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Originally published Saturday, October 17, 2009 at 8:07 PM

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Huskies freshman walk-on Cole Sager earns playing time

Sager has wanted to be a Husky since he started going to UW games with his grandfather at the age of 10.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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TEMPE, Ariz. — It might seem as if Cole Sager had a rather meteoric rise as a Washington Husky, going from unknown true freshman walk-on to being on the field for the opening kickoff against Notre Dame two weeks ago.

But Sager will tell you it was a journey almost a decade in the making.

Since he was about 10, Sager often made the trip from his home in Burlington to Huskies games with his grandfather, imagining himself on the field.

"He would always say, 'If you just work hard enough, you can do that,' " Sager said of his grandfather. "So that was kind of the inspiration to do this."

Sager, a graduate of Burlington-Edison High School, was on the field again for UW's 24-17 loss at Arizona State. He was on the kickoff team, a role he ascended to before the Notre Dame game as the Huskies sought some more consistent blocking for their returners. Sager, though, was actually a returner last week against Arizona on a short kickoff, taking it back 10 yards.

In the process, he has become the first true freshman walk-on to play in a game for the Huskies since deep snapper Scott Ask in 1998.

"I wouldn't say I'm surprised like shocking surprise," Sager said. "But it's really nice. I really dedicated myself and put a lot of hard work into it. But at the same time, I'm a little surprised it came on this fast and I'm super excited about it. I don't want it to stop."

Sager rushed for roughly 1,100 yards and 18 TDs last year at Burlington-Edison and drew some interest from small schools. One option disappeared when Western Washington dropped its football program.

But the 5-foot-10, 196-pound Sager said all those trips to UW games as a kid instilled a desire to become a Husky.

"Once they said they were willing to let me walk on I said, 'You know what? That's what I'd love to do,' " he said.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said running-backs coach Joel Thomas recommended giving Sager a spot as an invited walk-on.

"I thought he was pretty put-together for a kid coming out of high school," Sarkisian said. "Since day one he has run hard and done everything 100 miles an hour. And he's very bright and very mentally and physically tough."

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Sarkisian hinted at shaking up the kickoff team to get some better blocking after the Stanford game and Sager earned increased work before the Notre Dame game. But he didn't find out until Thursday, as the team was preparing to leave for Notre Dame, that he would play.

"It was a very big stage," he said. "And that made it even more exciting for me. But I really concentrated on keeping it out of my mind and just focusing on, 'Hey, you know what? It's you and your teammates out on the field.' The fans are just watching."

Hot and bothered

The Huskies knew it would be a hot game, with the temperatures hitting a record 102 degrees Saturday.

They also knew it might be heated, and they got that, too, as there were a combined 21 penalties — eight for personal fouls.

ASU true freshman middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict drew three of the personal fouls, one on a third down on UW's first drive, giving the Huskies a first down. The Huskies then scored on a 49-yard Jake Locker pass to Devin Aguilar on the next play.

Burfict is regarded as one of the most talented young players in the country but he also already has a reputation for letting his emotions get the best of him.

"We already knew going into the game because he showed it on film that he's a real hothead and does stupid things at the wrong time," said UW running back Chris Polk. "So we were prepared for it going into it."

Polk said Burfict was "taking cheap shots" and "yapping his mouth" throughout the game.

Polk got some oneupsmanship on Burfict in the third quarter when he bounced away from a Burfict hit at the line of scrimmage and dashed into the end zone for a 23-yard TD.

But that was about the only time all night Polk got much running room as he was held to 51 yards on 12 carries, sitting out for a while in the middle of the game with a sore shoulder. It's the same left shoulder he had surgery on last season, causing him to miss the last 10 games, though he said it's a slightly different injury.

But he said "it's not as severe" and it won't cause him to miss any games

Secondary shake-up

The Huskies again had a new starter in their revolving door of a secondary.

This week, it was redshirt freshman Adam Long getting his first start at cornerback ahead of Quinton Richardson, who has been struggling with his play and with an ankle injury.

Victor Aiyewa got his second straight start at safety, paired with Nate Williams, who returned after missing last week with a concussion. Desmond Trufant started at the other cornerback spot.

Huskies continue first-drive success

For the fourth time this season the Huskies scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game. The others came against LSU, Idaho and Notre Dame.

Washington players and coaches have attributed the success to scripting the first 15 plays of the game. Those are plays the Huskies practice during the week and think will work especially well.

However, despite that success, UW entered the game having been outscored 47-42 in the first quarter.

Notes

• DT Cameron Elisara sat out the second half after a recurrence of stingers that have bothered him all season.

• The Huskies again wore their all-white uniforms, as they did for their last road game, at Notre Dame. It is thought to be the first time they have worn all-white uniforms in at least 50 years.

• Polk was again back to receive the opening kickoff, taking that role for the second straight week. However, in a new addition, true freshman receiver James Johnson was also back with Polk.

• Washington entered the game having scored a defensive touchdown in its past three contests, the first time since at least 1947, which was as far back as the Huskies could search for definitive records.

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

2009 UW schedule
Date Opp. Time
Sept. 5 LSU 31, UW 23
Sept. 12 UW 42, Idaho 23
Sept. 19 UW 16, USC 13
Sept. 26 Stanford 34, UW 14
Oct. 3 N.D. 37, UW 30 (OT)
Oct. 10 UW 36, Arizona 33
Oct. 17 Arizona St. 24, UW 17
Oct. 24 vs. Oregon 12:30
Nov. 7 at UCLA TBA
Nov. 14 at Oregon St. TBA
Nov. 28 vs. WSU TBA
Dec. 5 vs. California 3:30
Game times subject to change.

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