Hugh McElhenny. Napoleon Kaufman. Corey Dillon. Greg Lewis. Rashaan Shehee. Jacque Robinson.
The junior tailback is right on pace to pass one of Washington’s best, Napoleon Kaufman, at season’s end. At his current season average—121.8 rushing yards per game—Polk would finish whichever bowl game the Huskies end up in with 4,144 yards, breaking Kaufman’s school record of 4,106. Remarkably, Polk has one more year of eligibility.
Given the high likelihood that Polk does not return for his senior year, the question that will arise is where he will be ranked among Washington’s pantheon of revered tailbacks. The aforementioned are not only some of the most recognized in the conference’s history, but are considered gods among the Huskies’ Dawg house. Could Polk really usurp them all?
As incredulous as it may sound, the answer is yes. More so, it’s amazing when considering the pedestal that the best of the best are placed upon, particularly those who turned into NFL greats, like McElhenny and Kaufman.
But the proof is in the Puget Sound clam chowder. And Polk could surprisingly leave Washington after this season as the best of the best of the best in a long line of elite running backs. What makes his stature somewhat surprising is the dim media spotlight that he has received during his three-year tenure as the starting Husky tailback.
Three Huskies have each placed in the top-10 in the postseason Heisman Trophy voting—McElhenny (eighth, in 1951), Lewis (seventh, 1990) and Kaufman (ninth, 1994), but outside of Seattle, Polk has somewhat flown under the radar. The fact that he may soon be better than all of the running Dawgs makes the lack of attention on him rather disappointing.
However, his stellar play the previous two seasons has been overshadowed by the Pac-12’s superstar running back LaMichael James from the nationally ranked Oregon Ducks. But Polk’s consistency when it counts is what propels him to uppermost levels in college football. And with quarterback Keith Price at the helm for his first full season as a starter, Polk has been depended on to carry the brunt of the Huskies’ offense. Despite the extra focus from opposing defenses, somehow Polk has added to his already-superlative accomplishments.
Two weeks ago, when the Huskies hosted the Arizona Wildcats, Polk became the first running back in school history to have both 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game, further showcasing his improved pass-catching ability. He has already broken Kaufman’s top mark for most 100-yard rushing games in a Washington career (18). And he has an outside shot at moving into the top three for career receptions by a running back—he currently ranks fourth.
But UW fans will no doubt remember his indelible performances in the most meaningful of games for the school. In two games against the rival Washington State Cougars, Polk has averaged 207 yards per game on the ground. In the 2010 Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, he amassed 177 yards rushing, earning him game MVP honors.
After all is said and done, Polk will have his footprints all over the Washington record books, climbing to the top of nearly every statistical category, matching his No. 1 jersey number. But what will solidify his stature in the lore of Washington football will be how far he is able to guide them this year.
If the Huskies are able to rattle off another bowl win, against another formidable opponent, the Polk will be spoken of not only as a great individual running back at Washington but also a winner and a team player. Only then will Polk have mushed ahead of the greatest Huskies running backs of all-time.