Four years ago, Steve Emtman attracted so little interest from college coaches that he received no offers from outside his region. NFL scouts won't be making the same mistake.
Emtman, the ferocious leader of No. 1 Washington's defense, added to his cache of honors Friday when he was named Lineman of the Year by United Press International.The 6-foot-4 defensive tackle also was the recipient this year of both the Outland and Lombardi trophies, honoring the nation's top lineman, and also will be in attendance today at the Heisman Trophy presentation.
"It a real good feeling," Emtman said of the awards that have come his way. "It's a great way to top off an 11-0 season for me.
"I realize the awards I took are directly related to my 10 buddies on the defense. Without them, I wouldn't have been able to be there. They've made me look good all year."
But as much as Emtman would like people to believe otherwise, it is his number that offensive line coaches look for first when they prepare for the Huskies.
"He's got probably the best balance of size and speed we've ever had," Washington Coach Don James said.
Spearheaded by Emtman, Washington ranks second in the nation in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense. The Huskies also are third in passing efficiency defense, as Emtman finished the season with 61/2 sacks.
"He plays with such aggressiveness," said Michigan Coach Gary Moeller, whose team must find a way to neutralize Emtman in the Rose Bowl. "He's a big, powerful guy. He's a guy you know you have to take care of. Before we start anything, we've got to say, `Where is he at?' "
Not bad for a guy that virtually went without any scholarship offers coming out of Cheyney (Wash.) High.
He failed to make even honorable mention among Street and Smith's list of top high-school seniors in 1988, though some regional lists featured his name. Among Division I-A schools, Washington State seemed most eager to land him, and he received a few offers from Big Sky schools. Washington finally won when they invited Emtman to campus.
Even then, James admits having made a mistake when first projecting Emtman's potential.
"A lot of us said he's a big guy who likes to play defense, but he's probably going to be an offensive lineman," the coach said. "He did an extremely good job in the weight room."
It was the weight room that became Emtman's refuge during what he calls a rough redshirt season, and even now it's his hangout of choice.
"You come out of high school and you're `The Fella.' You're top-notch and everything, then bam - you're at the bottom all over again," Emtman recalled. "You have to try to work your way up from nobody again. Half the people don't even know who you are, so you've got to go somewhere to get some attention. It just so happens that the weight room was it for me."
He's put on 50 pounds since entering Washington, up to 290.