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Originally published November 1, 2011 at 9:37 PM | Page modified November 1, 2011 at 10:13 PM

Shamburger climbs to the top

It's tempting to say Washington's gamble on Will Shamburger is finally paying off.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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It's tempting to say Washington's gamble on Will Shamburger is finally paying off.

UW coach Steve Sarkisian, though, has always said he didn't worry that Shamburger suffered an ACL injury shortly before the Huskies signed him in 2009.

Shamburger was hurt playing in a high-school game (that it happened on his birthday added a little insult to the injury). A few schools recruiting him shied away, but UW kept the faith.

"They said they wanted to stick with me and they thought I was a good player," he said at the time.

And in the last two weeks, Shamburger has emerged as a key player on Washington's defense.

The 6-foot, 192-pound redshirt sophomore came off the bench against Stanford to provide one of the lone highlights with a career-high seven tackles.

That earned him a start last week at free safety against Arizona with Justin Glenn injured and Nate Fellner still working his way back from an injury. And in the fourth quarter, when the Huskies needed a play to be made, Shamburger made it. UW was leading 35-31 but Arizona was threatening to retake the lead when Shamburger hit Arizona receiver Juron Criner hard, jarring the ball loose. Washington's Princeton Fuimaono recovered at midfield, and UW drove for the clinching score.

"He is playing extremely well," Sarkisian said . "He is playing physical football and he is tackling well."

Just what the Huskies always thought they'd get out of Shamburger, who until now has often been more sought by the media for his thoughts on quarterback Keith Price. The two grew up together in Compton, Calif., and were teammates at St. John Bosco.

"It's probably helped a little bit that his high-school teammate and best friend is Keith Price and to watch him start to play and put in the time and do the things he's doing, that can serve as a motivating factor, as well," Sarkisian said.

It may mostly, though, be about finally being completely healthy.

Shamburger redshirted in 2009 while rehabbing the injury. He played in 10 games last season, largely on special teams, as he worked not only to get the knee to 100 percent but also grow a little bit — he weighed about 175 pounds in high school.

He also said he needed to mature a little bit mentally.

"It was just me being mentally focused," he said of why he didn't see more time in 2010. "I wasn't focused on the task at hand. I wasn't focusing like the coaches wanted. Coach told us he wanted to us have enthusiasm, effort and being focused at practice and on game day. I wasn't just focused. This year, really, I've been really focused and listening to what they've been saying."

Still, playing time was hard to come by the first half of the season as Fellner and then Glenn held down the free-safety spot. But Fellner suffered a hamstring injury in the second game, and then Glenn hurt his foot against Stanford, opening the door for Shamburger.

He made four tackles against Arizona, continuing to impress UW coaches with his consistency.

"He tackles," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said simply enough. "He's always been a good tackler."

No play was bigger Saturday, though, than the forced fumble, which came as Criner caught a pass to pick up an apparent first down and began moving his way into UW territory.

"I was really trying to tackle him, not necessarily trying to hit him, but my head just hit the ball," he said.

Both Glenn and Fellner are now back, but Shamburger remains listed atop the depth chart at free safety for Saturday night's game against Oregon.

"He's just improved every week," Holt said. "And I think he feels better. I think his knee is not bothering him as it has in the past. And he's made some nice plays, and I think that has built up more confidence so he's playing faster."

Expect all three to play substantially, however, as the Huskies will need all the depth they can get against an Oregon offense known for its quick pace.

"Everybody is going to play and get reps in this game because they do a lot of no-huddle," Shamburger said. "Everybody will be rotating in."

NOTES

• UW has reportedly received a commitment from running back/defensive back Erich Wilson of Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, Calif. Listed at 6-1, 185, Wilson had been committed to Colorado but changed his mind after taking an official visit to UW last weekend. He would be the 17th known commitment for the Class of 2012. He could play on either side of the ball for the Huskies. Serra High has a rich athletic tradition with its alums, including the likes of Tom Brady and Barry Bonds.

• Oregon running back LaMichael James told reporters in Oregon that he is 100 percent after missing a couple games with a dislocated right elbow. He returned to play in limited duty last week against Washington State.

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

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