Family’s support drives Sankey

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SEATTLE — The more animated he gets, the more Grandpa Sankey’s Southern drawl echoes through the phone.

The 68-year-old from Montgomery, Ala., is excited, and understandably so. On Saturday night, he will get the chance to see his grandson, the nation’s leading rusher, play college football for the first time when Washington junior Bishop Sankey leads the No. 15 Huskies against No. 5 Stanford.

Albert Sankey joked that he isn’t satisfied with a seat in the Stanford Stadium stands, though.

“I feel good. I feel like I can get out there and put on a suit (uniform),” Albert Sankey says, belly-laughing through a phone interview this week. “I could be the fullback. I could block for Bishop!”

That he wants a close-up look at his grandson is understandable, too. It’s not just that he hasn’t seen Bishop play for the Huskies — Grandpa Sankey hasn’t seen, period, for the past five years.

Albert Sankey has been blind in his left eye for more than 30 years. He’s not entirely sure how it happened. Then, about five years ago, after a long bout with glaucoma, he lost sight in his right eye, too.

On Sept. 20, he had a cornea transplant in his right eye at UCLA’s Laser Refractive Center, a procedure performed by Dr. Richard Casey. Albert wore a patch overnight; the next day, he went back to the doctor’s office and had the patch removed. The first thing he saw was the face of the doctor’s assistant, and he immediately gave her a hug.

“I was blind and now I can see,” he said. “It’s a miracle.”

On Sunday, nine days after the surgery, Albert Sankey hung out with his son, Chris—Bishop’s dad—an Air Force technical sergeant stationed in San Pedro, Calif. They went grocery shopping, and from the passenger’s seat on the drive home, Albert described seeing the yellow lines on the road and the red taillights of other cars.

Once home, he posed for photos with “Dino,” the family’s Husky dog. Albert had been stunned at seeing the dog’s “pretty blue eyes” for the first time a week earlier.

“That,” Chris Sankey said of scene with his father and dog, “was amazing to see.”

Watching his father watch his grandson on television Saturday was special, too, Chris said. Bishop Sankey had a school-record 40 carries and 161 yards rushing in Washington’s 31-13 victory over Arizona last week, a performance that boosted Bishop back into the national rushing lead with 151.8 yards per game.

When Bishop was younger, Albert used to make a trip at the end of each summer from his home in Montgomery to stay with Chris’ family in the northeast Ohio. And, over the next couple of months, Grandpa Sankey would be a regular at his grandson’s pee-wee football games.

By the time Bishop was in middle school, all Grandpa Sankey could see on the field were shadows. And when Chris and his wife, Heidi, moved the family to Spokane just before Bishop started high school, Grandpa Sankey would still visit, but he couldn’t see anything at games. He would sit in the stands and listen for the announcers to mention Bishop’s name so he could cheer.

Bishop has enjoyed family support at games home and away this season. His dad attends most games, and his mom, Julie Becker, brought about 20 family and friends to UW’s game against Illinois in Chicago last month.

This weekend will bring someone new.

“I’m pretty excited,” Bishop said Wednesday. “He’ll be there, and it’ll be his first game seeing me in college. I know he’s excited.”

To say the least.

“I can’t wait to hug him,” Grandpa Sankey said, “and see his face.”

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