Huskies' Cort Dennison looking forward to big chance at Notre Dame
Sophomore linebacker, who played at a Catholic high school, calls opportunity to start at Notre Dame a "dream come true."
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Linebacker E.J. Savannah watched Washington's practice from the sideline again on Thursday while battling a foot injury, the clearest evidence yet that the team's second-leading tackler won't play Saturday at Notre Dame.
His replacement at weakside linebacker, Cort Dennison, isn't happy that Savannah is injured. But if Savannah had to miss a game. Dennison can't tell a lie — he's glad it's this one.
"It's a dream come true," the sophomore said of the prospect of making the first start of his career at Notre Dame.
While some of his UW teammates have said this week that the history of Notre Dame doesn't mean much to them, Dennison isn't among that group.
He grew up following Notre Dame football while attending one of just two Catholic high schools in Salt Lake City — Judge Memorial.
"Everyone at my high school used to talk about Notre Dame and that's where everyone wanted to go," said Dennison, who is Catholic.
Dennison said he's been anticipating the trip to Notre Dame.
"I just wanted to play in the game," he said. "And then when E.J. went down [with a plantar fasciitis injury] the coaches came up to me on Monday and said, 'Your number's being called.' I just have to go in there confident."
On the surface, it might seem like an uneven trade for the Huskies. Savannah, a senior, has 27 tackles this season and was the team's leading tackler in 2007. Dennison has just 14 in his career, 12 this season. Last season he played mostly on special teams.
But Dennison has been a rising player since Steve Sarkisian's staff took over last December, and he has played significantly the past two weeks. He made a career-high eight tackles last week against Stanford, playing the entire second half after injury felled Savannah.
Dennison has been particularly impressive against the run, levying one of the few hard hits on Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, holding him to no gain on a first-and-goal play in the second quarter.
"He just does stuff right," Sarkisian said. "He plays hard, does his job. He's very smart, mentally tough and physically tough, and he's been doing it since training camp. Every time he goes in, he does what he is supposed to do."
That might be expected of a player whose only other recruiting visit was to Army. Dennison wasn't high on UW's radar — nor anyone else's other than Army — until after his senior season at Judge Memorial. Former UW defensive coordinator Kent Baer, who grew up in Utah, heard about Dennison and began recruiting him for the Huskies. But Dennison didn't get an offer from UW until the week before signing day, thinking until then he was headed to Army. But he said he fell in love with Seattle on his visit and leapt at the chance to play in the Pac-10.
Dennison was ultra-productive at Judge Memorial, making 23 1/2 sacks his senior year. Sarkisian says Dennison, at 6 feet 1, 220 pounds, doesn't exactly resemble the typical Pac-10 linebacker on first glance, the likely reason he wasn't recruited heavily.
"No he's not [physically imposing]," Sarkisian said. "He'd tell you that, too. But there is something to be said for desire, passion, mental toughness, physical toughness and doing things right."
Dennison also said he's gotten faster since coming to UW, particularly after losing 10 pounds over the offseason, one of many dropping weight after the arrival of Sarkisian and a new strength and conditioning staff.
"I became a lot faster and a lot stronger and just became more confident," he said. "I knew I could play with anyone."
Saturday, he'll get a chance to prove it on one of the biggest college football stages imaginable.
"I've been working hard and I can finally show people what I can do," he said. "I'm excited for it."
• Savannah is almost certainly out this week, though that was somewhat expected. The Huskies had hoped that WR Devin Aguilar would return after missing the Stanford game with a knee injury. But Aguilar was not able to practice this week and Sarkisian said Aguilar will join Savannah as a game-time decision.
"I want to see them move around full speed," Sarkisian said. "In a perfect world, if they're not capable of playing, I don't want them to play and we'll go play with the guys we have. But if they're capable of playing, they're good players, good-spirited guys, guys that I know can give us a winning edge when they're on the field. So if they can go, we'll play them."
• Starting CB Quinton Richardson appeared to suffer a right leg/ankle injury during a kickoff drill in Thursday's practice. Sarkisian called it "a little tweak" and said Richardson will be OK.
• The Huskies flew to Indiana after the morning practice at UW. They will practice at a high school near their hotel in Michigan City, Ind., today, then bus to South Bend for a walk-through at Notre Dame Stadium that is closed to the public.
• Free of Pac-10 limitations for conference games, UW will take 76 players on the trip.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies
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