every seat, and Woodward says opening practices to fans could help.
Sarkisian, however, also thinks there could be a competitive advantage to open practices.
He spent seven of the past eight years at USC, where open practices are the norm, and thinks that the Trojans fed off the sight of fans in attendance each day.
"I want our kids used to performing in front of people," he said. "Because the last thing I want is for us to be enclosed and it's quiet and we are just out there with ourselves. And then we show up to play LSU and there are 73,000 people here and our kids are looking up in the stands like, 'Oh my gosh, they are here to watch me, to watch us.'
"And now they are worried about the people in the stands watching instead of what's important, and that's the game."
Sarkisian said he has no idea how many fans will attend. He expects bigger crowds on Saturdays, when UW will practice each of the next four weeks at 1 p.m., and have scrimmages April 11, 18 and 25.
But the first few practices also could lure some fans drawn by the curiosity of seeing Sarkisian at work, as well as simply watching a practice again. Spring and fall camp practices were generally open before Willingham's arrival.
Washington senior defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim admitted it will be strange to practice in front of whatever number of fans show up today.
"It's never happened before other than the spring game so we'll see," he said. "I just hope nobody tries to act all big for the fans. Just play the game."
• Sarkisian said QB Jake Locker, who missed the last eight games last season with a broken thumb, is 100 percent.
• Most of the players should be available for spring drills. Three ruled out are S Jason Wells (offseason Achilles injury), RB Brandon Yakaboski (recovering from knee surgery) and OL Terrance Thomas (leg). Sarkisian said RB Chris Polk, who had shoulder surgery last season, should be ready.
• CB Vonzell McDowell Jr. is one of a handful of players who will be limited at times. McDowell said he had labrum surgery in December to repair an injury that dated to his days at Rainier Beach High.
• Sarkisian said he was still waiting on two players to get academic clearance (he didn't name them), but otherwise said the team was good in that area. He said he was pleased with the academic work last quarter after a fall quarter that he said was "a little shaky" in the classroom, due in part to the coaching change.
• Sarkisian had hoped that junior-college TE Dorson Boyce would be enrolled for spring drills. But he said personal issues helped lead to some academic issues and Boyce's arrival will be delayed until summer. Sarkisian said he still anticipates that all six JC players the team signed last month will be eligible this fall.
• Curtis Shaw, who left the team last August for personal reasons, is on the spring roster and will start out at running back but also get some repetitions at receiver.
• With E.J. Savannah back in the fold, Sarkisian said Mason Foster and Savannah will start out as outside linebackers, with Donald Butler moving inside to compete with Trenton Tuiasosopo in the middle.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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