Quarterback Keith Price may be the most synonymous player with the current era of Washington football.
The fifth-year senior signed on with head coach Steve Sarkisian's first recruiting class, played in all four of the Huskies' most recent runs of bowl campaigns (and started three) and will leave his name in the program's record books.
Price will write the final chapter on his book in the coming weeks, with the Huskies facing three challenges to close the regular season, as well as their bowl game.
"Keith has a really unique opportunity in this last month of the season to leave a tremendous legacy on this program," Sarkisian said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.
How Price and this Washington team finish won't just define the 2013 season, it will set the bar for the next step in the program's growth under Sarkisian.
"I'm really proud of the work that we've done here, now into our fifth season, from where we started," Sarkisian said of his staff and the upperclassmen responsible. "Now we're in our fourth consecutive bowl bid, and Keith's been part of three of those."
For a program that suffered through a winless season just five years ago, Washington has steadily built to a point that it's returning to the Pac-12 championship discussion. Price won't get a shot at the Huskies' first Rose Bowl appearance since the 2000 season—a hand injury and brutal three-game stretch last month knocked Washington out of championship contention—but he's helping the returning players build the right attitude.
"Nobody works harder than Keith. Nobody prepares more mentally and physically on our roster," Sarkisian said. "He demands the same of the guys around him, whether you're a true freshman wide receiver or a senior."
He may leave after his eligibility expires this year, but young wide receivers Jaydon Mickens, John Ross and Damore'ea Stringfellow will have those expectations set for them in 2014 and beyond. And they'll work with Price understudies Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist, the latter of whom won the same Bob Jarvis Offensive Scout Squad MVP in 2012 that Price earned in 2009.
The leadership qualities Sarkisian said Price is "exuding" will have a lasting impact. Nevertheless, Washington's finish against UCLA, Oregon State and Washington State will have a more immediate determination of Price's legacy.
Sure, he set Washington's career passing touchdown record earlier this season, and moved into the conference's top 10 alongside 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, as Adam Jude notes in his Seattle Times column.
Individually this year, Price is having arguably his best as Washington's starting quarterback. He's thrown 18 touchdown passes—just one fewer than he had all of 2012—with only four interceptions. His improved decision-making has Price well on pace to finish the year with fewer than 10 turnovers, a first in his career.
|Keith Price Career Stats|
Most recently, Price picked apart an overwhelmed Colorado squad with a 22-of-29 passing performance for 312 yards and two scores. He rushed for another two touchdowns.
And he did it all in the first half. Saturday was Price's second monster outing in as many games, two weeks after he threw for 376 yards, two touchdowns and rushed for a third score in a 41-17 rout of Cal back on Oct. 26.
Beating up on the two Pac-12 bottom-feeders is one thing. Friday night is an opportunity for Price to cement his legacy against upper-echelon competition when the Huskies meet No. 13 UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
To saddle Price with a stigma of faltering in big games is erroneous. Arguably the best outing of his season, if not his entire career, came in the Huskies' Oct. 5 trip to Stanford when he went 33-of-48 for 350 yards.
But while Price was stellar that night, Washington fell just short. Such is the case for the Huskies in marquee games. The 31-28 loss was Washington's first of three straight. With Price nursing a hand injury, the other two—against Oregon and at Arizona State—were not as close.
Price is back at 100 percent, and the Washington offense is firing on all cylinders at just the right time. The Huskies are 0-3 against teams slotted in the BCS rankings, but Friday is an opportunity to add a much-needed notch to the win column.
It's also the first step in Price's grand finale.
"Jake (Locker) did it his senior season, to win out the final four games, and Keith has that opportunity," Sarkisian said. "I'm really proud of him, and I hope he can finish out his career on a high note, because he deserves it."
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