James set to have a breakout season

This is just a hunch, but I really believe that Kenny James will emerge as the featured back in the Washington Huskies' offense. This could even translate into the first 1000-yard rusher we have seen in years, and certainly if I'm right, he will lead his team to a winning season and a bowl game. Mark my words on this, because I think we have only seen a glimpse of what he is capable of doing.

Last year was a tremendous disappointment for Kenny. He didn't even start one game. He gained a total of 103 yards on 29 carries. Never mind those facts, this kid has a nose for running the ball. He is a senior and he is in the best shape of his life. He is quietly confident and I believe has some instinctive qualities that will make him a star player.

This is not to say that Louis Rankin or J.R. Hasty will not be in the mix, because anyone in the game knows you need three to four good backs to be competitive. Injuries take a toll on the running back position and that is precisely why we didn't see much of James last season. Kenny got hurt in training camp and never really had a chance to show what he could do.

James reminds me a lot of Greg Lewis, combined with Willie Hurst. He is pushing 220 pounds on a 5-foot-10 frame and carries his shoulders low enough to get the tough yards. He isn't fancy but he does run downhill and that will get him the starting nod over Rankin and Hasty. He is sort of a slide runner and I believe he has really good anticipation for where the holes will open up. He also runs with great patience and follows his blockers well. Still, I think it is his vision and overall maturity that will result in my prediction coming true.

Kenny actually comes into the season with more than 1,300 career yards and started 10 games in 2004 as a sophomore. He also started five games as a freshman and has maintained his attitude as a team player even though he could easily have packed it in. He is quietly one of the senior leaders and has been working as hard as anyone in the program to help bring this team back.

This kid is a winner and I am positive other people will see it this coming season. He is a three-year letterwinner and already has his degree which he earned in four years. He never misses a workout and brings the most experience to the position and that work ethic and confidence will make him the starter.

It is not as though he wasn't already a good back. As a high school back coming out of Dos Palos in California, he was nothing short of sensational. Remember that this is a kid who led his team to a 21-1 record his junior and senior years at Dos Palos. He scored at a phenomenal rate racking up 49 touchdowns his senior year alone and 118 for his high school career. Think about that! Are you kidding me? I know Dos Palos is a small school playing in a lower division in California but those statistics are off the chart. This guy ran for over 5,000 yards in his high school career and almost never lost. He gained 2,900 yards his senior year and 2,413 yards his junior year and was an honor roll student. He knows how to carry the rock. He knows where the endzone is. He knows how to win.

The Huskies open up with San Jose State in September. The last time the two teams played, Kenny James was the featured back and he gained 189 yards and scored two touchdowns.

I know he doesn't have blazing speed but he is shifty just like Lewis and Hurst were. He also knows how to go "under" for those last few yards. That is why sometimes he will get something out of nothing. His blocking has improved and he has two pretty good blockers in front of him in fullbacks Mark Palaita and Luke Kravitz. Both are over 235 pounds now and have shown a knack for facing up on linebackers. James will slide off their blocks. Now granted, the development of the offensive line will have a lot to say with how good the Huskies' running attack will be. But, James will find the holes if they can just get into their man.

James and the other backs have also benefited from learning under their position coach, Trent Miles. Coach Miles is a tremendously positive coach who has been with Coach Willingham at both Notre Dame and Stanford. He brings 18 years of college coaching experience to the position and he also brings a belief system that will result in James becoming a true college star.

This past season one of the more subtle changes in the Huskies was their ability to handle the ball. Two years ago the Huskies had 30 fumbles and lost 18 of them. Last year they cut that to 19 and lost 12. Watch for that trend to continue, as the emphasis on ball leverage by Coach Miles is obvious. These backs don't put the ball on the ground anymore. They cut down on fumbles by a significant amount last season and all the backs will protect the ball, otherwise they will be standing next to Coach Miles on the sidelines.

Kenny James is the oldest and most experienced back on the team. He is a senior and he is a winner. He will earn the start and he will respond and Husky fans will be shouting his praises. So sayeth the old coach. Just watch!

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