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Friday, October 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UW Football | Playing time is sweetest reward

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Washington @ California, 12:30 p.m., FSN

As it began to sink in during the postgame interview sessions Saturday that Isaiah Stanback might be out awhile, reporters rushed to offensive coordinator Tim Lappano for a rundown of Washington's quarterback situation.

Carl Bonnell would be the starter, he said.

And the backups? "Johnny [DuRocher] and Felix [Sweetman]," Lappano said. "That's all we have left."

Of course, it wasn't all the Huskies had left. True freshman Jake Locker also figures into the picture.

But for just a minute, it gave everyone cause to wonder: Just who is Felix Sweetman, anyway?

"He's a tough guy, a really good competitor, a team guy and a great program guy," Lappano said. "He's really a popular kid on this team with the coaches and the players."

And for two plays, he has been the quarterback of the Washington Huskies, which made his five-year journey as a walk-on — getting up with the rest of the players for 6:30 a.m. January workouts, for instance, with the knowledge that unlike most of them, he's paying for the pleasure.

"I always wanted to be a Husky," Sweetman said. "I've been coming to games here with my parents since I was 7, 8 years old. Our Christmas tree was always purple and gold. It's in my blood. Maybe I could have gone to a smaller school and been a star or something, but I wanted to be a Husky, so that's why I came here."

Sweetman, in fact, attracted a lot of attention from smaller schools after throwing for 27 touchdowns and 2,147 yards in 2001 as a senior at Lakes High in Lakewood, the same school attended by Reggie Williams and Anthony Russo. Sweetman was a year behind Williams but threw a few touchdown passes his way in 2000, when Lakes made it to the Class 3A state-championship game.

"He was good in high school, and he's still good now," Russo said.

But as is generally the case with walk-ons, the only people who get to see that are their teammates and coaches during the week. Sweetman's primary duty throughout his UW career has been to imitate the opposing quarterback on the scout team during practice, though he has ceded some of that duty this year to Locker with UW coaches wanting to get their freshman phenom as much work as possible.

So Sweetman has also become a backup on several special teams, including the punt team.

Sweetman came to Washington, however, with grand designs of earning real playing time, even though walk-ons rarely emerge as starting quarterbacks in the Pac-10. He was immediately behind the likes of Cody Pickett and Taylor Barton.

"You have to think you can play," said Sweetman, who is majoring in American Ethnic Studies and wants to become a firefighter. "You always have it in the back of your mind that you can do it. That's what pushes you."

He admittedly didn't help himself when he showed up weighing 256 pounds as a freshman, which led to his nickname "Butterbean," after the hefty boxer.

He has slimmed down to 223, saying, "I learned how to work hard."

He also has learned how to persevere. He saw no playing time his first three seasons, but never thought about giving up football or leaving for a smaller school.

When Tyrone Willingham was hired as coach after the 2004 season, he met with every player, walk-ons included.

"He said, 'How many plays have you taken here?' and I said, 'None.' And he said, 'Under coach Willingham, you will play,' " Sweetman remembered.

As the third game of the 2005 season ended in a 24-6 win over Idaho — Willingham's first victory at UW — Casey Paus was set to take the final snaps. Paus told coaches to let Sweetman do it. The Huskies coaches hesitated at first, wondering about Sweetman's eligibility, before sending him in for the final play.

"I was kind of caught up in the moment and kind of hurried," he said.

His second opportunity, he said, was more like it.

As the final seconds ticked off of UW's 38-14 win against Arizona in Tucson last November, Willingham motioned toward Sweetman.

"He looked at me and said, 'Don't screw this up,' and sent me in there," Sweetman said.

This time, he was able to take it all in.

"It was one play and it was [to] take a knee, but for everything I've been through, it was a real emotional moment for me and my family," Sweetman said. "The fact that for one play, I was the quarterback at the University of Washington, it felt like all the hard work I put into it, I got out of it what I wanted."

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

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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