UW tight ends Chris Izbicki and Kavario Middleton look forward to a fresh start
After limited playing time in 2008, both are looking forward to new coach Steve Sarkisian's offense that uses the tight end more
Seattle Times staff reporter
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The list of Washington Huskies who would want to relive the 2008 football season is probably smaller than the current membership of the Kevin Federline fan club.
But among those who would most like to forget it are two players who are now entrusted with helping the Huskies again reclaim their long-held title of "Tight End U" — Chris Izbicki and Kavario Middleton.
As last year meandered into winlessness, Izbicki could do nothing but watch, banished to the sideline for good, apparently as punishment for being cited for two misdemeanors related to a drinking incident at a concert in the summer of 2008.
Middleton, meanwhile, found himself increasingly standing next to Izbicki on the sideline as the season wore on, his playing time decreasing for reasons he found perplexing.
"Your guess is as good as mine," he said.
In retrospect, Middleton, a graduate of Lakes High who was the prize of the Class of 2008, admits his commitment could have been a little better. And it also made sense that he lost some playing time after senior Michael Gottlieb recovered from an injury to emerge as the starter after the first two games.
But Middleton also says he had little in the way of guidance on what to do or why he suddenly wasn't playing much — after making eight catches in the first two games he had just four the rest of the season.
"I was kind of just lost with everything," he said. "Nobody really talked to me about anything. I didn't know what my role was. I didn't know where I belonged."
Izbicki, a Lake Washington grad who was among the most touted members of the Class of 2007, had a pretty good idea the arrest was why he was stuck on the bench, though he says former coach Tyrone Willingham never told him as much.
"I just didn't get to play," he said. "It was a no-words-exchanged type of deal."
Both are now relishing a fresh start under new coach Steve Sarkisian while also battling with each other for the starting job vacated by Gottlieb.
Izbicki is currently listed as the starter, but in Tuesday's practice they each took turns with the first unit while sometimes also playing together in two tight-end sets.
JC transfer Dorson Boyce has also impressed early, compelling Sarkisian to say Tuesday that "it's a really good group" and promising all figure to see the field a lot this season. Sarkisian's offense made liberal use of the tight end at USC and he hopes to revive a tradition at UW that has included the likes of Mark Bruener, Aaron Pierce, Ernie Conwell, Jerramy Stevens and Cam Cleeland.
"We don't want to be a team that lines up in three and four [receiver sets] all the time," Sarkisian said. "We like to be multiple and like to have multiple tight ends on the field because of the run threat but then have the ability to still throw the ball. That's critical in our system."
And that's music to the ears of Middleton and Izbicki.
Sarkisian said Middleton "came to camp in really good shape," Middleton saying he was inspired to work harder by the chance of greater opportunity this season. He weighs about the same as a year ago — roughly 255 — but says "my legs are stronger. My upper body is a little more built."
Izbicki is also in better shape, weighing about 234 compared to about 249 last year. He had put on weight after arriving at UW but said it slowed him down and he wanted to get back to where he essentially played in high school.
Given their backgrounds as highly recruited in-state players who chose to stay home, their battle for the starting job looms as one of the most interesting of the fall. But the two say they are good friends more concerned with making the team better — and getting on the field again.
"I've kind of found myself and what my role is in everything," Middleton said. "It's time to start clicking."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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