The trip to Eugene won't be about nostalgia this week for Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, a former player at Oregon, who was raised in nearby Junction City.
Even though his younger brother now works for Oregon’s most bitter rival, Josh Wilcox said there won’t be much venom aimed at Justin Wilcox when he returns again to Oregon on Saturday.
“Maybe there will be a silent boo or something,” said Josh, who like Justin grew up in Junction City, about 15 miles from Eugene, where each later played for the Ducks. “It won’t be like it would be for Rick Neuheisel (a longtime Ducks target), let’s put it that way.”
Fitting, considering the nickname Washington players have given first-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who in his calm, methodical manner has begun to turn around a unit that last year ranked among the worst in school history.
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“To me, he is like a silent assassin,” said Huskies safety Sean Parker. “He doesn’t get mad quick, but when he’s mad, you feel it.”
Wilcox had little reason for complaint Thursday when the Huskies beat No. 8-ranked Stanford 17-13, with the Cardinal’s only touchdown coming via an interception. It was a defensive performance some think was the best by the Huskies in more than a decade.
Coach Steve Sarkisian noted that one key to what Wilcox has done so far is not forcing any specific scheme on the Huskies. That was evident against Stanford, when Wilcox came up with a plan to put more of UW’s bigger players on the field together to stop the Cardinal’s power running game.
The results against Stanford provided the clearest validation yet of the moves Sarkisian made after the 2011 season to revamp his defensive coaching staff, notably firing Nick Holt as coordinator and hiring Wilcox.
It also made the 35-year-old Wilcox, already as a rising star when hired by UW, an even hotter commodity.
As he stood in the uncommonly bright October sun on UW’s practice field Tuesday morning, though, Wilcox said the heat he’s feeling most is that of Oregon’s offense burning through the video screen.
“Nobody in our building is sitting around saying, ‘Oh, man, we’ve got this figured out,’ ” he said. “It’s the furthest from it.”
Indeed, if anyone on UW’s staff knows about the Ducks, it’s Wilcox. His father, Dave Wilcox, played at Oregon in 1962 and ’63 before an 11-year career with the 49ers that landed him in the NFL Hall of Fame. After retiring, Dave Wilcox settled in Oregon, eventually in Junction City, as a farmer. Josh, who is now a radio talk show host in Portland, and Justin were too young to remember their father’s playing days, but gravitated to the sport quickly. Justin Wilcox recalled Tuesday his days as a ball boy at Oregon games in the late 1980s and early ’90s, meeting Drew Bledsoe, Troy Aikman and Rodney Peete, and chasing after extra points and field goals kicked into the stands.
“That was a big deal for a kid to see all that,” he said.
Both brothers starred at Junction City High and later at Oregon. Justin Wilcox was recruited as a quarterback but moved to the secondary as a quicker way to get on the field. He lettered from 1996-99.
Those memories will never fade. But Saturday, he said, his focus is on beating the Ducks, not nostalgia.
“I went to school there, proud to be from there,” he said. “But my allegiance is with the Huskies and this team.”
Maybe more relevant than Wilcox’s history with Oregon is his present with UW players, whom Sarkisian said have “bought in” to everything Wilcox is teaching.
“He’s a teacher first,” senior cornerback Desmond Trufant said of Wilcox. “He’s on us hard, but at the same time when we make a mistake, he teaches us why we did that, and guys aren’t making the same mistakes anymore.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta