When two teams combine to go 8-34 over the course of two years, as both Washington and Washington State have, it stands to reason that there is plenty of opportunity for someone -- or, even better, a number of someones -- to step right in and make a significant difference immediately.
In fact, Washington -- in making the leap from zero wins to five wins in Steve Sarkisian's first season -- had a great example of that last year.
When Desmond Trufant stepped onto campus 12 months ago, he was perhaps best known for being the younger brother of Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant. (Much to the continued chagrin of WSU fans, who can't for the life of themselves figure out how the Cougs let him get away ... to Washington of all places. But I digress.)
Desmond Trufant was a reasonably regarded recruit out of Wilson High School in Tacoma, rated three stars by both Scout.com and Rivals.com, but he certainly wasn't expected to be a game-changer from day one. And he wasn't. But he did make repeated impressions on the coaching staff last fall, earning playing time in the first three games before finally being given the starting nod against Stanford.
It's a spot he would not relinquish the rest of the season. And while he's certainly not the only reason Washington improved so dramatically from 2008 to 2009, he played well beyond his years to help shore up a secondary that had leaked like a sieve for the better part of two years. He so impressed, that he was named an all-Pac-10 honorable mention selection last year, and he was named to Phil Steele's 2010 preseason all-Pac-10 squad.
Now that's how you make difference.
If both Washington and WSU are to make a leap this year -- the Huskies into a bowl game, the Cougars into mere respectability -- both squads are likely going to need some guys who are flying under the radar right now to make big contributions as the season goes along. Here is a look at six possibilities.
Will Shamburger, Safety - This hard-hitting redshirt freshman looks to finally be recovered from a devastating knee injury suffered playing basketball during his senior year of high school. The injury was so bad, all the schools that had scholarships on the table -- including Boise State and Arizona State -- pulled their offers. Except Washington. And the Huskies look like they're about to reap the rewards.
Shamburger made his presence known in spring practice, causing Sarkisian to gush to The Tacoma News Tribune: "He’s shown a physicality in his play that is catching everybody’s attention. The offensive players, too – they don’t like getting hit by the guy. We’re extremely excited. It’s a huge addition for us."
Cort Dennison, Linebacker - It's not like the junior is a complete unknown -- he started five games last year -- but by stepping into a starting role for a unit that was so star-studded last season, he can't help but be a tad overlooked. However, Donald Butler is now gone to the NFL, and Dennison is being asked to move to the middle for the first time in his career. He's not the fastest guy, but coaches rave about his intelligence. Dennison is currently fighting a nagging knee injury, but he's expected to be a go for the season opener at BYU.
De'Shon Matthews, Defensive End - When a four-star recruit makes it to his senior year without doing anything of note, he's typically labeled a bust. Why do four-star guys miss? Sometimes, it's as simple as being miscast by a coaching staff, and that's potentially what happened to Matthews. A Tyrone Willingham recruit, Matthews was asked to balloon up to play tackle, a decision that sapped him of his quickness -- and effectiveness. Now playing close to his high school weight of 255 pounds, Matthews is aiming to make the most of his senior season.
Sarkisian has noticed a difference. Via the Seattle Times: "High motor. He looks more explosive. He's playing faster. That's the biggest thing that impresses me. He just looks like a faster, more explosive guy right now."
Anthony Carpenter, Cornerback - Paul Wulff made the conscious decision the last two years to redshirt a number of players who could have contributed immediately for the Cougars in an effort to build depth and a long-term winner in Pullman. As fans watched their too-slow secondary get torched week after week last year, Wulff implored fans to be patient, repeatedly stating that there was speed in the program, it just needed to mature.
Carpenter, now a redshirt freshman, is the posterchild. He started the fall on the second team, but has been pushing junior Aire Justin for his starting spot. Now that Justin has been nursing a hamstring injury for the past week, Carpenter's work with the first team just might have vaulted him into the lineup. He brings a level of speed and athleticism the secondary hasn't had in years.
Tyree Toomer, Safety - The redshirt sophomore was supposed to make a big impact last year -- after a moderately successful freshman season in which he started four games -- but a pectoral injury ended his campaign before it ever started. Now back at full strength, Toomer will team up with veteran Chima Nwachukwu in the deep backfield. At 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, he's not particularly big, but he figures out a way to get himself in a lot of plays. Like Carpenter, he represents a significant upgrade in athleticism.
Rickey Galvin, Running Back - This true freshman from the Bay Area is explosive with a capital E. He's small, standing just 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, but it seems like just about everyday in practice word leaks about Galvin breaking off a big run. In another program, he might be headed for a redshirt to get bigger, but at WSU -- where the luxury of redshirting talented players has now passed -- he's the kind of home-run threat the team has lacked quite possibly since Jerome Harrison roamed the backfield. Count on the coaches to figure out creative ways to get him the ball.