Former Tyrone Willingham walk-on becomes a Huskies starter
In his rap song “Déjà vu,” Bent Twig give us some insight into his makeup:
‘Cause if we work together and we take a little pride
If we can do the best we can and not just try to get by
The world will see a change and not a roll of an eye
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Just do what I can and I don’t ask why
Bent Twig is the street name for the University of Washington’s resilient junior left guard, Gregory Christine, and also the name of his rap group, which includes his good friend Samson Szakacsy, a quarterback at Arizona State.
A walk-on, Christine sat for the first 11 games and three quarters of Washington’s 0-12 season of 2008. He finally played all of 13 plays in the last quarter of the last blowout of a lost year at California.
“I was so excited,” he said, “because who knows, those could have been the first and last snaps of my career. I was holding on to guys. Whistles were blowing. I didn’t care. It was like, ‘Come on. This is it right here.’ “
As Bent Twig’s lyrics explain, Christine maintained his pride. He didn’t roll his eyes. He didn’t shrug his shoulders and tell himself he tried. He kept at it, through all the losing, through the punishing practices on the scout team, through Washington’s coaching change and through the punishing monotony of last winter’s weight training.
“It was definitely rough, especially when you’re not on the field and you think you can make a difference,” Christine said after Tuesday’s practice. “Last year felt like, ‘Oh gosh,’ but at the same time, I’m still a Husky. I’m not going to up and leave.”
But players leave all the time. Players transfer because they aren’t getting playing time. They quit because they aren’t getting the chance they thought they were promised.
“I know guys do, but I’m one of those kinds of people who would rather go through the wall than try to find a way around the wall,” Christine said. “Sure you always feel like you’re banging your head against the wall, but every little bang makes a crack until that crack becomes a hole. And then you can go through it.
“You just keep coming back to practice. Regardless of the score, or whether you played, you’ve got to come back and work for the next Saturday. I mean Saturdays are what you live for. If you’re not working hard, then what do you expect on a Saturday?”
Tyrone Willingham left. Steve Sarkisian came, and life at Washington changed for Christine. He went from the scout team to the starting team. He has been Washington’s starting left guard for the opening games against LSU and Idaho. He will be on the field again Saturday against USC.
“He’s been putting in all the work that he had to do to get to be the starting left guard,” left tackle Ben Ossai said. “It takes a motivated guy to keep going after it, after all the adversity of not playing for basically that whole year. But he stuck in there, and this year it’s paid off.”
Christine, from Camarillo, Calif., a center on St. Bonaventure’s 14-0 team in 2005, is used to being told what he can’t do. He wasn’t highly recruited. He was told he was too small. Willingham invited him to walk on, then practically ignored him.
Christine took the snub as a challenge.
“It’s always been my thing to prove people wrong,” he said. “So just coming in here was one step for me. Then working hard was another step. Then being able to play with guys was another step. It was sort of a culmination. You set bars for yourself, and then you try to reach them.”
He was told he would be the Huskies’ starting left guard the week of the LSU game. He refused to celebrate.
“It was a great feeling,” he said, “but it also just told me that I needed to study more. This was my show now,and I had to run my position. I had to know what I was doing. I couldn’t go out there and just lose my mind. I had to show the coaches why they trusted me.
“It wasn’t like I got my spot and I could kick my feet back. No, not at all. That’s when you’re most vulnerable, when you feel like you can relax. I put my foot on the gas when I was told I was starting.”
You only live once and it’s not about I
The world needs help and not a “well I tried.”
Let’s make some peace so no one else dies
And when we all get it right then we’re all gonna fly
He spent two season on the scout team, as anonymous as an athlete can get. Now Gregory Christine is on the field. It’s his time to fly.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176