SEATTLE — Ben Riva was born in 1992, the year Don James coached his final season for the Huskies.
And yet, growing up in Seattle, Riva was long ago aware of the imprint James left on Washington.
“It’s huge,” said Riva, UW’s junior left tackle and former O’Dea High standout. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach James and the teams he had here. Growing up here, it means a lot to me. It’s great to see him around and to know he’s still involved in this program.”
James, now 80, gave his annual preseason speech to the Huskies on Wednesday afternoon. The Huskies’ legendary coach was back in his old element in a brand-new setting inside renovated Husky Stadium.
Players knelt down at midfield and took off their helmets as UW coach Steve Sarkisian started his introduction. Sarkisian pointed at the 1991 national champions sign recently hung on the stadium’s south side, and he thanked James for making the title happen.
James talked about the challenge facing the Huskies in their Aug. 31 season opener against Boise State, and of how the Huskies need to prove they’re “worthy” of that challenge. He didn’t speak for long — less than three minutes — but his presence spoke volumes.
“We’re the ones that are reaping the benefits of all his success over the years, and we’re thankful for that and humbled for that,” Sarkisian said. “He gave a really cool, inspiring talk to the guys regarding the first game, and I think the guys were really appreciative.”
James then watched practice from the sideline with his wife, Carol, and former UW quarterback Damon Huard and athletic director Scott Woodward.
“He’s around quite a bit,” Sarkisian said. “When it starts to get cool, he heads south for the winter. He comes to every bowl game, too. ... Obviously, he’s an inspiration for myself and for our entire program.”
It was exactly 20 years ago Thursday — Aug. 22, 1993 — that James stepped down as UW coach in protest of UW’s two-year bowl ban handed down by the Pac-10.
When starting left guard Colin Tanigawa tore his anterior cruciate against LSU last year, redshirt freshman Dexter Charles took over and never let go of the position.
That remains true this month, even with Tanigawa back in the mix. Tanigawa volunteered to move to right guard, with Charles remaining on the left. And their emergence is part of the reason Sarkisian and the Huskies feel good about the rejuvenated offensive line overall.
Tanigawa and Charles are “two very athletic guards, guys who can pull, guys that can get to the second level,” Sarkisian said. “So we’re not one-dimensional on one side and another dimension on the other side. We’re very even that way, and that gives us a nice balance of run options in both directions.”
Now a sophomore, Charles spent the offseason trying to improve his pass protection, Sarkisian said.
“Playing as a redshirt freshman last year, he had some ups and downs,” Sarkisian said. “But I think that set the stage for him on what he needed to work on this offseason.”
A strong training camp has also solidified junior James Atoe as the primary backup at guard.