It’s easy to describe what Bishop Sankey isn’t.
He isn’t brash off the field and bullish on it, the way his predecessor, Chris Polk, could be.
He isn’t the type of person who would dye his hair bright blond or trade words with a defender after a big run like teammate Jesse Callier.
He isn’t likely to spend a lot of time talking about himself – his past or future.
But for all that Sankey isn’t, it is instructive to remember what he is: The starting tailback for the Washington Huskies and likely the best, and maybe only, hope of building a running game this season.
With Callier suffering a season-ending knee injury during Saturday’s win over San Diego State, Sankey, who was splitting first-team carries, will start his first collegiate game on Saturday in Baton Rouge against No. 3 LSU and its vaunted defense.
“It means a lot,” Sankey said. “They’re a great team. They play in a great stadium. It should be fun.”
Trying to solicit funny anecdotes or perhaps controversial statements from Sankey is a fruitless endeavor.
“I call him the quiet assassin,” running backs coach Joel Thomas said. “He’s not a big rah-rah guy. He just goes out there and does his work.”
Indeed, Sankey has a little bit of Barry Sanders’ mindset when it comes to long runs or touchdowns. He pops up, hands the ball to the refs and heads back to the huddle. There is no showy celebration or look-at-me moments.
The same goes for bad plays. If he’s thrown for a loss – or when he fumbled against SDSU near the goal line – he doesn’t pout or toss up his hands in disgust. He might shake his head or clap his hands in frustration, but that’s about it.
“I just tried to forget about it and keep playing my game,” he said.
That kind of thinking can be beneficial – especially for Sankey’s first start against LSU. The Tigers’ front seven features about six future NFL players, while he will be running behind a patchwork offensive line featuring new/old right tackle in Erik Kohler and a sophomore right guard making his first collegiate start in James Atoe.
But if Sankey is concerned at all, he’s not letting on. He runs the same. He acts the same. He’s going to stay the same.
“Nothing really changes for me,” he said. “I prepared as if I was going to start. I’m going to prepare the same way.”
To be clear, Sankey would have likely gotten a chance to start this season even if Callier hadn’t gotten hurt.
The plan all along was for the two tailbacks to share carries, trying to replace some of Polk’s production. But there were some close to the team who thought Sankey would eventually become the starter. He has a little more speed, a little more size, and a little better vision than Callier.
Thomas just envisioned Sankey as a “football player” when he persuaded Sankey to choose Washington despite a previous oral commitment to Washington State.
“When we went back and re-evaluated him, we thought he was like Jesse but just a little faster,” Thomas said. “Those are guys we want in our program.”
The change to UW raised a bit of controversy between the rivals and placed more attention on Sankey than he would have preferred.
“Personally, I’ve moved on from it a while ago,” he said. “I feel like other people have moved on from it as well.
“Washington became more appealing after I came over here on my visit. I trusted Coach Thomas, and this was the place I wanted to be.”
While it seemed likely that Sankey would redshirt in 2011, he ended up playing as true freshman – thanks in part to a knee injury to Deontae Cooper, and Sankey’s ability to pick up the offense.
It was a major change from his days at Gonzaga Prep, where he became the Greater Spokane League’s all-time leading rusher with 4,355 yards.
“The game’s faster and the guys are bigger,” Sankey said. “The holes close up quicker and the gaps get smaller – that’s part of the speed.”
During spring practice and fall camp, he stayed right with Callier in the competition to start.
When Callier went down in the first quarter against San Diego State, Sankey handled the bulk of the rushes. He carried 22 times for 66 yards and one touchdown. Sankey was supposed to play about 30-35 plays but instead was in for more than 60.
“I think he might have gotten a little tired at the end,” Thomas said.
Sankey added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, getting to 202 pounds, to help withstand the rigors of being a lead back.
“It’s about preparation,” he said. “Like (UW coach Steve Sarkisian) says, ‘Your preparation will set you free.’ It’s preparation throughout the week. That’s a big factor of how well you do in the game.”
How will he do in this game? Maybe that’s not a fair measure. Better to ask how will he do the rest of the season as the starting tailback.
“He’s taking to this challenge and understanding when he get the opportunity, you have to rise to it,” Thomas said. “I’m fired up to watch him be a starter.”firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @RyanDivish