Khalif, Khalif, Khalif is on Fiah

It wasn't long ago that Khalif Barnes was entering his first spring at the University of Washington. It was April of 2001, to be exact, and the tall, muscular athlete from Spring Valley, Calif. was fresh off a redshirt-freshman season that saw the Huskies bring home the roses with a win over Purdue.

Barnes, who was recruited to Seattle as a defensive lineman, broke his foot early that season and used it as an opportunity to bulk up. He hit the weights hard and in doing so caught the eye of the coaching staff as a someone with a wealth of natural physical ability. Nobody at his size could keep up with him and with Larry Tripplett and Marcus Roberson already manning the defensive line, Barnes was moved to the offensive side of the ball.

The move paid off. He immediately was thrust into the starting lineup at left tackle in the season opener against Michigan at Husky Stadium. Barnes held his own, and all but solidified his starting spot at the position for the rest of his career at the UW. Now, two years since that first spring, the junior finds himself with two seasons worth of experience under his belt. Rather than being one of the youngster, he's one of the veterans.

As spring drills started today, Barnes says the feeling is much different from it used to be.

"The first spring I was here I was starting and I was the youngest one on the line," said Barnes. "Now I'm the oldest one and I've been playing for a while.

"It feels good and I know that I'm an important player on this team. I'm going to have to be a leader and step up like those who were here in the years before me."

It's been a hectic three months since Washington lost to Purdue in the Sun Bowl, an offseason that Barnes refers to as "one of the hardest experiences of his life." There has been little down time as the team has focused on rebounding from the disappointing 2002 season.

"We worked very hard," he said. "Our strength coaches, Pete Kaligis and Steve Emtman, are great. Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you don't feel like doing anything, but these guys know nothing but the best and they are going to take care of us."

The addition of Emtman to the staff has made an immediate difference. Known by many as not only the best defensive player to don the purple and gold but also the most intense and hardest working, Emtman has brought a presence that Barnes feels will help make the team tougher.

"If anyone knows what Washington football is about, it's that guy," said the Husky offensive tackle. "He was one of the best Husky players ever and the best defensive lineman to come through here. He played with so much guts and so much courage. He didn't care who he was playing, he brought it every time.

"He's a real leader and he's the epitome of what a Washington Husky should be. He's a good influence on everybody on the team."

The starting offensive line remains largely in tact from a season ago. Only Elliot Zajac was lost to graduation. Returning, from weak to strong side, is Barnes (jr.), Aaron Butler (jr.), Todd Bachert (sr.), Robin Meadow (so.), and Nick Newton (sr.).

For the first time since Barnes' arrival there will be no freshman amongst the starting five up front. He senses that the experience across board will help make this the year to shine.

"Last year's unit had three juniors and Zajac was the lone senior," said Barnes. "That's not too common when there is only one senior on the offensive line. I think this is the year that everybody is caught up in a sense. There are no more freshman starting on the line.

"I think this group has been playing together for a while, and hopefully we'll become a dominant group that is tough and plays hard-nose Husky football like people are used to around."

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