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Former D-lineman Kelemete Anchors O-Line, Leads As Only Senior Starter
Release: 09/01/2011
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Sept. 1, 2011

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By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE - It was literally only about the width of the football, the move Senio Kelemete made after his freshman season for the Huskies.

But figuratively, Washington's senior left tackle has come so, so much farther than across the line of scrimmage since his initial days as a Dawg.

Kelemete begins his final year at UW on Saturday at 4 p.m. against Eastern Washington (ROOT Sports TV, Huskies IMG College radio, GoHuskies.com live game chat) as the Huskies' only senior starter on the offensive line.

And that leadership is extraordinary.

The native of Seattle is the only offensive tackle in Huskies history to be a team captain in more than one season. In fact, Kelemete, center Juan Garcia (2007-08) and center Ray Pinney (1974-75), who went on to win three Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, are the only offensive linemen in 122 seasons of Washington football to be season captains more than once.

Kelemete can't believe the final season is here already.

"Yeah, it's kind of weird. It's like, `Man, I can't believe it's my senior year,'" he said with a smile on the eve of it starting. "I look back and see all the offensive linemen who came in last year, and now they are looking up to me. I didn't believe it when they said, `College football goes by fast, man. You've got to enjoy it.'"

It's been a great ride for a one-time defensive tackle. Kelemete played in eight games and started four on the defensive front as a freshman in 2008.

First-year head coach Steve Sarkisian and his new staff moved Kelemete to offense in their first spring running the Huskies, early in 2009. It wasn't that Kelemete was getting overwhelmed on defense. Sarkisian and offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto simply needed athletes up front on offense.

"We just didn't have enough linemen that fit the mold of what we were looking for," Sarkisian said following Thursday's practice. "We are an offense that prides itself on athletic offensive linemen that can move and play in space and do the things we like to do with the zone-blocking scheme, pulling our tackles on some of the toss sweep stuff. So to get him on the offensive line was a natural fit for us."

That change worked out OK.

Kelemete soared from part-time defensive lineman to honorable mention All-Pac-10, starting 11 of UW's 12 games in 2009 at right guard. He also won the John P. Angel award as the Huskies' top lineman that season - all as a sophomore.

"We thought he had a chance to be (a tackle), but he was a defensive lineman so you didn't know. We had a huge need inside that first year," Sarkisian said of the 6-foot-4, 301-pound Kelemete as a guard initially.

He moved to the linchpin spot of left tackle following that '09 season, after starter Ben Ossai used up his eligibility. Kelemete was the only member of Washington's rotating offensive line to start every game at the same spot in 2010.

His leadership transcended the field, showing up everywhere the team went. Besides being a captain as a junior on a line that had three seniors who started at least one game, Kelemete won the offense's weight-lifting award.

"He's done a great job. He's still a little bit new to that position, so we are watching the maturation of him go on and on with him into year three," Sarkisian said. "He's done a nice job." His best work may be internalizing the demands and ethos of rugged offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto, then passing them on to the many young linemen the Huskies have played the last couple years. "It's all about understanding the message of the program, about echoing the head coach and then come out and play every day," Cozzetto said. "It's in the way that you are practicing that will carry over into games.

"Guys have to get to the point where they understand that we play for one another, we compete for one another. We don't want to let one another down. Everybody's got to understand their role, whether it's the starting five, or the backup five, or the guy who comes in and plays lots of positions."

Kelemete, a four-year starter and Class 3A all-state lineman as a senior at Evergreen High School in south Seattle, almost sounds like his Huskies coaches - including high-energy defensive line coach Johnny Nansen and defensive coordinator Nick Holt.

"It's about pride in everything you do, and about accountability. You have to have each other's back. Giving it all you got," Kelemete said.

"What adds to that is Coach Nansen and Coach Holt, they are bringing that up-tempo on the defensive line. If we don't match that defensive line, the defensive line is going to kick our butt."

Washington's offensive line has grown to the point that doesn't happen much anymore. Kelemete and the Huskies' front manhandled its final foes in 2010, including Nebraska while winning the Holiday Bowl. And this season nasty new left guard Colin Kanigawa, a redshirt freshman, is between Kelemete and junior center Drew Schaefer, with 2010 freshman starters Colin Porter and Erik Kohler on the right side.

Those spots were set in the first week of preseason training camp, about three months earlier than roles got settled last season.

"It's a lot better this year because we don't have to pull anyone out of their comfort zone, like having to pull Drew Schaefer out to right tackle or having anyone play a new center position, having to take new snaps with a new quarterback," Kelemete said.

"This year, it's a lot more set than last year."

So is Kelemete, set for a grand finish to a remarkable UW career.

"I've got to enjoy this. Love every moment. Love the grind, you know?" he said. "Because when I look back that's all the memories I am going to have."

QUICK HITS: RB Chris Polk practiced with the starting offense in shoulder pads and shorts and moved well. Sarkisian said he will decide Friday if his 1,400-yard rusher last season will play Saturday. Polk had arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 18. Wednesday and Thursday have been his first practice days since the procedure. "I thought he looked pretty good," Sarkisian said. ... Sarkisian said true freshman RB Bishop Sankey "is going to play for sure" Saturday and will not redshirt. Classmates TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, WR Kasen Williams and DT Danny Shelton have been in the first-team rotations all summer and should also contribute right away. ... Johri Fogerson (hip) practiced. Sarkisian said "I think he can help us" Saturday, adding to TB depth that looked thin early this week. ... Starting CB Quinton Richardson remains iffy trying to come back from a high ankle sprain he sustained Aug. 13. Sarkisian said backup CBs Gregory Ducre and Anthony Gobern will see action against Eastern Washington.

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