SEATTLE — Bishop Sankey is a bit player in the grand scheme of this year's Apple Cup. He's a third-string running back for the Huskies with a combined nine carries in the past four games, the last three Washington losses.
But despite his limited chances on the field, Sankey is a lightning rod for fans in this Apple Cup. It's the result of Sankey first giving a verbal commitment to Washington State, only to change his mind and eventually sign his national letter-of-intent with the Huskies.
"I was talking to him a little bit and I told him this was the right place, you're going to get some good looks here," said Kasen Williams, who along with Austin Seferian-Jenkins gets an assist for Sankey's eventual decision to sign with Washington.
Sankey became another part of Washington's star-studded recruiting class from a year ago when he joined Williams and Seferian-Jenkins as in-state stars who stayed home to play for the Huskies. Seferian-Jenkins always seemed destined for Montlake even with the national attention he received, while Williams' choice was a no-brainer with his dad having played football at Washington.
"He wanted to make sure I didn't go there being recruited. Every time I would say something about the Cougs he would make sure I knew that was the wrong thing to say," Williams said of his dad, Aaron.
Sankey was thought to be different. He grew up on the Cougars' side of the state, starring at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, and was the type of big-time in-state recruit that Washington State coach Paul Wulff struggled to grab in his first few years. He made his verbal commitment to the Cougars early, but stayed open to what else was out there.
After a senior season where he ran for 2,518 yards — a Greater Spokane League record — Sankey received increased attention. And the Huskies, who remained in contact with Sankey, were at the front of the line.
It's not uncommon for players making verbal commitments to change their minds before signing day. But in a state with only two FBS schools and loyalties already sharply divided, a decision like Sankey's draws the ire of many.
"We had been recruiting Bishop pretty consistently from springtime and so for about a year it was pretty consistent and I think it's a real credit to coach (Joel) Thomas for developing a nice relationship with Bishop and his family, and then when the opportunity came for Bishop to come on his official visit he fell in love," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "He fell in love with the players, with the campus, the community and felt like this was the right place for him."
Sankey was not permitted by Sarkisian to speak with the media this week. His numbers for the year are reasonably mundane, with just 187 total yards rushing and no game coming close to his eight carries for 71 yards and a touchdown against Colorado.
It was obvious this week that Wulff is still irritated by the situation, referencing stories of a "gentleman's agreement" among coaches from decades ago that once a player commits other schools back off.
"I don't think we talk too much about it as coaches. I don't agree with it. It is what it is. I've stated that several times," Wulff said. "Kids make commitments and other schools come in and continue to talk with them. I think it's the wrong message and I guess I'm old fashioned in terms of trying to be upfront and clean on all that stuff. It's the way it works and it does happen. It's out there."
Seferian-Jenkins understands why those supporters of the crimson and gray are upset. But the reality of recruiting is that until an early-signing period is established, prospects are going to continue to be lobbied until that February day when they can put their commitment in writing.
"It's recruiting. Nothing is official, or nothing is guaranteed until someone signs on the dotted line. People saying verbal word and all that, that's great but you've got to understand that's not the nature of the beast now," Seferian-Jenkins said. "In a perfect world when people said they would do something, they would do it and that goes from college football recruiting to everyday life stuff. And that doesn't happen. People make a big deal about someone giving their word going to a different school. People change their mind and people should respect they can change their mind and sign on the dotted line."
Follow Tim Booth on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ByTimBooth