On a sunny September day at Husky Stadium, with eyes wide open, and his ears taking in the sounds of big-time college football, Johri Fogerson was living out his dream. But this wasn't the way he'd imagined it, and at times this dream was playing more like a nightmare.
Only months prior to making his first start as a true freshman against Oklahoma, Fogerson was still staring on the gridiron for O'Dea High School, earning Associated Press State Player of the Year honors. As a senior, Fogerson rushed for 2,545 yards and 36 touchdowns, including a record breaking 297 yards and four-touchdown performance in the state championship game.
When he arrived at Montlake, Fogerson was placed in the rotation at running back, and was ideally looking at a redshirt season. However, things were far from ideal for the Huskies in 2008. Starting the season 0-2, and already without safeties Victor Aiyewa, Jason Wells, and Darin Harris due to injury, Fogerson was asked to make his first start on defense against one of the best teams in the country.
"It was like a video game," Fogerson said about playing against the Sooners. "It was fun, but it was also really hard going from offense to defense, and having to play against a team like Oklahoma."
Fogerson finished with a game-high nine tackles, but also took his lumps, allowing some touchdowns in the 55-14 loss.
"It was an eye opening experience, something that not a lot of people get to experience in the Pac-10, but I'm glad I did it," explained Fogerson of the struggles. "I got to start at the bottom, and now I know what it's like to be there, and now I know I never want to be there again."
It's a hard task for any true freshman to make an impact in the Pac-10. But, it's even harder for a freshman to switch positions, and be expected to contend with an offensive powerhouse like Oklahoma with only two-weeks of preparation.
"It was pretty tough, because I had the offensive playbook down, then all of a sudden I was starting from scratch and I had to pick up things on the run. Everything was happening so fast, and I just wasn't used to it yet."
The challenge has only begun for Fogerson, who is now learning from his second coaching staff in two seasons at Washington.
"It has actually been a lot easier since I started on this side [defense], instead of switching mid season and being thrown into the fire like that. It has been real fun and we have learned a lot."
So what has been the biggest difference between the old regime and the new staff?
"Work ethic," Fogerson expressed. "Everyone works a lot harder, and every practice is like a game now. You have to come to work every day now, or your spot will be gone. They are always in our grills, and I like it because it's what I'm accustomed to. Coach [Monte] Kholer had a hyped up attitude, and that is what we have here. It's a great feeling to know that people expect a lot from you, because it makes you great."
"They want us to move our feet, becuase everything is played with your feet and hips," he continued about his new coaches. "It's not about standing still like we did last year. A lot of things were sit down, hook to curl type of things. Now we are flying around and getting to the football. There is no loafing around."
There was no loafing around in the offseason either, as Fogerson along with the rest of his teammates, reshaped their bodies and attitudes with new strength trainer Ivan Lewis.
"It made me a lot faster," said Fogerson. "It allowed my hips to open and got me stronger."
The hard work paid off and Fogerson has been running with the first-team defense all spring. But he still knows there's a lot of time before their September 5 kickoff against LSU, and things can change quickly.
"Nothing is given to you," he explained. "I just have to maintain, keep working hard, and do what I know I can do."
Last season's 0-12 effort was trying for Fogerson, but he indeed showed flashes of what he can do. With a new season approaching, the biggest hurdle facing these Huskies is putting the past behind them, and gaining confidence that they can win.
"I came from a winning program [in high school] and I'm used to winning," he continued. "Last season hurt, but I never fell into a losing mentality," Fogerson said. "It's great to have a winning mentality around here now with the new coaches and players. The whole vibe is different now."
"The past is the past, you learn from it and get better. We started at the bottom, but right now we are even with everyone in the Pac-10. We all start off 0-0, and hopefully we can just win game one."