Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Keith Price swayed from one side to the other as if he was injected with a shot of energy and flashed a smile so wide that those in front of him could almost see his molars.
Asked after a Wednesday afternoon practice at Bishop Gorman High about the strong core of players returning to Washington next season, the junior quarterback, and two-year starter, failed to shield his enthusiasm.
“We know how good we’re going to be next year,” Price said. “But this is not next year yet. We still know we have a long way to go, so this game is key.”
Washington meets Boise State in the 2012 Maaco Bowl Las Vegas at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Huskies are looking to reach a small milestone, as a victory would mark the first time since 2001 that the program posted an eight-win season.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said his staff and players already should have pride for what they’ve accomplished. Washington hadn’t advanced to the postseason for seven straight years and was coming off of an embarrassing 0-12 campaign when Sarkisian arrived in Seattle for the 2009 season.
It took Sarkisian two years to get the Huskies their first bowl victory since Y2K hysteria was all the rage. Maaco Bowl Las Vegas marks the third straight year Washington has advanced to a bowl game.
“I sometimes reflect back on our tenure here and I kick myself a little bit,” said Sarkisian, who’s gone 26-24 overall at Washington. “In the first year here, we probably should have gone to a bowl game that year, too, but we made some mistakes late in ballgames that ultimately cost us that opportunity.”
Sarkisian could just as easily write that 5-7 year, which included a memorable 16-13 upset of No. 3 USC, off and claim it's all part of a five-year plan that reaches its peak next season. The impending campaign is one coaches build toward when getting a new job, as Washington is poised to return as many as 18 starters. The team will also unveil a renovated Husky Stadium, oddly enough facing Boise State in the opening game.
Although Price’s numbers regressed this season — Sarkisian partly blames a slew of injuries, including four on the offensive line — he gets back his leading rusher and leading receiver in sophomores Bishop Sankey and Kasen Williams, respectively.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, whose 6-foot-6, 266-pound frame forces NFL scouts to drool over his professional future, also is a part of that sophomore class.
“When he was recruiting me, he made a note that we were going to be competing at a high level and trying to get to the highest bowl game possible,” Seferian-Jenkins said of Sarkisian. “We’re building that right now. It’s humbling to be a part of this experience with him and the rest of the team.”
The Huskies' list of returners is similarly impressive on defense, where they’ve excelled most consistently this season. Washington ranks 16th in the nation in passing defense and should test up-and-down Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick.
As much as Washington wants to cap off this season the right way, it’s also got an eye on what a victory over Boise State could mean to the team scheduled to start spring practice in four months.
“It could really kick start us into 2013, which we think has the chance to be a really special season,” Sarkisian said.