Nothing Weak about Khalif

Washington's long-awaited trip to the Big House looms only two weeks away. For sophomore offensive tackle <b><a href=>Khalif Barnes</a></b>, that means it's time to get down to business.

The third-year player has already had quite a start to his career in the Purple and Gold, starting all 12 games as a red-shirt freshman in 2001.

This season, with a year of experience tucked firmly under his belt, the 300-pounder's focus has shifted away from feeling comfortable and more toward dominating opposing defenses.

He says the approach and attitude that he has heading into his second season as a starter is a night-and-day difference from how it was as a freshman thrown into the fire.

"When you are a rookie you are fresh, you don't know what's going on and you're new to the game," Barnes said after Friday's morning practice. "As a veteran, you're more relaxed, you're experienced and comfortable with the offense. The word veteran means that you've been around the game for a while and you know what it means to play. There's not going to be any surprises. I know what to expect from each and every team and that's the difference between this year and last year."

The learning process didn't come without some bumps in the road. Three opposing defensive linemen stand out in Barnes' mind as players who helped him remember that he was only a first-year player last season.

Kenyon Coleman of UCLA, Terrell Suggs of Arizona State, and Jerome McDougal of Miami.

"Kenyon was a very good player. I had my hands full with him even though I didn't see him a lot of times in the game - I kind of split time with the other tackle Todd Bachert. Seeing him last night with the Titans playing against the Raiders kind of tripped me out because seeing a guy that you played against in college is kind of weird."

Of ASU standout Suggs, Barnes says "He is a great player. He was listed as the best defensive end in the conference (going into the game last season) - he led (the Pacific-10) in sacks, and is a key player for Arizona State. Right now he's one of the top three defensive ends in the nation. He was real fast off the edge. I think I surprised him with my speed too, because just as he is fast I'm fast and athletic. I don't think he'd seen a tackle as fast (as me)."

"Jerome McDougal of Miami was probably the best of them all. He had a combination of speed, power, and quickness. Every play he came with a different move so you didn't know what he was going to do."

School was tough last year, but those three taught Khalif a lot.

"As a whole, all three of those players kind of made me who I am today. I played against the best and if you learn how to beat the best and learn how to stand up and work with the best, then who else is there? Seeing how they play, how they maneuver, and what kind of moves they make, you can get ready for whatever kind of move any other defensive end can make."

Barnes will take that with him heading into the 2002 season, joining a youthful, yet experienced, offensive unit. Quietly, the Huskies have assembled a fine throng of talented young big-men to move the offense. Next to Barnes this season at the weak guard spot will be Aaron Butler who, after two seasons of impressing the heck out of the coaching staff, can no longer be kept off the field. Butler, like Barnes, is only a red-shirt sophomore.

At center will be Todd Bachert, the red-shirt junior who played strong tackle a season ago but has since shifted to the middle to take the place of the departed Kyle Benn. Bachert started all 12 games in 2001. Meanwhile, Nick Newton, another red-shirt junior, will take over at the spot that Bachert vacated after having started 11 of 12 games at weak guard a season ago.

The only senior up front will be fifth-year man Elliott Zajac so get used to this group. They'll have plenty of time to grow together as a unit by the time they are done at Montlake. Barnes believes that can yield only positive results.

"About three or four of us are going to be playing on the line for about three years together, and once you have that kind of chemistry it will be like the guys from Miami or Florida State who play with each other from the time they are freshman until they are seniors. Once you've got that kind of experience on the line, that kind of depth and skill, it's great."

It wasn't long ago that Barnes was planning on a career on the other side of the ball, seemingly a whole world away from the offensive tackle spot.

Coming out of Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley, California, Barnes was a late addition to the recruiting class of 2000, thought of by many as more of a project than anything else. He played both ways in high school, but not on the offensive line. He excelled on the defensive line, and on offense starred as a tight end while weighing just a hair under 270 pounds.

Once arriving to Washington, the Huskies first looked at Barnes as a defensive lineman, but a broken foot prematurely ended his freshman campaign as well as his stay on the defensive side of the ball. Once the foot had healed completely, which Barnes says came some two days before the Rose Bowl, the coaches asked him to move to the offensive line. At that time, he weighed only 275 pounds.

As any young player who would like to play would do, Barnes made the move without making a fuss. That's when he went to work, needing to add 25 to 30 pounds of muscle to his long frame in order to compete as an offensive tackle.

Today, he still enjoys explaining the transformation his body made during that time.

"The key was that it couldn't have been just any kind of weight," Barnes said. "I couldn't just go to McDonalds and slap on a few Big Macs and expect to gain 25 pounds that way. It was a process and it took a long time. It helped working out with coach Pete Kaligis, eating the right supplements, the right proteins, and lifting the right weights – I actually gained (the weight) pretty quickly."

By the time he reached his optimal weight of 300 pounds, which is where he remains today, his body-fat had dropped to 13 percent.

"I'm comfortable and I feel like I can play at 300 pounds against any team or anybody out there," said the charismatic sophomore. "I move, I have quickness, so I don't have to go anywhere over 305 or 310."

It won't be long now until Barnes and the Dawgs get on an airplane and fly to Ann Arbor, Mich. for season-opener against Michigan. When they do, they'll have a promising 20-year-old holding down the fort at weak tackle.

That's when the whole world will be able to see how much that freshman season paid off. Top Stories