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August 9, 2006

Kenny James setting sights high

Kenny James is ready.

On a day when head coach Tyrone Willingham stressed the Washington Huskies' readiness to begin their 2006 odyssey-"After this encounter," Willingham told the throng of Media Day reporters, referencing the recent surplus of symbolic 'kick-off' events, "I can talk to you about actually what is taking place, as opposed to projections and anything else; this afternoon we get to actually practicing football"-James echoed the sentiment.

["I'm a whole lot stronger, a whole lot faster, and a whole lot healthier [than last year]," the voluble senior tailback, who graduated in June with a degree in American ethnic studies, shared shortly before the first day of practice began.

That news will bring some relief to Husky fans, who have seen the team's situation at running back deteriorate-"we are bone-thin," says Willingham-with J.R. Hasty revealed to be academically ineligible and James breaking his arm in camp over the summer. ("I think [James] will be wearing a splint," Willingham said; "in a week or two he'll be out of that and then he'll be ready to go.") And James, who had played in every game for which he was eligible until injury limited him to seven appearances last year, wants to hit the ground running.

"I was a grinder before I hurt [my arm], and I'm a grinder now," he says, adding that he does not intend to change his conditioning routines despite the extra pressure to stay healthy this season. "Being hurt is just another obstacle to overcome. As long as [we] stay healthy, I think this team can get to where we're trying to go."

Willingham has set a team goal of reaching a bowl game. But for the unabashed James, who enters the season within range of cracking Washington's all-time top-10 rankings for career carries and yards, the destination is a Pac-10 championship with individual All-Pac-10 honors, and he has embraced his role as a leader on this year's team. "It means a lot, a whole lot, to turn this program around my senior year," he says: "To go from 1-10 to 2-9 to a Pac-10-champion team. That would be a great feeling. That's what we're working [toward], and if we continue to work hard as a team and buy into what coaches are telling us to do, I think it can happen. It's going to be a great season. We know our expectations from ourselves, and this season we know what to expect from the coaches, too. The consistency feels good. We have some great players and coaches."

In particular, James is outspoken in his support of the offensive line, a source of concern for some given lack of experience. "I have a lot of confidence in the offensive line," he offers without hesitation, "Everybody is saying the offensive line is this and it's that, but I know what it's capable of doing. We do have some experienced players coming back, and they are getting better. We've got work at it, and that's everybody, not just the offensive line."

Senior guard Stanley Daniels agrees: "We're stronger and bigger; we've got some athletic tackles-young, but strong."

Kenny James refocuses: "As long as we continue to progress and get better every day," he says, "I like our chances."

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