Eight true freshmen saw action in UW's opening game at Oregon (Devin Aguilar, Jermaine Kearse, Senio Kelemete, Kavario Middleton, Chris Polk, Jordan Polk, Alameda Ta'amu and Everrett Thompson), and another -- newly converted safety Johri Fogerson --seems likely to play this Saturday or soon thereafter.
That compares to seven true freshmen who played in all of 2007 and two in 2006.
Some have seen those numbers and wondered if coach Tyrone Willingham isn't rushing players in now, with less regard to the future, because of his job status. So, I asked him (and he accepted the question like a pro) if he's confident he would have played those guys even if he had 10 years remaining on his contract.
"Oh, yes, absolutely," he said. "Based on their abilities of what they're doing right now, compared to what we have on our football team, yes. I mean, I don't look at them as freshmen. I look at them as good players and who plays the best. I don't think there's anybody who can deny that Kavario Middleton added something to our football team. There is no question about that. And you look at some of these other guys: Jermaine Kearse added something to our football team. That's what I look at. It's not that they are freshmen, or playing guys now and not worrying about the future. No, that's not true. You put your best players on the field, and I think our football team trusts us to do that – trusts me to do that."
I raised the 10-year contract thing because in Willingham's very first season at UW, I had asked him if he would build the program any differently if he had been given a 10-year contract instead of a five-year contract. He made some light remark about how good a 10-year contract sounds. But then surprised me by allowing that he might do some things differently with the assurance of that much time.
I reminded him of that this week before asking about the true freshmen, and he amended his original answer a bit:
"You build a program to win right now," he said. "And to do that doesn't mean you have to do things that compromise the foundation points that will establish longevity. Because to me, if you do it right, then you establish yourself to be able to win for a long time. If a house is built quick, you maybe have some very productive things for the time being, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee you that you'll have longevity."