He might be the most important figure in the Huskies’ football program. He also might be the slowest.
And that casts Tim Socha in a most ironic position.
As UW’s strength and conditioning coach, Socha prides himself on making the Huskies faster and stronger and healthier — emphasis on faster. A former offensive lineman at the University of Minnesota (1995-98), Socha has a booming voice that echoes throughout Husky Stadium in practice, never more so than when he barks at players to jog off the field at the conclusion of practice. There’s no walking allowed.
Socha himself usually sprints away from the post-practice team huddle at midfield, heading toward the west end zone. Hard as he tries, one or two graduate assistant coaches almost always beat him in the footrace.
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That’s OK. Socha isn’t judged for his own speed, but that of the players he trains. And, in that regard, UW coach Chris Petersen said no one has a leg up on Socha.
“I think there’s no more important position than the strength and conditioning coach in college football,” Petersen said, “so I think that says right there how much trust I have in him.”
During winter conditioning sessions, when the NCAA limits other coaches’ contact with players, Socha (pronounced SAH-hah) helped to introduce the new staff’s standards. “Discipline” was the first word Petersen used to describe Socha’s demands of players.
“There’s a lot of change going on around here,” Socha said. “Everything has changed for these guys. It’s all different. So the biggest thing we were doing was just get the guys to buy in to working together, buy in to how important that ‘W’ on the middle of the field is, and that’s the biggest message I was trying to send this offseason. And I think they did a good job with it. … It’s just a process of trying to get better the entire time.”
Each practice this spring, Socha organizes one off-the-wall competition that pits offense players against defensive players. Tuesday morning, that competition featured 327-pound nose tackle Danny Shelton running a route in the end zone and hauling in a short touchdown reception, while being defended by an offensive lineman, on a pass thrown by a defensive end. Earlier this week, it was a capture-the-flag event. Last week, players big and small alike had to jump over a makeshift high-jump wall erected at midfield. Among players, it’s probably the most popular, and most entertaining, period in practice.
Compared to other programs, Socha said he uses more free weights and “movement exercises” designed to increase players’ flexibility. Nutrition also is a top priority, with UW hiring a full-time dietitian, Kristen Gravani, in January.
“Sleep and nutrition,” Socha said, “are probably the biggest areas that college kids need to work on as far as taking that next step to being great.”
Petersen said there was no hesitation on his part to call on Socha — whom Petersen hired at Boise State in 2006 — when the new head coach came to UW in December.
“Everybody understands that it starts in the weight room — you’re talking about the foundation of our program, and it all starts there,” offensive line coach Chris Strausser said. “I think he’s the best in the country. He does such a good job of getting these guys quicker, faster, stronger.”
Washington senior defensive end Evan Hudson hasn’t heard any talk in the locker room about a National Labor Relations Board ruling last month that, if it stands, would allow players at Northwestern to unionize, but Hudson said he’s been following the developments.
“It’s interesting. … It’s kind of unchartered waters, so you never really know,” Hudson said. “But I haven’t looked into it too much, and I think we’re all focused more on winning right now and getting this new staff in place. … I’d rather go win the Pac-12 than get a union.”
• With Dwayne Washington and Jesse Callier sidelined with what appear to be minor injuries, redshirt freshman running back Lavon Coleman has performed well the past two practices.
• Sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles remains away from the team while on indefinite suspension.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364