Sports

HUSKIES: Canton doesn't let one play define his UW experience

His career was defined by winning.

In a combined six years playing prep and collegiate football, Eric Canton played on teams with a combined record of 54-16-1. The 1986 South Kitsap graduate saw an Apple Cup victory his first two years as a student with at UW with the Huskies winning by an average of 18 points.

But it was the 1988 game -- a 32-31 loss where Canton’s fourth-quarter punt was blocked by Shawn Landrum and recovered by former South teammate Jay Languein at the Washington 13-yard line to set up the Cougars’ winning touchdown -- that is his favorite memory of the long-standing rivalry.

“It was a great game and the only one I lost,” said Canton, who went on to play on the 1989 team that won the Apple Cup, 20-9. “It was all that football is supposed to be about. It was snowing, and awesome to play in.”

Don’t mistake that for a lack of passion, though.

Canton, an assistant football coach and dean at South, said the Huskies’ play in recent years has caused him to break furniture at his house. He also hopes his alma mater, which enters the 4 p.m. game today with an identical 4-7 record to WSU, captures a blowout win.

And he says discussions about a good, competitive game are for the fans.

“People talk about bragging rights, and that probably is the case for some,” Canton said. “If you stepped on the field and actually played in one of those games, it’s just a different level.”

A quarterback and defensive back at South, Canton twice garnered all-state honors and once was an All-American selection. He chose UW over offers from Oregon and USC. He notes that if he followed the same path with the Trojans -- he redshirted in 1986 -- as he did at UW, he would have played in three Rose Bowls.

Regardless, Canton said he never regretted his decision to play under Ed Fisher and Don James. James led the Huskies to a co-national championship in 1991, while Fisher guided the Wolves to a state championship in 1994.

“I was extremely fortunate because I played for Coach Fisher, who was demonstrative and close with his players,” Canton said. “Then I went to play for Coach James, who had the same values and sportsmanship.”

Now 40, Canton elected to bypass his final year of eligibility in 1990 to work toward a teaching certificate at Pacific Lutheran University.

“I knew we were going to a Rose Bowl in ’90,” he said. “I had to make sure I was OK with (giving that up).”

It turns out that Canton was, and partially because he was part of the 1988 team, he said, took steps toward that objective.

The team finished with a 6-5 record and was one of only four teams in James’ 18-season tenure at UW that didn’t advance to a bowl. One of those mistakes came on Canton’s blocked punt.

“I was 11-hundredths of a second faster than I was supposed to be,” said Canton, noting some blocking flaws that set up the block. “The group of guys that were young in that game made mistakes.”

He said the experience served a greater purpose, though, as the Huskies finished 8-4 in 1989 and advanced to the Rose Bowl the next three seasons.

“That experience helped them win a national championship,” he said. “We didn’t go to a bowl game when the expectation was for us to go to the Rose Bowl.”

Canton, who coached at Bremerton from 1996-98, said he periodically talks with WSU coaches Mike Levenseller and Timm Rosenbach -- the Cougars’ quarterback in 1988 -- about potential recruits. And he lives in a divided household. His wife, LeAnne, is a WSU alumnae, but he expects their three children -- Cooper, 10; Sophia, 9; and Sam, 5 -- to don purple and yellow today.

“My wife says I have (Sam) brainwashed,” Canton said.

And what does the game mean to him?

“It’s not that I hate the Cougars,” Canton said. “It’s that I gave (UW) everything I had for four years.”

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