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 Seattle’s Evergreen High, 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.
Tarantola said 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 in Kirkland, Wash. “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 a 0-12 record in 2008 to two straight bowl games.
“He is the catalyst to everything we do,” offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto said. “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.”
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.