Steve Sarkisian is no stranger to unconventional preparation. This time, though, the Washington head football coach outdid himself.
Tuesday's tactic was a far cry from the endlessly looped fight song of an opponent Sarkisian has pumped into his team’s practices in the past. Instead, the Huskies played host to a tiger.
Yes, a real one.
In preparation for Saturday’s game against the LSU Tigers — who keep a 450-pound Siberian-Bengal mix named Mike on the sidelines during home games — the UW brought in a 16-month old tiger named Sheena to sit on the sideline during Tuesday afternoon’s practice.
“It’s cool,” a grinning Drew Schaefer said. “The whole emphasis of it was just to get used to it now, so when we go down there, we’re solely focused on the task at hand — coming out of there with a victory.”
Sheena made the trip to Seattle from Canby, Ore., where she lives in an exotic-animal refuge called A Walk on the Wild Side. One of her trainers, Olivia Robertson, said the UW had contacted the refuge a few months ago to inquire about bringing the 300-pound Sheena, who is about 6 feet in length, to practice the week of the LSU game.
“It took a few guys quite a while to be able to throw the football after seeing her,” Robertson said.
After practice, the UW team took a few minutes from its jam-packed daily schedule to gather around the animal’s cage.
“It’s pretty cool,” junior Erik Kohler said. “But it’s definitely kind of shock and awe when you first see it.”
The presence of Sheena wasn’t the only twist to Tuesday’s workout. While the first-team offense was working against the scout-team defense, the Huskies pumped in prerecorded crowd noise over speakers set up around the field.
In particular, the UW coaches want to do their best to prepare their suddenly rebuilt offensive line for LSU’s Tiger Stadium, notorious for being one of the loudest venues in the country.
On Tuesday, sophomore James Atoe was lined up at right guard while Kohler shifted from his usual spot at guard to right tackle.
“We’ve played on the road before, we’ve played in some loud stadiums, but we do have some new guys getting some starts, especially James there at guard and Micah [Hatchie] over at left tackle,” Schaefer said. “We just got to get them used to playing on the road the best we can before we actually get there.”
Kohler discussed some of the differences between the guard and tackle spots.
“You’re on an island, more than anything,” he said of his new position. “You’re out there by yourself, you don’t really don’t have a lot of help. When you’re down at guard, there’s a lot more stuff going on, but you have the center with you; sometimes you have the tackle helping you.”
The season-ending injury suffered by running back Jesse Callier means there will be more carries to go around the UW backfield in the coming weeks. While Bishop Sankey is expected to pick up the bulk of that work, with freshman Erich Wilson II getting spot duty in a reserve role, Sarkisian brought up an interesting potential alternative.
“We’ll have some guys that’ll be role players that’ll do some things in the backfield for us that are maybe hybrids at other positions that can do things for us back there,” he said Monday. “Maybe not as full-time running backs, but in some spot duty and special situations.”
Whether that means getting the ball more to speedsters like freshmen Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor on reverses and fly sweeps, or simply lining up some different players as a traditional running back, remains to be seen.
One particularly eyebrow-raising possibility, though, would be to see freshman safety Shaq Thompson lining up in the backfield.
Thompson played quarterback and running back in high school, and there was much talk at the time of his commitment that the speedy Thompson — who finished sixth in the state of California in the 200-meter dash as a high-school junior — could play both ways for the Huskies.
“There is some potential for using Shaq on the offensive side of the ball,” Sarkisian said back in February. “As the play-caller, I’m kind of excited about flipping him the ball a couple times and see[ing] what happens.”
Reach Sports Editor Kevin Dowd at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @kevindowd
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