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Originally published Saturday, November 11, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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UW Football | Home finale? Father hopes it isn't

None of the 26 seniors playing their final home game for the Washington Huskies today against the Stanford Cardinal will be leaving quite...

Seattle Times staff reporter

None of the 26 seniors playing their final home game for the Washington Huskies today against the Stanford Cardinal will be leaving quite the way they wanted.

Two of them, kicker Michael Braunstein and safety Chris Hemphill, apparently don't want to be leaving at all. Each was listed as a fourth-year junior all season before learning this week that they will likely not be welcomed back to the team next season and are suddenly being listed as seniors.

Braunstein's father, Paul, met with UW officials Friday afternoon to state his unhappiness over the decision and request that Michael Braunstein be allowed to play for the Huskies next season and pursue a master's degree as he had long planned.

Washington officials agreed that Michael Braunstein will not be introduced as a senior today, and set aside for after the season any more decisions on the future.

Paul Braunstein said that Chris Hemphill's mother was also hoping to meet with UW officials because her son wanted to return next season.

Today

Stanford @ Washington, 12:30

Washington athletic director Todd Turner said Friday he was in full support of coach Tyrone Willingham's handling of the situation. Willingham said Thursday that fifth years are not guaranteed and have to be earned.

Turner pointed out that scholarships are renewable each year and not awarded for the life of a college career, as is commonly assumed.

"Our practice has been, at least during my tenure, that if a student on a grant-in-aid has been a member of a team in good standing and making progress toward their degree in normal fashion, that we've always assisted them to the point where they can get in a position to graduate," Turner said. "Anything beyond that is a bonus and is at the recommendation of the coach.

"The coach has the discretion about membership on his team and we don't interfere with that at all. We want to make sure that proper policies and rules are followed, but the coach determines who is on the squad and who plays, not the athletic administration."

School officials say Braunstein and Hemphill are each on track to graduate this spring.

Players can appeal decisions by coaches to a non-athletics committee on campus.

The news of those who were "suddenly seniors" overshadowed those who have been the real thing all season and have long known this would be their final game.

"I don't think I fully understand it yet," said receiver Sonny Shackelford. "I think about it and see it that, 'Oh, yeah, this is my last game.' But I don't think it's punched me in the face yet. I can't fully get the grasp of me not playing any more games at Husky Stadium and not being able to walk down the tunnel anymore."

Most of the seniors came to UW at a time when the school was still making regular appearances in bowl games and expected more of the same.

Instead, two coaching changes helped lead to a downturn none of them could have foreseen.

"To go through as much heartache as we've been through, it's hard to say you'd do it again willingly knowing that's how it's going to be," said senior linebacker Scott White. "But I'm happy about everything that's happened to me here, growing into a man and becoming a better person. I owe a lot to this place."

And, they hope, their greatest moment is still to come. If the Huskies can beat Stanford today and snap a five-game losing streak, then win at Washington State next Saturday, they could be invited to a bowl game for the first time since 2002, when they lost to Purdue in the Sun Bowl to finish 7-6, a game none of these seniors played in.

"All I'm trying to do right now is win the last two and go to a bowl game and leave this program where I got it, at 7-6," said senior guard Clay Walker.

The Huskies are 19-point favorites against a Stanford team that is 0-9 this year and has lost 11 in a row. Rumors have erupted that Stanford coach Walt Harris could be fired, even though this is just his second season in Palo Alto.

Linebacker Michael Okwo, the leading the tackler in the Pac-10, reportedly quit the team for a day earlier in the week before deciding to return.

"Obviously, we want to have the biggest games of our career since this is obviously our last time at Husky Stadium," Shackelford said. "We'll just try to go out with a bang. Everybody's going to try to play their hardest and try to put it on Stanford."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

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