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Friday, October 14, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The rise and fall of Huskies QB Casey Paus

Seattle Times staff reporter

It was against Oregon two years ago that Casey Paus had his greatest moment as a Washington Husky, coming off the bench to lead UW to 35 unanswered points in the second half of a 42-10 win.

And it was against the Ducks last year that Paus became the team's starting quarterback for the rest of the season, getting the nod two days before from coach Keith Gilbertson, the one time he felt he really had a chance to make the job his.

As the Huskies get set to face the Ducks again tomorrow, he is preparing the same as he did then. Watching film, asking questions in meetings, practicing as hard as ever.

Only now, Paus knows there's little chance he will play, barring injury to the two QBs ahead of him — Isaiah Stanback and Johnny DuRocher.

Instead, he's become the forgotten man of Huskies football, a former starting quarterback relegated to third string as a senior, a fate few — if any — former UW starting quarterbacks have ever endured.

"Of course it's tough," he said this week. "Why wouldn't it be? You go from being the starting quarterback to being a third-string QB. That would be hard for anybody."

And he's aware that many fans have little sympathy. The boos that greeted him when he entered the game for two mop-up series against Idaho last month told him that.

"That really kind of made me mad when he came in the game and there were still some boos," said kicker Evan Knudson. "I was like, 'Really, do we need boos right now?' Come on. Regardless of what happened last year, I think that was pretty stupid."

But in the eyes of fans, it is last year that will define Paus. The fact that he threw 17 interceptions and was the starter in eight games for a UW team that finished with a school-worst 1-10 record.

The fact that he remained the starter even when fans wanted the team to turn to Stanback or Carl Bonnell, a situation for which Paus couldn't reasonably be blamed. What was he supposed to do — say he didn't want the job?

"I felt like I was productive at points and I wasn't productive at points," Paus said. "Any good QB has some down time and down years and unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to make up for that."

In fact, most close to the situation figure he never had any real shot of winning the job this year with a new coaching staff, though Tyrone Willingham insisted until the day Stanback was named the starter that Paus was in the running.

Paus also thought he still had a chance until then, and when DuRocher was declared ineligible for the first three games, he was at least the backup, a play away from taking meaningful snaps.

But now he's resigned to finishing out his career holding for kicks and signaling in plays, not the scenario anyone envisioned when he came to UW in 2001 regarded as one of the top quarterback prospects in the country. He was the Illinois state high-school player of the year as a senior, and was also recruited hard by Michigan before picking UW.

But it never clicked for him here as he had difficulty making adjustments to a troublesome throwing motion and had three coaches in five years.

"Any football player wants to play and I'm just like anybody else," he said. "But at the same time, I've come to grips with my role on the team and I'm not going to get frustrated about it. Life's too short to get [upset] about something that is out of my control."

So Paus has shown up every day ready to work, the same as before.

"He works hard every day, he studies and prepares himself as well as any of our starters," Willingham said. "There is no question he has a strong desire to be a part of what's going on. But he is a team player and he places that above self. And that, to me, is very special. That's what really makes the core of a good football team when you have guys who put team before self."

Said Knudson: "I'm amazed at how well he's taken it this year. He still puts whatever he has into it. Holding the ball, if that's his one job, he's going to do it perfect. A lot of people would have just said, 'All right, I'm done' if that happened to them."

But Paus said he never considered transferring. He plans to stay in school through the spring to finish a degree in economics, and then will see where life takes him. He'll leave UW, he says, wishing things had turned out differently, but with no bitterness.

"Granted, I'm not playing on Saturdays, but it's still fun for me," he said. "I enjoy my teammates and the friends I've made on this team, so I'm not going to get rid of that or let that fade away because I'm not starting. You only live once and I got an opportunity to come to a great place and a great university and meet some great people, and that overshadows all the bad things that have happened."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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