Montana

Plenty of connections at Washington for Griz heading into opener at Husky Stadium

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Husky Stadium, the legend goes, is where the wave was invented. It holds over 70,000 fans and sits on the sea, overlooking the glittering waters of Union Bay.

It’s a lodestone for thousands of kids growing up in Washington with dreams of playing college football. And when Montana takes the field against Washington on Saturday, that will include plenty of Evergreen State natives suiting up in the maroon-and-silver of the Griz.

Ten players on the Montana roster are from Washington, with five from the greater Seattle area. Besides Montana and California, that’s the most of any state on the Griz. Six of those players will start, and two more are certain to see the field.

Nickelback Nash Fouch grew up in Woodinville, northeast of downtown Seattle, about a 30-minute drive from Husky Stadium, and grew up going to games there.

In high school, he played against Cole Grossman and Skyler Martin from Skyview High in Vancouver, all the way down at the southwestern corner of the state just a bridge ride away from the outskirts of Portland, Oregon.

Fouch and Grossman, a tight end, have carried over that rivalry to the practice fields at Montana, where the two rising stars are often matched up together and jawing at each other after plays.

“He’s actually my roommate,” Fouch said. “So we have a little friendly rivalry every day in practice. We talk a lot of crap to each other about it from time to time. Then we get home and talk a lot of crap to each other, but it’s all friendly and he makes me better every day and vice versa.”

Montana sophomore Corbin Walker, pictured here in 2019/ by Brooks Nuanez

If Fouch ends up starting over TraJon Cotton at nickel, three-fifths of the Grizzlies’ starting secondary would be Washington natives. Cornerback Corbin Walker (Renton) and safety Gavin Robertson (Auburn) are from just south of Seattle.

Starting quarterback Cam Humphrey is from Issaquah, southeast of downtown Seattle. He hasn’t thrown a pass in his home state since 2015, his senior year in high school, when he led 4A King County players in passing yards.

“It’s exciting, but at the end of the day, it’s just another football game,” Humphrey said.

No matter what part of the state they’re from, the football memories of every kid who’s grown up in Washington are tinged with at least a little purple-and-gold.

The Huskies were one of the best programs in the country in the latter part of the 20th century. Under Don James, Jim Lambright and Rick Neuheisel, Washington had 27 consecutive .500 or better seasons from 1977 to 2003, the longest streak in Pac-12 history.

In that streak, the Huskies won eight conference titles (six under James, and one each under Lambright and Neuheisel), five Rose Bowls and one national championship in 1991, when they were voted the top team in the season-ending coaches poll.

“It’s a great place, a powerful football program,” Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said. “They have rich tradition there just like we do here. It’s an impressive place.”

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Montana head coach Bobby Hauck/ by Brooks Nuanez

Hauck tasted success almost right away when he joined Don Read’s staff at Montana in 1988 as the defensive backs coach. In 1989, behind the stellar play of Tim Hauck (Bobby’s younger brother), the Griz advanced to the semifinals of the Division I-AA playoffs for the first time.

By 1990, Hauck was a graduate assistant for UCLA legend Terry Donahue, who passed away earlier this summer. He coached for Rick Neuheisel for four years at Colorado — a run that included a pair of 10-win seasons and Top 8 finishes in the national polls.

Perhaps the highlight of Hauck’s career as an assistant coach came in 2000. That fall, Marques Tuiasosopo quarterbacked the Washington Huskies to an 11-1 record, a Pac 10 title and a berth in the Rose Bowl. On New Year’s Day 2001, the Huskies took down Drew Brees and the Purdue Boilermakers, 34-24.

While he was helping Rick Neuheisel lead the Huskies, Hauck also tried to pick the brain of Husky legend Don James whenever he could. James, who guided the Huskies from 1975 until 1992, led Washington on an unprecedented run that included six bids to the Rose Bowl, four Rose Bowl victories and an undefeated run to the national championship in 1991 capped by another Rose Bowl victory.

“I was really fortunate to get to know Coach James and Carol, his wife,”  Hauck said. “I got to spend time with Coach when I was there and I grabbed every minute I could. If I got 10 minutes to talk to him, I’d use it and pick his brain on a lot of things. There are imprints of things I learned from him in recruiting, practice, almost everything we do.”

Washington has been back to the Rose Bowl once since Neuheisel’s abrupt dismissal in 2002 – on New Year’s Day 2019 when the Huskies lost 28-23 to No. 5 Ohio State. However, the Huskies did have a high water mark with an appearance in the College Football Playoff in 2016, a season before the last matchup between UW and UM.

In 2017, the No. 7 Huskies smashed Montana, defeating the Griz 63-7.

“I’m well aware we played them in 2017 and lost 63-7,” Hauck said. “We are going to go out there and compete and see if we have been able to close that gap at all.”

Hauck was on Neuheisel’s staff at Washington from 1998 until 2002, contributing to a 33-16 record over those four seasons. In 2003, Hauck took the Montana job, instantly helping his alma mater sustain its run of excellence that stemmed from 1993 until Hauck departed for the first time in 2009.

Montana’s head coach was in his early 30s while on the staff at UW but jumped to UM right before Neuheisel fell under fire for NCAA violations stemming from betting on a March Madness pool.

For Hauck, the UW experience spring-boarded him to an opportunity that led to 80 wins, seven Big Sky Conference championships and three national title game appearances in seven seasons. Some of Hauck’s first tastes of big-time success came on Montlake.

“Getting to know and be friends long term with a lot of Husky legends, from Coach James to Steve Emtman, go down the list, they are good friends and Coach James is a mentor. I also remember a lot of success, a lot of wins, winning the Rose Bowl, beating Drew Brees in the Rose Bowl, that was great. It’s a powerful place.”

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All that winning made Husky Pride practically a state-wide mandate. 

In a way, Washington and Montana build their programs with similar recruits — a lot of in-state kids who grew up watching the local team succeed and never thought about going anywhere else.

Former Montana wide receiver Jamaal Jones (6) celebrates a touchdown catch vs Montana State with teammates John Schmaing (74) and John Nguyen (20) in 2015/by Brooks Nuanez

“Growing up, I got to watch U-Dub a lot,” former Washington and Montana receiver Jamaal Jones said. “You know, they were always on TV, and the atmosphere, I always looked at it and I was like, that’s a great atmosphere. … It kind of all made sense to me at the time to go to U-Dub.”

Just like at Montana, that gives recruits growing up in Washington plenty of role models to follow. Everybody can point to a hero from their hometown who achieved the ultimate glory of playing for UW.

Huskies defensive lineman Steve Emtman, a unanimous All-American who finished fourth in the Heisman voting after racking up 20.5 tackles for loss in 1991 and was picked first overall in the 1992 NFL Draft, went to Cheney High in the eastern part of the state, the same school as redshirt freshman Griz D-lineman Jacob McGourin.

Tuiasosopo, the legendary quarterback who defeated Brees in the 2000 Rose Bowl, is from Woodinville like Fouch.

Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who won the John Mackey Award in 2013, went to Gig Harbor High School, where Griz O-lineman Cody Kanouse graduated from in 2017.

Former Montana wide receiver Craig Chambers, who went to north Seattle powerhouse Jackson High School, felt that pull to play for the Huskies particularly strongly.

“Old-school Pac-10 football was USC and U-Dub in the early ‘90s,” Chambers said. “My brother played during that 1991 (season), the early ‘90s years when U-Dub was just a powerhouse. … So I started bleeding purple and gold like at 4 (years old), you know, I knew early on I was gonna be a Husky.”

He committed to the Huskies soon after they offered him and had nearly 1,000 combined yards over the 2004 and 2005 seasons in the purple and gold, leading UW with six touchdown catches in 2005 (half of the team’s receiving TDs that year).

But rose-tinted dreams of playing for the local team can quickly transform into harsh reality, and UW in the early 2000s was quickly losing its powerhouse status, a venerable dynasty collapsing with shocking suddenness.

Neuheisel, who recruited Chambers, was fired in 2003 after the gambling scandal. Keith Gilbertson went 7-16 over two years before being replaced by Tyrone Willingham, who would leave after four years of sub-.500 football. In his three years at Washington, Chambers had four different receiver coaches.

Amid accusations of bad practice habits, he transferred to Montana after Willingham’s first year in 2005, and had 43 catches and eight touchdowns for the Grizzlies in 2006.

Former UW head coach Tyrone Willingham/ contributed

“(Willingham) had gotten fired from Notre Dame, and a lot of us players were like, well, why are we bringing in a guy who’s not good enough for Notre Dame,” Chambers said. “University of Washington, you know, we’re supposed to be an elite football program and we’re bringing in somebody who wasn’t good enough somewhere else.”

Jones followed in Chambers’ footsteps a half-decade later. The uber-athletic 6-foot-1 receiver from Spanaway (he went to Graham-Kapowsin, the same high school as current UW starting quarterback Dylan Morris) was on the Huskies’ roster for two years, playing in three games in 2012 before transferring to Montana and becoming the Grizzlies’ all-time leader in receiving yards.

“It’s really gonna come down to depth at the FBS level,” Jones said. “The first stringers, they can compete with each other for the most part, but after you get to the second string, the third string, then you start to get into the depth like these FBS schools have. They have so much more depth than the FCS school.”

That will be one challenge for Montana on Saturday. There will be plenty of others — the pure talent gap, the specter of the 2017 shellacking, the 60,000-plus screaming fans.

But for some of the Montana players, that last one won’t be much of an issue at all.

“I kind of grew up in the backyard and definitely went to Husky games as a kid and I played my junior football jamborees there. I’m familiar with it,” Fouch said. “Seventy-thousand-some fans or something like that. It’s a great environment to play football right there on the lake and I can’t wait.”

About Andrew Houghton

Andrew Houghton grew up in Washington, DC. He graduated from the University of Montana journalism school in December 2015 and spent time working on the sports desk at the Daily Tribune News in Cartersville, Georgia, before moving back to Missoula and becoming a part of Skyline Sports in early 2018.

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