By Derek Johnson
Dear God, I remember that night in Tucson in 1986. The Huskies were battling the Wildcats on a hot evening in the desert. Junior quarterback Chris Chandler went down to injury, and pure freshman Cary Conklin jogged onto the field and entered the huddle. What made me wince wasn't just losing Chandler, but seeing Conklin's redshirt burn up before my very eyes. It was late in the season, too. Don James had endeavored to preserve that redshirt but it wasn't meant to be. That game, by the way, ended in a 21-21 tie. And that Husky team ended the season at 8-3-1.
Conklin had arrived at Washington as one of the nation's top QB recruits. He narrowed down the suitors to UW and Terry Donahue at UCLA. But Conklin was a Yakima kid, and ultimately chose the Huskies.
It's Conklin I think of when I hear talk of heavily-recruited freshman quarterback Jake Browning. This slight-of-build Browning isn't built like the brawnier Conklin. And their playing styles are much different. But with the dearth of QB talent on the current Husky roster, Browning may end up winning the starter's job almost by default. (Sark was a great recruiter, everybody says so).
But the reason I think of Conklin is because the searing pain I felt when Don James burned his redshirt ended up being unnecessary on my part. Conklin wasn't a bad quarterback, but time proved him to be pedestrian in his Husky tenure. By the time he was a senior, the UW program was at a point where it could reload with the likes of Billy Joe Hobert and Mark Brunell.
In this day and age of athletes declaring early for the draft in droves, the only players whose redshirts should be protected are offensive and defensive linemen.
It's true that Petersen is building Washington from the ground up. But last year's underwhelming season sapped his reputation of some of the magic we had hoped for and even expected.
Petersen's job security is safe no matter how the team does on the field this year. More and more people are realizing that time is needed to cleanse the Sark stench from this beleagured program.
But there's no reason to save Browning's redshirt in hopes of a special 2019 season. Husky Football has been in the crapper long enough. Even if inexperience dooms him to a couple of horrific performances this fall, Husky fans need to see glimmers of hope like Browning developing before us. If Browning's presence means two more wins this season, then we need to cash in on that dose of hope.