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Trio will vie to replace Sankey as UW’s top back

By Brent Stecker

With a record-breaking 2013 season, Bishop Sankey solidified himself as one of the many great running backs in Washington Huskies history. But with this week’s announcement that the junior will enter the NFL Draft, the Huskies and new coach Chris Petersen now have to look to somebody else to take the lion’s share of carries.

So who will it be? And will it matter all that much in Petersen’s system, which was typically built around quarterbacks at Boise State?

Jesse Callier was the Huskies No. 1 running back in 2012 until a torn ACL ended his season in the first game. He recovered to rush for 213 yards in 2013. (AP)

Not much is known at this point about Petersen’s plans for the UW offense, unsurprising since he was hired by Washington less than a month ago. But when it comes to who will try to follow in the footsteps of the school’s great runners like Sankey, Chris Polk, Corey Dillon and Napoleon Kaufman, it’s easy to see a number of candidates.

The Huskies have three tailback types expected back next year, each of whom had their moments to shine in 2013 and could get a chance to be the featured back next season.

Jesse Callier, who will be a senior in 2014, is perhaps the most intriguing option because he’s had a chance to be the No. 1 RB before. The 5-foot-10, 207-pounder took 77 carries for 433 yards in 2010, and he was the starter in 2012 until an ACL tear in the first game against San Diego State ended his season. That provided an opening for Sankey, who never looked back, and by the time Callier recovered for 2013, he had dropped to third on the depth chart. Callier proved to be no average third-stringer, though, rushing for three touchdowns and 213 yards on 48 attempts in 2013, including a 66-yard performance on just six carries against Illinois on Sept. 14.

As arduous as Callier’s recovery was, it’s nothing compared to the trials and tribulations that Deontae Cooper has gone through. Cooper, a 6-foot-1, 201-pounder who will also be a senior next season, didn’t even make the field with the Huskies until 2013 because injuries to both of his knees kept him out three years in a row. But like Callier, Cooper took advantage of the chances he was given in 2013 — he turned 11 carries into 166 yards and two scores against Oregon State on Nov. 23 (including a 70-yard run), and he finished the year with 270 yards and three touchdowns on 43 attempts.

Even though Cooper and Callier have the edge in experience, they will have their hands full battling an underclassman for the starting gig next year. Dwayne Washington (6-1, 220) had a strong freshman season in 2013 for the Dawgs, finishing with 332 yards and four scores on 47 attempts. Like Cooper, he shredded Oregon State, amassing 141 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. And as the true No. 2 back, he was afforded double-digit carries in three games in 2013, and topped 50 yards each time. He also had 57 yards on four carries against Colorado on Nov. 9, and his 71-yard run against the Beavers was the team’s longest of the season.