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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Freshman poised to step up as Huskies' big man in middle

Sporting a backpack over his gray Husky sweatshirt, Senio Kelemete looks for all the world like a big kid heading to his first day of classes.

Except school hasn't started yet at the University of Washington, and the sole focus of Kelemete's learning the past two weeks has been picking up the schemes of new Huskies defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.

For the 6-foot-4, 295-pound freshman, the past month has been a crash course in life, lumps and line techniques.

A year ago, he was preparing to face Nathan Hale in the season opener for his Evergreen High Wolverines. Friday nights meant taking the field before a few hundred fans for Seamount League contests.

Saturday, he'll trot onto the turf at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., in front of a rabid throng of 54,000 fans and begin his UW career as a starting defensive tackle for a program trying to resurrect its pride.

"I can't believe it," the oversized but understated youth said this week. "Just having practice under the lights (at Husky Stadium Tuesday night) gave me butterflies. I can only imagine, with all those people out there watching you, it'll just be crazy."

As he spoke to a group of reporters in an interview room in Hec Edmundson Pavilion, an overhead television happened to be showing Oregon highlights on a national ESPN college football program.

This is Kelemete's new world. He'll be in a meat grinder Saturday night, matched up against the Ducks' imposing veteran line and a space-age offense that racked up 465 yards rushing against Washington last year, a UW opponent record.

It isn't the easiest debut for the youngster from Burien, but there's a reason Kelemete elevated through the UW depth chart with remarkable speed after missing the first eight days of camp due to NCAA confusion over his core-class requirements.

For one, the Huskies have a desperate need for help in their interior line, having lost senior starters Wilson Afoa and Jordan Reffett as well as veteran backup Erick Lobos. But Kelemete isn't strictly starting by default.

"He brings an unusual quality of power and strength to our defense," said Donatell, a former NFL coordinator with the Falcons and Packers. "This guy should be a real good Husky for a long time. He's got a great attitude about working and fits in great with the team.

"We thought this was a really good class, but I am a little surprised, or pleased, that he's that good. To know you've got a guy who can anchor it and is bright and understands, I don't see anything that could keep him back from being a good player."

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