Updated Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Early Sunday evening, they gather inside the Dempsey Indoor to stretch stiff muscles and slowly expel the hurt and the lactic acid from their last football game.
This light, night-after workout is part yoga class, part therapy session and part ritual catharsis. It is a postgame necessity for every football team's recovery process.
And at the end of the evening, the Washington coaches line up their players and evaluate their conditioning. The players run "gassers," wind sprints from one side of the practice field to the other.
It is a competition more than it is calisthenics and almost every Sunday, the fastest and fittest Husky is running back Bishop Sankey.
Last Sunday, less than 48 hours after he carried the ball 29 times in a victory at California, Sankey won every gasser. He ran back and forth across the field with his father's encouraging voice somewhere inside his head.
"I feel like that desire to be first in every conditioning sprint was something that was instilled in me coming up as a child and now as a grown man," Sankey said after practice Wednesday morning. "It started way back when at Little League practice.
"We would always run a lap before practice, and one of the things my dad taught me was always try to be first in that lap. So I always try to be first in whatever I do."
Sankey's rise this season has been one of the best stories in the Huskies' uneven run toward a bowl game. He came into this season as a backup tailback. The idea was to have Jesse Callier do all of the grinding, inside-the-tackles work and Sankey would be the change-of-pace back, running on the perimeter.
Jesse Callier: Mr. Inside. Bishop Sankey: Mr. Outside.
But then the Huskies lost Callier for the season to an injury and the bulk of the Washington running attack fell to the slight sophomore Sankey, who would be running behind an injury-riddled line. There were concerns that his body wouldn't hold up to the punishment.
Those concerns seem silly now. Sankey survived 29 carries last week. He gained 189 yards. He carried 20 times against Stanford and 25 times against Oregon State.
He is averaging 95 yards after nine games and leads the team with 11 touchdowns, including two each in the recent victories over OSU and Cal.
"I don't know if I would have thought, coming into the season, we could have said that Bishop Sankey could carry the ball 30 times a game," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I didn't know if he was built that way."
But there is Sankey, at 5 feet 10 and maybe 200 pounds, fearlessly hitting holes hard, taking on linebackers, ricocheting off safeties, running over corners, doing a more-than-fair imitation of record-setting back Chris Polk, now with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I learned what it takes to be a running back at the college level from Chris," Sankey said. "I watched how he ran and how he ran with authority and stepped out of tackles and how he could turn the jets on when he was out on the perimeter. Coming up under him last year, I tried to take bits and pieces from him and then add them to my repertoire."
Washington expected Sankey to be a spread, shotgun-formation runner, taking advantage of his speed. But Sankey ran a lot between the tackles from the wildcat formation at Gonzaga Prep, and he has looked comfortable sticking his face mask into the mosh pit in the middle of the line.
"We've found out that he's actually better when he's behind the quarterback in the I-formation," Sarkisian said. "Some of his biggest carries have come between the tackles, not on the perimeter. There's still plenty of room for improvement for him, but he's got an unbelievable work ethic."
Sankey is a quiet, humble kid. He looks his inquisitors in the eye. He's a yes-sir, yes-ma'am, kid. And he is thoughtful with his answers. He's the kind of athlete you can recruit and then never worry about him when he arrives on campus.
"My dad has been the most influential person in my life," Sankey said of his father Chris, a tech sergeant at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. "He taught me the value of hard work and how to be first in everything you do. I was coached up by him in Little League, and I think my discipline is a reflection of what I was taught growing up."
This is how you do it. The way Bishop Sankey does it. Hard work. No shortcuts. Outrunning the athlete next to you.
Check his numbers. It works.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
By the numbersBishop Sankey's stats so far this season:
9 games, 855 yards rushing (4.9 average per carry)
Longest run: 61 yards
Receiving: 19 catches for 114 yards (6.0 average)
DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Bishop Sankey has taken the Washington running game under his wing and has led the Huskies with his average of 95 yards a game, including 189 last week.