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Originally published August 10, 2013 at 6:26 PM | Page modified August 10, 2013 at 9:15 PM

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Bishop Sankey, UW’s humble star, shines on field and in the classroom

Bishop Sankey, reluctant star, would prefer to deflect credit to his offensive line, to talk about the team. Those selfless, hard-working qualities, he says, come from his father, Chris Sankey, an Air Force technical sergeant who raised his son on his own for much of Bishop’s youth.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Bishop Sankey file

Position: Running back

Height, weight: 5-10, 203

Year: Junior

Hometown: Spokane

2012 statistics

• 1,439 yards rushing, 16 TDs

• 249 yards receiving

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He is, on the surface, everything you would want in a son.

Bishop Sankey takes off his helmet. He smiles. Shakes hands. Looks you in the eye. He speaks softly but confidently. He comes off as respectful. Thoughtful. Bright. Humble.

Add in 1,439 yards rushing, 16 touchdowns and a 3.8 grade-point average, and the on-the-surface snapshot of Bishop Sankey is too good to be true, right?

“It’s all true,” said David McKenna, who coached Sankey for four seasons at Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep. “That’s who he is. He’s quiet, humble. The hardest-working kid I’ve ever been around.

“He has all that God-given talent, but he doesn’t flaunt it. He’s just a joy to be around.”

So there it is. What you see is what you get with Sankey, Washington’s junior tailback. And, after his out-of-nowhere performance in 2012, UW’s opponents will surely see much more of him this season.

Just don’t ask him about himself. Bishop Sankey, reluctant star, would prefer to deflect credit to his offensive line, to talk about the team. Those selfless, hard-working qualities, he says, come from his father, Chris Sankey, an Air Force technical sergeant who raised his son on his own for much of Bishop’s youth.

“It was just me and Bishop for a long time,” Chris Sankey said, adding: “It was not always easy, but we got through it. And I think that’s a big reason why he’s really mentally tough now.”

Chris Sankey could be tough on his young son, sure. Back in Akron, Ohio, father coached son through middle school football, and Chris taught his son to be first in everything.

After a standout career as a running back at Akron East High School, Chris said he played briefly at Central State in Wilberforce, Ohio. He was 20 when Bishop was born; Bishop has remained in touch with his mother, who lives in Cleveland. Chris remarried eight years ago and, after the family’s move from Akron to Spokane when Bishop was 14, Chris is now stationed at Fort MacArthur Air Force Base in San Pedro, Calif.

Father said he always stressed education first with his son. And when Bishop started slacking on his homework late in fifth grade, Chris took away the television and the PlayStation, sending son to his room until schoolwork was done.

“He got the message early on,” Chris Sankey said.

Chris recalls getting a call from his excited son a couple years ago, not long after Bishop arrived at UW. “I got it!” he told his dad. The excitement, Chris quickly learned, had nothing to do with football; no, his son was thrilled about acing a class.

Bishop’s on-field success has mirrored what he’s doing in the classroom at UW: His 3.8 grade-point average last winter was the best on the team, and he followed that up with a 3.2 GPA in the spring term. As he pursues a communications degree, Bishop has also expressed interest in attending law school.

“I’m definitely proud,” Chris Sankey said.

For Bishop, and for those who know him best, his numbers last season — 1,439 yards, the third-most in UW history, and 16 TDs, second-most in UW history — weren’t a surprise.

“I always knew I was capable of doing it,” Bishop said, “but you never really know until you have to.”

Some recruiters who came around Gonzaga Prep weren’t so sure. McKenna said many questioned whether Bishop had the “breakaway speed” that would translate at the college level.

“I tried to tell them,” McKenna said. “I know (Bishop’s 2012 season) surprised a lot of other people, but it didn’t surprise me one bit.”

Bishop said he added “a few” pounds to his 5-foot-10, 203-pound frame, but he didn’t feel he needed to put on weight this offseason. If necessary, he believes he can handle another 289-carry season, as he did in 2012 (the third-most carries in one season for a UW tailback).

In UW’s final five games last season, Bishop rushed for 773 yards and seven touchdowns. That included a career-best 205 yards on the ground (plus six catches for 74 yards) in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, earning MVP honors even though UW’s comeback fell short against Boise State, 28-26.

“I feel like I’ve gotten stronger and faster,” he said.

Chris Sankey will be there for the rematch against Boise State on Aug. 31, joined by his two brothers — both in the Army — and an expected sold-out crowd at brand-new Husky Stadium. He expects great things from the team and from his son.

“I can’t wait,” Chris said. “I think he can do even more this year.”

It all sounds pretty good, right?

2013 UW schedule
All home games at Husky Stadium.
DateOpponentTime, TV
Aug. 31Boise State7 p.m., Fox 1
Sept. 14at Illinois3 p.m., Big Ten
Sept. 21Idaho St.TBA
Sept. 28ArizonaTBA
Oct. 5at StanfordTBA
Oct. 12OregonTBA
Oct. 19at Arizona St.TBA
Oct. 26CaliforniaTBA
Nov. 9ColoradoTBA
Nov. 15at UCLA6 p.m., ESPN2
Nov. 23at Oregon St.TBA
Nov. 29Washington St.12:30 p.m., Ch. 13
Note: Game times subject to change

Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or ajude@seattletimes.com.

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