By Derek Johnson
Husky fans were excited recently to hear of the reinstatement of linebacker E.J. Savannah. The announcement was made by newly-hired UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who has let every player know they’re now operating with a clean slate.
From a physical standpoint, Savannah has clearly added fifteen pounds of muscle from working out with a trainer. I spoke with Savannah regarding his thoughts on both the past and future.
DEREK JOHNSON: You were forced to sit out the 2007 season, and had to watch the entire 0-12 debacle from afar. What was the lowest point of the year for you personally?
E.J. SAVANNAH: First game of the season against Oregon. By far. It sunk in very deep how they rushed all over us. I took that very personally. Things got worse from there. We’re always taught in football to never overlook your first opponent. We were focusing on Oregon all summer. Seeing us not being competitive really hurt.
JOHNSON: A lot of Husky fans expected the team to be competitive against the Ducks. I must say that I thought the Huskies were going to get blown out. But was it a surprise to you that Oregon beat Washington so easily?
SAVANNAH: Definitely. I definitely didn’t expect us to get blown out like that. I thought this was going to be a good year, when Willingham was going to put everything together. At that time of the Oregon game, I still thought I was going to be a member of the team this year. I was still working toward that. I was surprised we got blown out.
JOHNSON: So at that point you thought you were going to be reinstated soon?
SAVANNAH: Yes. I was doing everything I could to return to the team. It seemed like it was continually up in the air and in limbo. There was never a definitive answer from Willingham of when I could come back. I assumed from what he was saying that I was going to be back within a week after the Oregon game. But I never got a definitive answer.
When they gave me the release to transfer, I didn’t want to go the route to Central (Washington) or Division II. I love the competition of the Pac-10. It’s the Conference of Champions, as they say. I love competition. If I was going to transfer, I would have preferred to transfer to another Pac-10 school.
JOHNSON: Is it safe to assume that Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff was supportive?
SAVANNAH: Oh yea. I can’t thank Butch and the Bellevue program enough. They’ve helped me out in so many different ways, even after high school. He’s running such a great program out there, but he’s also such a good guy and good coach. He’s a great mentor for the kids, but he has also helped me in my personal life and football career.
JOHNSON: Such as?
SAVANNAH: Finding me a place to work out. Helping me get back into school. And always making himself available to talk to for advice. He’s just a really good guy.
JOHNSON: Looking toward the future and the 2009 football season, how would you say that you’ve matured as a player and as a person?
SAVANNAH: I’m more mature in a lot of different aspects. School-wise, I needed to just stop and take control of my education. I was allowing myself to be led through by counselors and teachers, instead of taking control myself. I’ve come to realize the mindset it takes. From a football aspect, it’s just growing up and realizing that I want to be a great player. That’s what I want. I want to become a great player here at the University of Washington.
Now I understand what it takes. Not just in games, but off-season stuff. I never let a day go by now without getting better somehow. As a player, or personally, on the field or off, I try to better myself every day.
JOHNSON: During certain games this year, when the defense lacked fire and aggressiveness, I would think, “Having EJ out there would sure help. He’s an aggressive presence on the field.”
SAVANNAH: That’s how I’ve always been playing since I was a little kid. Like with Coach Alfy, my coach from the Bellevue Bears. He has us eating garlic. Then when we hit people, we would breathe on them and let ‘em know we were there. I’ve kept that mentality to this day. I love to hit.
JOHNSON: You’ve said you’re looking forward to playing for Coach Sarkisian. What are your goals for the 2009 season?
SAVANNAH: I just want to win. Whatever it takes, you know? I mean, we were 0-12. I took every loss personally, even though I wasn’t playing. But I felt like I was out there with my teammates. Next year, I am going to do everything I can to help us win and get some Ws up there. That’s what I miss—that feeling you get from winning games. I’m still not used to losing games. I came from a place (Bellevue) where we didn’t lose that often. I miss that and I want that to return to the University of Washington. There’s nothing better than being with your teammates after you’ve won a big game.