Washington running back is 111 yards shy of 1,000, with two games to play, including Apple Cup on Saturday.
Chris Polk weeks ago removed the question mark attached to his name.
Now it’s time to see if he can apply an exclamation point.
Polk has already turned in the best season for a Huskies freshman running back, in the process proving that all the hype that accompanied his arrival two years ago had substance.
And in UW’s final two games, he has a chance to make his season one of the best for any runner in school history.
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Polk, a graduate of Redlands (Calif.) East Valley High, has 889 yards entering Saturday’s Apple Cup game against Washington State. If he stays on his current pace of 89 yards per game, he would not only become just UW’s second 1,000-yard rusher since 1997 (Louis Rankin in 2007 is the only back to top that mark in that span) but would also move onto the school’s top-10 season list.
If the past three games are any indication, though, Polk could zoom right past the 1,000-yard mark against the Cougars, who have the 116th ranked rushing defense (out of 120 teams) in the country. Polk has rushed for 352 yards on 52 carries (6.7 per game) against Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA, topping the 100-yard mark in each game.
Polk says getting 1,000 yards is definitely on his mind entering the Apple Cup.
“It seems real because it’s not like a high number needed [to get it],” he said. “I’ve got 111 left, so that’s something you can get in one game if you prepare right and do your job.”
Polk said he knows the Cougars have struggled against the run, allowing 233.8 yards per game, but that he expects “because it’s a rival game, they are going to play probably 10 times harder than they have been playing. They are not going to come out and just let me run all over them.”
Polk, though, has managed fine against just about every defense this season. He’s been held under 71 yards only twice, once against Arizona when he suffered an injured right shoulder early in the game and had just nine carries.
Polk says he suffered essentially the same injury to the same shoulder — a partial dislocation — that caused him to have season-ending surgery in 2008, and that he might need to have another surgery after this season. For now, he’s playing through it.
“It’s real painful,” he said. “Especially like with blocking. But you really don’t feel it running during the game because of all the testosterone. It’s after the play that you really feel it. But it’s not going to stop me.”
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian says Polk “has not been 100 percent” since the injury and “the offseason is going to be good for him to really strengthen the shoulder the way it should be strengthened, and get the thing back to 100 percent where it needs to be.”
That Polk has continued to shoulder the load despite the pain, however, is among the many impressive aspects of his season, Sarkisian said. His per-carry average is now up to 5 yards. Only Rankin in 2007, of UW’s leading rushers, has had that high an average since the 2000 Rose Bowl season.
“He’s had a great year, ran physical, stayed relatively healthy for a running back,” Sarkisian said. “But when he’s been banged up, he’s run through it, and I think he’s only getting better. Just look at his body of work the last three weeks. He just keeps getting better.”
In fact, Polk already has the second-most rushing yards for any freshman in school history behind only the 986 of quarterback Jake Locker in 2007. If he gets to 1,000, he will be only the 10th player in school history to top that mark (it’s been done 12 times overall with Napoleon Kaufman topping 1,000 three times and Greg Lewis twice).
Huskies coaches admit they didn’t see it coming when the year started, due to the unknown of Polk, who not only was coming off the shoulder injury but also had an ankle injury in the spring that has bothered him off-and-on this season. He gained just 33 yards on 20 carries before he was shut down and saved his redshirt year in 2008, leading some to wonder what the Huskies really had in Polk.
And with several other talented young running backs on the roster, such as sophomore Johri Fogerson and freshman Demitrius Bronson, UW’s coaches figured that no back would get the carries needed to achieve 1,000 yards. But Polk won the job in fall camp, then held it, displaying a physical style that even UW’s coaches acknowledge they weren’t sure they’d see so quickly.
“I thought we were going to be running back by committee,” Sarkisian said. “But he just took the thing by the horns and ran with it.”
Potentially all the way into the record books.
“The fact that I could be the first freshman to have 1,000 yards is a cool stat,” Polk said. “I just want to go out there and put my name in history.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
UW’s 1,000-yard rushers
Chris Polk needs 111 yards in the Huskies’ final two games to reach 1,000 yards rushing. If Polk gets to 1,000, it would be the 13th season the Huskies have had a 1,000-yard runner.
1,695/Corey Dillon, 1996/301/5.6
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
1,111/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