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Tuesday, September 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Blaine Newnham / Times associate editor
Freshmen provide UW solid foundation upon which to build


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Don James admits he plays better golf in the California desert, where he winters, and where the ball bounces farther down the fairways.

But James won't be heading south until after the Huskies finish their regular season.

The old coach goes to practice each week. He will be at Notre Dame this weekend. He hasn't given up on an 0-2 football team.

He was standing at practice the other day, telling two of his former linemen, Steve Emtman and Pete Kaligis, that he was encouraged by what was going on around him.

"You could see the size," said James, looking at the freshmen lineman Keith Gilbertson had recruited.

"And then Pete and Steve were telling me that this was the strongest group of linemen to come in the past four years."

James knows the formula for success at Washington; he developed it.

"If we can just bring in two or three more classes like this one, we'll be back," he said.

Plenty of UW fans would rather not wait to find out if Gilbertson can coach and recruit. They would replace him tomorrow if they could. How about the coach from Boise State, or the one from Utah?

What about Jeff Tedford?
 
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The point is that it is too early to give up on Gilbertson. There is a season to experience, if not enjoy.

For what it is worth, the last three UW teams to begin seasons 0-2 ended up posting winning records, including Don James' initial team in 1975.

The hope for Gilbertson is in this year's recruiting class. Already five of the freshmen have played. Against UCLA, safety Darin Harris caused a fumble on a kickoff that another freshman, Dan Howell, recovered.

Mountainous Jordan White-Frisbee (6 feet 7, 330 pounds) made a key play at the goal line against UCLA. Frisbee might start this week against Notre Dame, and pass-rusher Greyson Gunheim, a running back last year in high school, could also get some significant playing time.

Trenton Tuiasosopo, cousin to the Woodinville Tuiasosopos, played on special teams and seems destined to get time at linebacker.

"Some guys are going to get some looks," Gilbertson said yesterday about the preparations for Notre Dame. "I don't care what class they are in."

The recruiting class lost much of its luster when the two top signees, quarterback Matt Tuiasosopo and safety Keauntea Bankhead, were lost to baseball and academics, respectively.

The emphasis in the class, however, was linemen. The emphasis was right.

Right now, the Huskies have two senior offensive linemen who play, tackles Khalif Barnes and Ryan Brooks. The only senior on the defensive line, Manase Hopoi, has played only two years because of early academic problems and will likely play next season (if he gets another year of eligibility, which is expected)

The Huskies are small and overwhelmed on the defensive front. They are without depth on the offensive front.

What happened?

From earlier classes, offensive linemen Aaron Butler, Robin Kezirian, Andre Reeves and Mike Savicky left the program. Dan Dicks retired because of injuries, Brandon Lockheart didn't get into school, William Kava went on a Mormon mission and Nathan Rhodes, the most highly-recruited of them all, never played because of a back injury.

On defense, Tui Alailefaleula played only sparingly and was moved to offense.

Rick Neuheisel had three linemen in his final recruiting class, only eight in his final two classes.

"I don't want to talk about that," said Gilbertson, "that's ancient history."

It is until you watch UCLA run for more than 400 yards against the Huskies.

There are 10 freshmen linemen, five on offense, five on defense.

"I get more excited about all of them every day," Gilbertson said. "They are big, powerful kids."

There are two other 6-7 linemen besides White-Frisbee: 285-pound offensive lineman Casey Bulyca from Woodinville and 230-pound defensive end Caesar Rayford from Bethel.

The other offensive linemen are Tyler Ashby (6-4, 290) from Bothell, Ryan Bush (6-4, 285) from Puyallup, Nathan Flowers (6-4, 285) from Chula Vista, Calif., and Jovon O'Connor (6-5, 310) from Los Angeles.

Besides White-Frisbee, Rayford and Gunheim (6-4, 240), the other defensive linemen are Jasper Henry (6-2, 260) from Los Angeles, and Erick Lobos (6-3, 300) from Venice, Calif.

Perhaps Gilbertson is naïve taking the time to build his team from the ground up. But as Don James will say, it's the only way.

Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or bnewnham@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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