One-and-done. That's what Rick Neuheisel had in mind when he sent freshman running back Rich Alexis onto the Husky Stadium field against Miami in the third quarter of Washington's second game of last season. Neuheisel knew that Alexis's parents were watching the nationally televised game in Coral Springs, Fla., and that it might be the only time they would see the Huskies play all season. So he sent his third-string back into the huddle for one play only and called 19 Option. "I wanted to show his parents that he was doing O.K." recalls Neuheisel.
On a first-and-10 at the 50-yard line, with Washington leading 21-9, Alexis took the pitch and sprinted 50 yards for a touchdown. Neuheisel sent Alexis in for another play. Then another. By January, after the Huskies' 34-24 victory over Purdue in the Rose Bowl, Alexis had accumulated more rushing yardage (738) than any other true freshman in school history. "It was obvious against Miami that Rich was special," says Neuheisel. "After he scored, I said to myself, God, I must be a genius."
Alexis had drawn little interest from colleges because he had played only one full season of high school football, as a senior. His parents wouldn't let him try out for the sport because they considered it too dangerous, so he forged their signatures on a consent form and hid his uniform in the garage. "When they finally discovered I was playing, I convinced them that football could provide me with a scholarship," says Alexis. "So they let me."
Joining Alexis in the Huskies' backfield will probably be sophomore quarterback Cody Pickett, who has thrown six passes in his career and will get the first shot at succeeding Marques Tuiasosopo. On defense, end Larry Tripplett and fellow linemen Marcus Roberson, a senior, and Ossim Hatem, a junior, will need to pressure opposing passers to help a young secondary that will be tested right away: The Huskies open at home against Michigan, then travel to Miami.
"We need to have success early to gain confidence," says Neuheisel, "but this team knows what it takes to win." So does Neuheisel: All he needs is another ingenious substitution.