UW linemen fight through pain to become team's inspiration
They call it a small miracle, which is humorous because Juan Garcia, the proprietor of this gift, weighs 305 pounds. Offensive linemen are such...
Seattle Times staff columnist
They call it a small miracle, which is humorous because Juan Garcia, the proprietor of this gift, weighs 305 pounds. Offensive linemen are such understated behemoths. Give them something to marvel, and they make it all practical.
The Washington linemen would rather discuss the work involved than the outcome. They saw Garcia running gassers before practice, trying to recover from a complicated foot injury. They saw him wince through the offseason and sneak in extra training against the coaches' wishes, determined to make a Road Runner-swift recovery. They never saw him mope or stray from his mission.
So now that Garcia has done the impossible, returning from a Lisfranc foot injury in only four months, there's little time to revel. It's time to set a standard.
"There's no question we're going to be one of the top lines in the country," senior guard Jordan White-Frisbee declared.
Guess they'd call that a small prediction.
With Garcia back, the Huskies open the season Saturday with their most dependable unit intact. It's easily the deepest, most experienced group on this teething team. Beyond that, it's a testament to how persistence and steady improvement can spur a revival.
Through change, through embarrassment, through injuries, the O-line has made the kind of upward movement the entire program covets. And the three interior linemen — Garcia, White-Frisbee and Casey Bulyca — stand as the leaders of this fine example.
Garcia is a sixth-year senior. White-Frisbee and Bulyca are fifth-year seniors. They've experienced the full angst of the Huskies' descent, never witnessing a winning season. Garcia came the closest in 2003, when Washington finished 6-6 during his redshirt year. Since then, the program has gone 12-35.
Since then, Garcia has missed two full seasons because of injury and labored to return for this rare sixth year the NCAA granted him. Since then, White-Frisbee has endured three surgeries on his right foot and moved from the defensive to offensive line. Since then, Bulyca has grown from seldom-used backup to intimidating, nasty, key cog.
Considering the trauma, they deserve this last chance to get it right.
"We've been through a lot together," Bulyca said. "The only thing that kept us from breaking apart is our friendship. We've learned the game of football together. It's basically like going out there and playing with my brothers."
Bulyca calls Garcia "inspirational" for his fast recovery. White-Frisbee, Garcia's roommate, says, "anything I've been through in my career, Juan has been through it tenfold."
On occasion, White-Frisbee and Garcia will show each other their scars. Garcia wins the gruesome challenge every time. Throughout Garcia's request to return from his latest injury, White-Frisbee would want to complain after a workout, but he'd relent after noticing how much Garcia burned to play.
"I'd see Juan, and I couldn't dare feel that bad about how much I hurt," White-Frisbee said.
Include two surgeries on White-Frisbee's left foot, and he's been under the knife five times during his football career. It's only natural to wonder why he and Garcia would punish their bodies so much just to play football. Asked that question, White-Frisbee unleashed his modesty.
"It's a part of life," he said. "There's not anything else I'm really good at besides football."
He shouldn't talk himself down so much. Football may be his calling card, but this struggle is teaching him a lot more than how to play hurt. And with some luck to go along with good blocking, perhaps an improbable bowl berth will be the reward at the end of this odyssey.
Technically, the O-line returns four of its five starters from last season, but when you count Ryan Tolar and Matt Sedillo, there are six players with starting experience. The line must play to its potential to give quarterback Jake Locker and his inexperienced skilled-position players a chance to grow. With Garcia back under center, the line appears stable.
"It's a nice, small miracle for us," White-Frisbee said, repeating an oft-used description for Garcia's comeback.
And now for the next miracle: restoring Husky dignity. It promises to be an even larger task than Garcia's recovery.
At least the Huskies don't lack for inspiration.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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