Updated Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:14 AM
Not since the last three games of Corey Dillon's record-setting one-year stay in 1996 has anyone carried the ball as often for Washington over a three-game span as Bishop Sankey the past three weeks — 86 times.
But if the 5-foot-10, 200-pound sophomore is feeling any wear and tear, he isn't telling. And UW running-backs coach Joel Thomas says he thinks he knows why Sankey has been able to handle the heavy workload.
"He just has this knack for avoiding a direct hit," Thomas said. "And I think the carries are a little misleading when you are not getting directly hit all of those times. Maybe it's half that."
Sankey is likewise doing a good job of sidestepping one of the more intriguing subplots of the Apple Cup, set for 12:30 p.m. Friday at WSU — his first game in Pullman.
For more than a year, the star at Spokane's Gonzaga Prep was committed to Washington State. He made a pledge in December 2009, shortly after his junior season of high school.
For months, WSU fans avidly followed his progress. He finished as the all-time leading rusher in the Greater Spokane League with 4,355 yards.
Then, shortly before letter-of-intent day in February 2011, Sankey switched his commitment to UW, then signed with the Huskies. Sankey later revealed that WSU's was his first significant offer and he was quick to say yes. But more offers came. Then Steve Broussard, the Cougars assistant coach who had recruited him, moved to Arizona State (he's at UCLA now). Sankey began to consider other options.
Washington, meanwhile, became more interested in Sankey after it lost running back Brendan Bigelow of Fresno, Calif., who switched his commitment from UW to California.
Tales of players decommitting and committing elsewhere are increasingly common. But WSU fans felt spurned, as did Cougars coach Paul Wulff, who later said he felt there should have been a "gentleman's agreement" that schools would stop recruiting Sankey once he committed. And even if time heals all wounds, WSU fans likely haven't enjoyed seeing Sankey begin to live up to the hype. He has run for 1,150 yards this season, fifth-best in the Pac-12.
WSU junior safety Deone Bucannon probably spoke for many Cougars fans Sunday when he said of Sankey, he "was committed here, so everyone wants to hit him. So we want to go out there and play him as hard as we possibly can."
Asked Tuesday about Bucannon's comment, Sankey said he hadn't heard it and didn't know Bucannon. He also noted that in last year's game against WSU at CenturyLink Field, there was no more verbal sparring than in any other contest.
Friday, though, might be different, with Sankey finally venturing into Martin Stadium.
But as he often does to defenders, Sankey pretty much gave the stiff-arm to the idea that he'll be bothered much by any razzing.
"I don't think it will make a difference," he said. "We will just have to go out and play our game."
To UW coaches, the bigger story is the manner in which Sankey has progressed. He served as a backup to Chris Polk last season, gaining 187 yards on 28 carries. With Polk off to the NFL, Sankey entered this season projected to split time with junior Jesse Callier. But those plans were dashed when Callier suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first half of the opener against San Diego State.
Sankey needed a few games to adjust. He was held to 20 yards on eight carries against LSU, and before the fourth game of the year against Stanford, was challenged by Thomas to improve his play.
"We felt that there should have been a little more productivity from that position, a little more sense of urgency in everything," Thomas said.
Sankey's 61-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one cut a 10-point Stanford lead to three and keyed an eventual UW upset. His 144 yards against the Cardinal remain the most Stanford has allowed. The Cardinal is No. 2 in the nation in rushing defense at 71.8 yards per game.
Sankey has had four 100-yard games since (six in all) and last week quietly set a UW record for rushing yards by a sophomore, surpassing Napoleon Kaufman in 1992 (1,084) and Polk in 2009 (1,113).
Asked if he felt he'd answered doubts, he gave a typically straightforward answer. "Yeah, I feel like I have," he said.
Coach Steve Sarkisian was more effusive in his praise Tuesday, saying, "I don't know if there's another player on our roster who has made more strides and improved their game" since the season opener.
The hubbub over his recruiting is proof that a lot was expected of Sankey.
"It's pretty cool," Thomas said. "Could I have envisioned that back when we were playing LSU at the beginning of the season? Probably not. But I think we are beginning to set a standard here with what we want to do with our backs, and he has responded to that."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta
|Keep on runnin'|
|Washington sophomore Bishop Sankey ranks ninth on the Huskies' list of top rushing seasons:|
|1,695||Corey Dillon, 1996||301||5.6|
|1,488||Chris Polk, 2011||293||5.1|
|1,415||Chris Polk, 2010||260||5.4|
|1,407||Greg Lewis, 1990||248||5.7|
|1,390||Napoleon Kaufman, 1994||255||5.5|
|1,299||Napoleon Kaufman, 1993||226||5.7|
|1,294||Louis Rankin, 2007||233||5.6|
|1,197||Greg Lewis, 1989||266||4.5|
|1,150||Bishop Sankey, 2012||233||4.9|
|1,113||Chris Polk, 2009||226||4.9|
|1,111||Joe Steele, 1978||237||4.7|
|1,107||Hugh McElhenny, 1950||179||6.2|
|1,084||Napoleon Kaufman, 1992||182||6.0|
|1,055||Rashaan Shehee, 1997||168||6.3|
|1,036||Jacque Robinson, 1984||223||4.6|
|1,002||Ron Rowland, 1976||203||4.9|
JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Bishop Sankey breaks into open field on his 61-yard touchdown run against Stanford. His 144 yards are the most by a running back against the Cardinal this season.