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Washington’s Bishop Sankey in Apple Cup spotlight


By Brent Stecker

When Bishop Sankey takes the field for the Huskies’ annual Apple Cup clash with Washington State on Friday, there will be Cougars fans wondering what might have been.

Sankey was a high-school star at Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, which is right in Washington State’s recruiting wheelhouse. And for a time, the Cougars had him more than within their grasp – he was committed to Washington State for an entire year, until a change of heart in 2011 resulted in Sankey spurning the Cougars for Steve Sarkisian and the Huskies.

With 1,575 rushing yards, Bishop Sankey is fourth in the FBS and closing in on UW’s season record. (AP)

It would appear he made the right choice, as Sankey has developed into is one of the top running backs in the country with Washington. He ranks fourths in the FBS with 1,575 rushing yards this season, and on Monday the junior was named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the best college running back in the nation.

Adding further intrigue to Friday’s Apple Cup, Sankey is just 120 yards short of Corey Dillon’s school record for rushing yards in a season, something he could very well eclipse against Washington State.

Though it may seem like a big deal, especially in the Palouse, don’t expect it to have too much effect on Sankey.

“I think that, just like he was, today, he’s gonna approach this game just like he does every other game, just like he does every other day,” Sarkisian said Monday of his star rusher.

Washington State coach Mike Leach didn’t get to have a hand in recruiting Sankey – that distinction belongs to his predecessor, Paul Wulff – but he’s well aware of what the running back is capable of. He compared Sankey against Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, who led the nation in rushing last year, ranks second this season and is one of the two other finalists for the Doak Walker Award.

“He’s a quicker guy (than Carey), and then Washington’s got a few more weapons than Arizona,” Leach said. “I think Sankey’s really good, and Sankey’s faster than Carey.”

Even with his speed, the 5-foot-10, 203-pound Sankey isn’t the flashiest player on the field. But as Sarkisian has iterated, he’s typically one of the hardest working.

“He comes to work, he understands the game plan,” Sarkisian said. “He studies the blocking schemes probably better and more so than any running back I’ve been around. This guy wants to know how plays are being blocked, and then he’s gonna go play hard. He’s gonna keep his mouth shut, get back in his alignment and do it again.”

With Friday’s Apple Cup and likely a bowl game remaining, Bishop Sankey is 121 yards shy of the most prolific season by a Huskies running back.

1. Corey Dillon (1996): 1,695
2. Bishop Sankey (2013): 1,575
3. Chris Polk (2011): 1,488
4. Chris Polk (2010): 1,415
5. Greg Lewis (1990): 1,407

That work ethic has had a big part in Sankey becoming a player whose name is uttered in the same sentences as some of the great running backs in Huskies history, like Dillon, Napoleon Kaufman and Chris Polk.

“There’s been some great ones, as we all well know. For decades there have been great running backs here. He’s done something very unique in his own way, in his own style,” Sarkisian said. “He’s not the most physically imposing guy when he walks in the room … but he plays big and he plays hard and he does the little things. I’m hopeful that when he’s done here, he is recognized as one of the greats here, because I think he deserves it.”

It isn’t just Sankey’s skills that have Sarkisian raving, though.

“I just know how he’s regarded in our locker room and up in our offices, this guy brings it every single day with a great mentality. You fly home from a ballgame after a late game and he’s one of the few guys up studying for his midterm coming the next week or writing a paper,” Sarkisian said. “He’s got a great mentality about himself that I think is contagious and rubs off on our younger players about the approach to practice, the approach to school, how you handle yourself on a day-to-day basis. Some of those things go unseen, but they really have a direct impact on our locker room, and that’s saying a lot about a guy.”

Now with Sankey up for an award, and possibly more attention coming, Sarkisian couldn’t be happier for his running back.

“I know that he’s probably got some accolades coming his way, and deservedly so,” Sarkisian said. “(He) probably doesn’t get enough national recognition as he really deserves. But he’s a tremendous player.”