Young linemen pull together

The score was 52-24, but in some ways the game wasn't even that close. Evergreen had just demolished Kennedy, led by the ferocious play of defensive lineman Senio Kelemete. The 6-foot-4.5, 260-pounder had double-digit tackles - at least seven for loss.

Kelemete - who has gained 35 pounds since playing in high school, has put that memory behind him. But that game put the former Wolverine on the map as one of the state's top recruits for the class of 2008.

On the other side of the ball? Everrette Thompson, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound defensive end that had made a name for himself the December before in a thrilling 21-14 title game defeat to Bellevue. He had been everywhere on the field that night, knocking Wolverines down like they were bowling pins.

But Kelemete's Wolverines were a different story.

"At first we were rivals, but I got over it," Kelemete told Dawgman.com Wednesday about his friendship with Thompson, now both freshmen defensive linemen at Washington. "It's college now, so I forgot about it. We're teammates now."

Thompson met up with another big Seattle-area recruit - Rainier Beach OL/DL Alameda Ta'amu - during a recruiting trip that took place the day of last year's USC game. Ta'amu, like Thompson and Kelemete, decided staying close to home and playing football for Washington was the best fit for him.

"We've just been drawn to each other, being Polynesian kids," Thompson said of his relationship with the other two linemen. "We're always just doing stuff together."

Even though all three entered the Bridge program earlier in the summer, there was a time when the group didn't know if they'd be going through fall camp as a unit.

Kelemete was forced to leave campus the Saturday after finishing the Bridge program his entrance into school had been denied by the NCAA Clearinghouse. It was a mixup eventually acknowledged and cleared up, but crucial time had been lost; the damage had been done.

"I was mad, discouraged," Kelemete said of his time away from school. "I was looking forward to getting to camp, and they took that away from me." He took an online History class just to make sure he would be cleared. Around the same time he finished the class, the NCAA owned up to their mistake. By that time he had finished the class, it became irrelevant. He had also missed 11 fall practices.

Listening to the radio and watching the TV and seeing news about the Huskies catalyzed Kelemete to see things through. "It motivated me to get the class done, to get it over with," he said.

"It gave us a real glimpse of his personality," UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said of Kelemete's time away from the team. "He's come back and shown that he's a worker. And to me, that's a special quality."

Once he was back on campus, it was like taking that online class all over again. "It was hard picking up the playbook," he said. "You have to pick it up or you are going to be left behind." So he had to stay up late, stay after meetings to talk to coaches for help on understanding where to be and what to do.

Kelemete had help - lots of it. Thompson and Ta'amu would help Senio during their downtime in the dorms to get up to speed, and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Cameron Elisara would take him aside and show him little tips and tricks to ramp up his learning curve.

"He's a strong leader," Thompson said of Te'o-Nesheim, the only returning lineman with extensive experience. "He knows what he wants. He's really pushing us, especially the underclassmen, to step up our game - to look beyond just being a freshman."

"He's had a heck of a 10 days with the team," UW Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said of Kelemete's rapid ascension. "He brings an unusual quality of power and strength. He should be a good Husky for a long time. He's bright and understand. I don't see anything that could hold him back from being a very good player."

Besides eating meals as a group, Thompson, Ta'amu and Kelemete listen to music, sing together and play board games when they have some spare time. They can add something new to their to-do list this week; get ready to play the Oregon Ducks.

Kelemete admitted that he didn't even bother looking at Monday's two-deeps when it was released. "They told me I'd have a big role," he said, adding that he thought the coaches meant as a backup initially - not as a starter.

"I had my auntie and uncle calling me, telling me I was starting," Senio said. "I was jumping up and down."

"I'm pretty excited to be in the rotation," Thompson said. "I'm learning a lot, especially from the upperclassmen, especially the techniques."

"It's intense, but we're having fun and learning a lot too," added Ta'amu. "We do a lot of extra things. I think the defensive line is the hardest working group on the team right now."

It's clear that the moment fall camp broke the defensive line would be scrutinized like ants under a telescope. Their lack of game experience is a glaring weakness on paper. But the Washington coaches like their energy, enthusiasm and willingness to work, and anticipate those traits will help the young linemen move past the heavy expectations that come with playing an in-conference game on the road to start the season.

"I've been very pleased with their physical approach to it," Willingham said. "Knowing how to be a team member is very important, but if you have defensive linemen that can't play physical, you've got a problem."

"We've been working hard to finish things," Thompson said. "Toward the end of practice, the older guys let us know that this is the fourth quarter, this is when we need to finish hard."

Finish. Sometimes that's hard to do when you've just started.

"It's really here," Everrette added. "It's not just talking anymore."

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