The Legacy Continues


When Don James was recently asked about personnel during his time as head coach, he replied he was blessed with great quarterbacks.  And there were great quarterbacks before and after Coach James.  It’s a Washington legacy.

Heinrich, Schloredt, Sixkiller, Moon, Pelleur, Millen, Chandler, Brunell, Hobert, Huard, Tuiasosopo…  The list is extraordinary.

The most exciting was Sonny Sixkiller during his sophomore year before the coaches told him to stay in the pocket.  Do this.  Don’t do that.  Unfettered, however, Sixkiller would call the play in the huddle, trot to the line-of-scrimmage, set the team, and only the Good Lord knew what would happen next.  Sixkiller had a great arm but his greatest strength was his natural ability to improvise at the speed of light according to what the defense gave him.  Sixkiller was very smart and gifted, characteristics that landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The strongest arm belonged to Warren Moon.  He had a rocket launcher and it became particularly evident when he played for the Edmonton Eskimos (three downs, not four) and routinely threw 25-, 35-, 45-yard bullet passes.  One can only imagine what Moon’s numbers would be had he gone directly to the NFL.

To date, the most accurate U of W QB was team captain, inspirational award winner, PAC-10 Player of the Year, and All-American Tom Flick (1978-1980).  While other Washington quarterbacks had more yards, more completions, in many cases much (if not more) of the credit for those statistics, as is only reasonable, went to their receivers.  The quarterbacks did nothing extraordinary beyond what good quarterbacks do.

Flick, on the other hand, did one thing uniquely well: he would put the ball where his receiver could get it and the defense could not.  Most QBs attempt a conventional vector, leading the receiver chest/shoulder high, and consider it a good pass if they’re accordingly successful.  Flick would often do

that but would also spot it high, low, deeper, sometimes throwing to a spot not in the direction a tightly covered receiver was heading but which, with a quick route adjustment, the receiver could reach while putting the defensive back out of position.

I first noticed this on a pass to a blanketed Paul Skansi which seemed inaccurately low and away; Skansi had to adjust his route and dive for the ball to catch it.  Completion.  First down.  Replaying it in my mind, I realized that spot was the best available considering defensive backfield positioning.  I noticed similar behavior with passes to Danny Greene and Aaron Williams.  Flick was not only attempting to complete the pass but protecting the ball in the process while, by putting the defensive back in a place he did not want to be, helping a covered receiver get open.  Checkmate.  Not many QBs are that cerebral.

I’ve watched great Husky quarterbacks since and, while it’s still early, for the first time in 40 years I’m seeing another Husky quarterback doing what Tom Flick did.  Keith Price does not just gun it in the right direction.  He places the ball.  Price passes, not throws.  There’s a difference.

And Price is getting predictable results with, presently, a 68.3% completion percentage to 13 different receivers, and 17 touchdowns with four interceptions.  “You could see it his senior year at St. John Bosco,” said Adam Guerra, opposing former head coach at Loyola High in Los Angeles.  “He had talent and the potential to go a long way.”

Perhaps the greatest testimonial to Price’s efficacy has been the total absence of the “L” word thus far during the season.  The “L” word?  Locker.  Jake was certainly one of the great Husky quarterbacks in every way conceivable, a first round draft pick who just graduated, certainly not forgotten, but the relative absence of the mention of his name speaks volumes about the performance of his replacement.

How far can Price go from here?  Will the above list, i.e., Heinrich, Schloredt, Sixkiller, etc., eventually include “Price”?  It seems inevitable at the moment.  Why wouldn’t it?

A cautionary note.  Price recently said his knees and ankles feel great after resting during the bye week.  That’s what players say; what fans would expect a player to say.  First, however, ankles and knees don’t completely mend in a week, and secondly, with a delicate knee or ankle condition, it only takes one hit in the wrong place to put a player on the backburner.  Former Husky captain Pete Kaligis was on the bench about 50% of the time due to knee problems that developed in high school when Kaligis continued playing through pain.  Former Washington and Oakland Raiders lineman, and Flick teammate, Curt Marsh sustained a bad ankle injury at Oakland, doctors shot his ankle full of Novocain and he played for the team’s sake.  For his selfless efforts, eventually he had to have his lower leg amputated.  “They basically tried every [other] operation possible,” said Marsh. “The [final] choice came down to living in unbearable pain my whole life or having my leg amputated about six inches below the knee.”

Those are extreme examples of debilitating knee and ankle injuries but are evidence that these injuries are not to be trifled with, and playing injured can be, in the long run, less-than-wise.  If Price is smart, he will not let his knee problems get out of hand.  But unfortunately, as evidenced by Kaligis and Marsh, that’s often not how young men think, and if a player is exceedingly incautious, he can inadvertently play himself out of football.  No doubt Washington coaches will not allow Price to overextend himself.  But, more realistically, with responsible coaching/trainer oversight, Price’s knees could find themselves in need of rest when there is no bye week.

Then what?

Nick Montana is what.  An adequate replacement while Price rehabilitates?  No, Montana is a little more than that.  Coach Sarkisian recently said that it is not that Montana is lacking but, rather, that Price is doing so well.  Simply put, Montana would be the starter except for one thing: Keith Price.  A few years ago, Jake Locker got hurt and Washington went 0-12.  During that infamous season, Washington did not have the luxury of a Nick Montana.  Nor did Washington have Doug Nussmeier and Steve Sarkisian coaching quarterbacks.  As good as Price is doing, Montana would do fine as a replacement for Price…maybe better than “fine.”

Washington has an interesting history with respect to back-up quarterbacks taking over for injured starters.  Sixkiller did that.  So did Schloredt.  And Hobert.  They’re all on the list at the start of this article.  Could that happen with Nick Montana?  Hopefully Washington will not have the opportunity to find out but there is the possibility that the string of great Husky quarterbacks discussed above could include the name “Montana” with that possibility becoming evident sooner than, hopefully, later.

Meanwhile, Keith Price’s play has been superlative and, excepting injury, although it’s early, based on his performance thus far this fall, Price seems destined to join Heinrich, Schloredt, Sixkiller, Moon et al in the annals of great Husky quarterbacks, perhaps setting new records for season and career completions percentages and touchdown passes in the process, perhaps eventually receiving All-American accolades like Flick if the Husky team has an exemplary season.  With Keith Price (and Montana at the ready) the legacy continues.