Dawgman Op-ED

You are 19-20 years old, one year removed out of Stockdale High School in Bakersfield, California. You are living in a big city two states away from home, making new friends, and finding your way around the college atmosphere and surroundings that is your new life.

And you are now the starting weakside offensive tackle at the University of Washington.

That is a scary proposition, although it is not unprecedented. Khalif Barnes did just that, moving from defensive tackle during Rose Bowl practices his freshman season to becoming the starting weak tackle for the Huskies the following fall after just one spring of work.

So begins the college career of Ben Ossai, a guy that a year ago didn't even seem like he would wind up a Husky. During his senior season at Stockdale, the Nebraska Cornhuskers made him a priority and gave him more than just a long look. They offered him a scholarship. That is a school that knows a thing or two about offensive linemen, as it has produced its share of Outland Trophy winners.

Fresno State and Utah also extended scholarship offers to him, and Iowa made a hard late charge for him.

Ossai committed to Fresno State and his recruitment seemed over. However, the Husky staff held fast. They still wanted him to come see their campus and listen to their pitch – one that obviously pointed out the need for offensive tackles in the program.

Ossai came on the last possible weekend before signing day and visited Seattle. By the time he had left Tyrone Willingham's office, the commitment to the Bulldogs was thrown out the Graves Annex window and into Lake Washington.

It became a two-horse race and in the end it was Willingham and Offensive Line Coach Mike Denbrock that made the difference, convincing Ben that Seattle was in dire need of help that he could provide, and that he would be a better fit there than in Iowa City.

Thus Washington secured Ossai, who went about getting his academics in order and enrolling right on time last year. He spent the 2005 season taking his lumps on the scout team, but also opening eyes while he toiled behind upperclassmen.

Ideally you'd love for an offensive linemen to spend two years in the "deep depth" while he gets his strength numbers up, his body matures, and he learns the system and how to balance schoolwork with football and social life.

However depth and talent issues have forced the Huskies' hand and they will enter 2006 with a 19-20 year old kid starting on perhaps the most important position on the offense, not including the quarterback.

The big thing that you have to realize is that kids develop physically a great deal in their early 20s, and the physical differences between a 20-year old redshirt freshman and a 23-year old fifth year senior can be tremendous. Ask Khalif Barnes what it was like to go against guys that were three years older than him, with three more years of experience and weight room training than he had. It was a difficult lesson.

I'm not trying to make excuses, but rather trying to let Husky fans know that they need to be patient with young Ben. He will get beaten, and he will get manhandled in some games. Expect it, and hope that those lessons will go to good use.

On the plus side, Ben was a former wrestling champion in high school, which means he has quick feet, good balance, good explosion, and should be excellent with his hands. A tackle with good balance and quick hands can work wonders as a tackle in ensuring that he doesn't lose leverage, because once a weak tackle loses leverage (particularly to the outside), there is no one between the man that beat him and the quarterback's blind (back) side.

Physically, Ossai appears to be well ahead of the curve. In high school his bench was already up to 355 and his squat was nearing 500 pounds, so physically he was already ahead of most kids his age. When you mix those numbers in with the fact that he was named All-League, All-Area, and All-Valley, it increases confidence. Add that to his performance on the scout team and it bodes extremely well for a bright future. I just wish that future started next year rather than in 2006, but it is what it is.

Ben has everything going for him, with the exception of his inexperience and the fact that he is playing a position where he'll get little help, and there is little depth behind him.

Ossai has a great attitude AND he has the same offensive line coach as he had last year - that has to count for something in this program that has been a revolving door for the offensive linemen. Mike Denbrock was high on Ben from day one, and they are working together again this year. He could wind up being a great one over time, and is the most talented tackle on the team in just his second year in the program.

But give him time to develop Husky fans, and be patient with Big Ben, the giant from Bakersfield. When he makes a mistake - and he's going to make plenty of them – cut him some slack. He is playing a difficult position under difficult circumstances. It is not his fault he was thrown into the fire so quickly. My hope is that he doesn't lose confidence while he is learning.

The situation is what it is, and that means an untested redshirt freshman will man the weak side of the Husky offensive front. And I for one am really excited to watch Ben develop.

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