When Pete Carroll came to the Seahawks, the first thing he said was that starting positions had to be earned. Competition would determine who played – whoever had the talent and fire to get the job done would start. The Seahawks improved.
At Washington under Coach Steve Sarkisian, the same philosophy holds, and when talent is relatively equal, who starts comes down to who wants the job the most. The most competitive time in Husky football history was the early Owens era, peaking with the national championship team in 1960-61. Every guy on second string was breathing down the neck of the guy in front of him. In that regard, 2012 may remind older Husky fans of what once was.
Watching Dexter Charles walk down the Stanwood High School football field track during a cold, overcast graduation ceremony almost a year ago was much different than watching him walk down the same track in football pads. In cap and gown he appeared like a good-looking athlete but, to a casual observer, that appearance would not rouse the thought of an offensive tackle headed for the University of Washington. As always, looks are deceiving. Not appearing like the stereotypical offensive lineman only meant Charles’ weight was solid. Now a redshirt freshman, Charles stayed solid during the past winter, gaining strength while his not-that-evident 293 lbs. declined modestly to 287 lbs.
With Colin Tanigawa out for spring practices, Colin Porter forced to retire, and Erik Kohler dinged up, Coach Dan Cozzetto has Charles at weakside guard (Colin Tanigawa’s spot) on the first string, and weakside tackle on the second string behind Micah Hatchie. As with James Atoe, the coaches are taking a long, serious look at Charles to see where he best fits on the O-line.
When senior center and O-line leader Drew Schaefer was asked which of the younger O-linemen impressed him during this past week, he immediately responded, “Dexter Charles.” Schaefer added, “All through winter workouts we were impressed [with Charles]. He competes; doesn’t turn down anything.“ The relatively unheralded Charles has the athleticism, strength, tenacity and desire to move into a first-string O-line position and stay there.
During the early Jim Owens era, competition was continual and fierce, and the second string players were barely a drop-off from the first stringers. They didn’t really hate each other – although sometimes you wouldn’t know it. The competition made both first and second strings even better, with three Husky linemen, Chuck Allen, Roy McKasson and Kurt Gegner, earning All-American honors, and a fourth, Norm Dicks (who backed up Allen on offense), eventually becoming the ranking democrat on the U. S. House Appropriations Committee.
What’s the latter have to do with football? The photo to the left is from Congressman Dicks’ website. It’s prominent, one of the first things a website visitor sees. After all these years, he hasn’t forgotten where his competitive edge was cultivated: pneumonia flats, as the field at Husky Stadium was called when the weather got bad back before synthetic turf.
Although unlikely, it’s possible that the 2012 competition could be equally continual and fierce with similar results. As former Husky D-lineman Alameda Ta’amu has stated, Colin Tanigawa isn’t one to ever back down, and Colin Porter is one tough hombre, starting as a true freshman. But Charles and Atoe, on the other hand, will not want to benevolently give up their positions. In fact, next fall could see real dogfights at positions everywhere because the players all know they have a shot. Several have reiterated what the coaches have said: regardless of experience or who did what last season, if a player is good enough, that player will start.
Like Atoe, when fall rolls around, it may be difficult to dislodge Charles from whatever position he takes. Now that Senio Kelemete is headed for the NFL, perhaps Charles will find himself in a battle with Micah Hatchie for the important weakside tackle position or, as good as Colin Tanigawa is (watch 2011 video of Chris Polk and see who is often ahead of him when he hits the line), the starter at weakside guard next year could be Dexter Charles.
It could come down to, as in 1960-61, who wants it the most. Considering the desire, talent and work ethic of many Husky players, the competition of 1960-61 may not be that distant. Along the O-line, expect Dexter Charles to be in the thick of things, and don’t be too surprised if he starts.