For Senio Kelemete, Huskies career has been a dream
Kelemete has been a rock for the UW offensive line — if not the entire program — during a four-year career that will end with Thursday's Alamo Bowl against Baylor in San Antonio.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Alamo Bowl, UW vs. Baylor, 6 p.m., ESPN
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Senio Kelemete looks in the mirror today and sees a potential early-round NFL draft pick and soon-to-be college graduate.
A player so revered by teammates that he has been elected a team captain each of the past two seasons, a rarity at the University of Washington.
And he'll be the first to admit it's not something he would have envisioned for himself a few years ago.
He didn't go through the early years of his life dreaming of the NFL — he didn't start playing football until the eighth grade.
And growing up in a household of modest means, he didn't necessarily think of college — let alone college football — as a realistic goal.
Remembering his early years at Evergreen High in White Center, Kelemete said, "I was one of those guys who just went through the motions. Just out here to have a little fun and stay out of trouble. It (football) was just a thing to do after school."
He credits the arrival at Evergreen of coach Shaun Tarantola, as well as some help from the family of a close friend and teammate — Corey Laufasa, now a backup fullback at Washington State — with helping set him on the right track.
"They really saw potential in me and were telling me, 'Hey, you could play at the next level if you just really push yourself academically and physically,' " Kelemete said.
And Tarantola says that it is to Kelemete's credit that while some players at that age might have resisted what amounted to a little bit of tough love, Kelemete bought in almost immediately.
"It was an amazing transformation," said Tarantola, now the head coach at Juanita. "I've never seen a transformation like that."
It's one that has seen Kelemete become a rock of the UW offensive line — if not the entire program — during a four-year career that will end with Thursday's Alamo Bowl against Baylor in San Antonio.
The game will be Kelemete's 25th straight start at left tackle and 40th overall, having hardly missed an offensive play the last two seasons as Washington's program rose from the dark ages of an 0-12 record in 2008 to two straight bowl games.
"He is the catalyst to everything we do,"said offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto. "He is the epitome of what I want in an offensive lineman. I respect him as much as anybody I have coached. The things that he has done for us and the loyalty and the support, he echoes everything that coach (Steve Sarkisian) talks about. You can't have enough guys like that."
That's kind of what Tarantola thought he saw in Kelemete when he arrived at Evergreen in 2005.
"He hadn't played a lot of football and he didn't have a lot of confidence," Tarantola said. "But he had all the ability and the talent — he just didn't know it. He just didn't really see himself with the potential to be a great football player."
Kelemete said a light began to go on near the end of his sophomore year as he hit another growth spurt and began to have success on the field.
"I noticed that, hey, I could actually go to the next level if I really tried," he said.
The issue then became school.
Kelemete admitted that at that point, "I didn't see academics as being that important" and had fallen far behind.
Laufasa's parents, John and Maria, offered to take Kelemete in to try to get his grades in order. For much of the next two years, Kelemete stayed with the Laufasas, on the condition that he make his schoolwork a priority.
"We said, we're not going to do it halfway," John Laufasa said. "You come all the way or don't come to our house at all."
Tarantola said Kelemete's senior year "was football and academics and working out and wrestling — that's it. That was his life with the vision of (qualifying) for a four-year school."
Kelemete says the change "was really hard" initially, but he grew to accept it as he began to have success on and off the field.
Schools such as Arizona State and Oregon State took notice of Kelemete and offered scholarships. But desiring to stay home, he accepted quickly when the hometown Huskies gave him an offer, making a commitment to UW before his senior season at Evergreen. He was the first commit for Washington's Class of 2008, the last full class for former coach Tyrone Willingham.
Kelemete began his career at defensive tackle, getting four starts as a true freshman in 2008. But among the first moves after Sarkisian and Cozzetto arrived was switching Kelemete to offense.
Other than one game missed due to injury, he has started every game on the line since then, first at guard in 2009 and then at left tackle the last two seasons.
"To come in and play as a true freshman, and give him to me at 260 pounds as a guard, and play at left tackle and develop and develop (to his current 301), that says a lot about that man," Cozzetto said of Kelemete.
As does twice being elected a team captain by teammates. That has forced the generally reserved Kelemete to "get out of my comfort zone and try something new and talk to the guys."
Like the earlier challenges thrown his way, Kelemete has tried his best to embrace it, another step on a road that now figures to lead to a chance at the NFL.
Rob Rang, a senior analyst at NFLDraftScout.com, said Kelemete will likely be moved back to guard at the next level. His organization currently has Kelemete, who was named to the All-Pac-12 second team this year, ranked as the No. 5 guard prospect and pegged as a third-round pick.
"Kelemete is a better fit inside, where his lack of height and reach won't limit his effectiveness," Rang said, adding that Kelemete is "surprisingly light on his feet" which helps make him "a very intriguing guard prospect, especially for teams operating out of a zone scheme."
Kelemete said he's on track, as well, to earn a degree in American Ethnic Studies in the spring.
He considers what it has taken to get to this point and says, "It seems realistic to me now, but it's been crazy. Here I am living the dream and actually doing it and getting a step closer to actually going to the next level. It's real humbling."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
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