Thursday, September 19, 2013
The Fraternity is watching.
As Bishop Sankey’s national profile rises, as his statistics mount, the old Husky running stars smile, and prepare to usher another member into the inner sanctum.
In fact, Sankey has already passed the initiation. Asked Wednesday if the junior, just two games into his second season as the starter, has a chance to eventually be regarded among the upper ranks of UW rushers, coach Steve Sarkisian replied, “I kind of think he’s already there.”
That’s an opinion increasingly shared by the elite themselves.
Napoleon Kaufman, Washington’s all-time leading rusher, gushes over Sankey from his vantage point in the Bay Area, where he is senior pastor at The Well Christian Community in Livermore, Calif.
“He reminds me of Emmitt Smith, in that he can do everything well — run, catch, block,’’ said Kaufman. “If I had one word for him, it’s solid.”
Kaufman knows that his career mark of 4,106 yards, which has stood for nearly 20 years, is in serious danger if Sankey decides to come back for his senior year.
That’s a debate for down the road, but Sankey is accumulating yards at such a phenomenal pace — 1,142 in his past seven games, an average of 163 — that he is already shooting up the ranks at a meteoric rate.
“I love it,’’ said Kaufman, who has met Sankey and raves as much about his character as his skills. “He’s a great kid, not getting into trouble, not being a knucklehead, playing hard.
“Hey, that’s what records are for: Benchmarks for people to go after. I’d love nothing more than for a kid like that to go off and do his thing.”
Right now, Sankey stands at No. 13 with a bullet, having passed Jake Locker’s career total with his 208-yard game against Illinois last weekend. That put him at 1,995 yards.
After two games in 2013, Sankey leads the nation with his average of 184.5 yards, and has a cupcake against Idaho State still to come Saturday. That pace obviously will be hard to maintain once Pac-12 Conference play begins, but Sankey has displayed such an affinity for Sarkisian’s new up-tempo offense that Corey Dillon’s season mark of 1,695 (1996) seems vulnerable.
The word that keeps coming up with the 2013 version of Sankey is patience — his ability to wait for the holes to develop before shooting through them.
“He’s not just stubborn to run where a play says it’s always supposed to go, but has enough feel to recognize openings,’’ noted Sarkisian.
To Joe Steele, another member of the fraternity watching Sankey’s ascension with keen interest, the style brings to mind a more recent Husky maestro.
“He reminds me so much of Chris Polk, his size and the way he runs,’’ said Steele, who works in commercial real estate in Bellevue. “He’s not that big, but he packs a load, like Polk. It’s fun to watch those young guys come through.”
Steele took particular note of Sankey’s 35 carries Saturday, tied for the fifth-highest game total in school history.
“That’s something special — although they say the ball’s not that heavy,’’ he said with a laugh.
Steele, who played from 1976-79, sits at No. 3 on the UW career list with 3,168 yards, right behind Polk (4,049), and just ahead of Greg Lewis (2,903).
Lewis, who is Senior Director of Advancement for Academic and Student Affairs at the UW, said he wouldn’t mind seeing Sankey lower his carries by about five per game, the better to preserve his health and well-being.
What Lewis sees is a running back who has reached the coveted juncture where his physical skills are matched by his composure and mastery of the system.
“He has a supreme confidence in his ability,’’ Lewis said. “Any time a running back has confidence and gets a little blocking, the results are going to be good.”
Lewis sides with Sarkisian on the question of Sankey’s place in the Husky hierarchy.
“I think he’s already there (among the all-time best), just on what he’s already done,’’ he said. “As much as I love Keith Price and all the receivers and Austin (Seferian-Jenkins), Bishop is what makes this offense go.’’
Lewis, who in 1990 was the first winner of the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top running back, is now a member of the selection committee for the award.
“I’ve been hoping over the years to have another Husky join me,’’ he said. “I was pushing for Polk. I’ll definitely be pushing for Sankey.”
Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for cbssports.com and the Sports Exchange, says NFL scouts are definitely taking notice of Sankey. Rang said Sankey has a chance to be a second- or third-round pick whether he comes out this year or next.
“He has an undeniable skill set,’’ Rang said. “When you look beyond his numbers and see him on tape, you see he’s a legitimate talent, not just a function of Sark’s offense.”
All heady stuff, but you’d never get the level-headed Sankey to buy in. He said Wednesday he’s following the advice he received from Lewis and Kaufman: “Keep working hard, stay hungry and stay humble.”
That’s music to the ears of Kaufman.
“I’m cheering him on from a distance,’’ he said. “I’m so happy to see him doing so well. In my mind, I feel he’s underrated.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @StoneLarry