Kyle Benn, the starting center on UW's 2000 Rose Bowl team, says he likes the potential of this current offensive line.

Share story

Kyle Benn is the answer to the 15-year-old trivia question. He would rather not be.

Benn was the starting center on the Washington Huskies’ 2000 Rose Bowl team. As a senior in 2001, he was selected to the all-Pac-10 Conference first team.

The Huskies — trivia time — have not had an all-conference lineman since.

That drought on the offensive line helps to explain some of the program’s shortcomings from the past decade and a half.

There are many other factors, to be sure — the Huskies, for example, haven’t had a first-team all-conference quarterback since Marques Tuisasosopo in 2000, and the program has had five different head coaches in 15 years, hardly the model of stability — but there is some truth to the old football adage that games are won and lost in the trenches.

Benn’s been in the trenches. An Edmonds native and O’Dea High graduate, he has remained in the Seattle area and has remained around the program as a fan. In his words, he still lives for Saturdays, and he’s already giddy about going to next week’s potential matchup of top-10 teams at Husky Stadium when Stanford visits UW. (The No. 9 Huskies (3-0) must of course first get past Arizona (2-1) this Saturday night.)

Benn’s initial inclination is to point out the positive production from the UW lines since his graduation. He notes that Louis Rankin, Chris Polk, Bishop Sankey and Myles Gaskin have all had 1,000-yard rushing seasons in the past decade and, hey, those guys didn’t run through holes that magically appeared.

“When you look at the last 15 years, there’s been some good O-lines as far as output,” said Benn, 37, a father of two and the vice president of sales for SpotX, a digital marketing company. But he acknowledges, “There are some pieces that have always been missing.”

Here the Huskies are, back in the top 10 this month, a place they haven’t been since — you guessed it — Benn’s senior season in ’01. He’s been watching closely, and he sees hope with the Huskies’ current line, which he says has the potential to be a throwback to UW’s great lineage.

>>>

Even after last Saturday’s 41-3 romp over Portland State, UW coach Chris Petersen wanted more — more from the run game, more from the offensive line.

It’s been a good start for the UW offense overall. A great start, indeed, against three supremely overmatched opponents.

Fair or not, the Seahawks offensive line has become a punching bag for Seattle fans in recent years. That’s not the goal here with UW’s line, which deserves credit so far for its improved protection of quarterback Jake Browning.

Still, as Petersen said, the run blocking needs to be better for the Huskies, and the line has much to prove against Pac-12 competition, starting Saturday in Tucson.

“We’re definitely still at that part of the season where we think everything still needs improvement,” UW line coach Chris Strausser said. “I think the communication has been really good. I think the guys’ effort has been great.”

Junior Coleman Shelton, in his first season as the Huskies’ center, anchors the line after starting at every other position on the line in his first two seasons. Sophomore tackles Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary have NFL bodies and still much untapped potential, while guards Jake Eldrenkamp and Shane Brostek provide veteran experience.

True freshman Nick Harris has been the surprise of the group. He’s splitting time with Brostek at right guard in what has been a six-man rotation with the No. 1 line.

“A lot of the same stuff we’ve said all this time about Coleman Shelton really shows up in Nick Harris,” Strausser said. “He’s just a guy that competes really hard, he’s athletic, stays on his feet and finishes blocks well.”

Most of this group worked together last year, and Benn said that’s vital in developing the all-important continuity and chemistry within the group.
“It always comes down to, do those guys jel together, communicate on the field and intuitively play well together?” Benn said. “There are lines all across the country that might not have any all-conference players, but they play well together. … I like what I see (from this UW line) just because they seem to be jelling well and they’re producing.”

>>>

From 1937 to 2001, Washington produced 78 offensive linemen who were drafted in the NFL, or about 1.2 per year.

Since 2002, Washington produced just three NFL draft picks on the offensive line — Khalif Barnes, a second-round pick in 2005; Joe Toledo, a fourth-rounder in 2006; and Senio Kelemete, a fifth-rounder in 2012.

Early on, Benn said he recognized the history and dominance of the UW offensive lines. Benn himself had been placed on the offensive line as a third-grader, and never really played anywhere else.

“Growing up around here, I knew about Blair Bush (the starting center on the 1977 Rose Bowl team) and Bern Brostek (an All-American in 1989),” Benn said. “Everyone always looked at UW as ‘Quarterback U’ or ‘Tight End U,” but it was ‘Line U’ in my mind. Those were the guys I was watching. I knew how dominant they were.”

As he started to get recruited by UW and USC, among others, Benn said he was drawn to the Huskies’ “lunchpail” mentality on the line. He hopes and believes that attitude is coming back.

“With Strausser, I really like what he’s doing with those guys. His philosophy is what we we want and what we need,” Benn said. “You’re seeing it slowly materialize, and you you want to build something that’s going last every year and have for that next generation. You want those ninth-graders right now going, ‘I want to play for them.’”

Injuries played a part in some of UW’s inconsistent offensive line play over the past decade and a half — from 2012-15, the Huskies had one veteran linemen each year retire early or sit out virtually the an entire year with an injury.

Recruiting is, of course, also a major factor. Too often, UW missed out on top in-state talent — Stephen Schilling (Bellevue HS/Michigan), Joshua Garnett (Puyallup HS/Stanford) and Zach Banner (Lake HS/USC) are a few of the high-profile ones in the past decade — but Petersen and Strausser have made huge gains in that area, notably getting Adams and McGary, both top in-state talents, to come to UW.

The next target is Graham-Kapowsin senior tackle Foster Sarell, regarded as the No. 1 prep offensive lineman in the country. Keeping him here, and restarting the “Line U” tradition, has been a top priority for this UW staff.

For the Huskies and their future, there’s a lot on the line.

HALL OF FAMERS
UW offensive linemen in the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame:

Lincoln Kennedy (1989-92)
Paul Schwegler (1929-31)
Vic Markov (1935-37)
Max Starcevich (1934-36)
Rick Redman (1962-64)

ALL-CONFERENCE
UW offensive linemen named to the all-conference team since 1952:

Kyle Benn, 2001
Elliot Silvers, 2000
Chad Ward, 2000
Benji Olson, 1997, 1996
Olin Kreutz, 1997, 1996
Frank Garcia, 1994
Tom Gallagher, 1993
Lincoln Kennedy, 1992
Ed Cunningham, 1991
Jeff Pahukoa, 1990
Bern Brostek, 1989
Mike Zandofsky, 1987, 1986
Rick Mallory, 1983
Tom Turnure, 1979*
Jeff Toews, 1978, 1977
Blair Bush, 1977
Ray Pinney, 1975
Ernie Janet, 1970
Mike Ryan, 1966*
Fred Forsberg, 1965
Koll Hagen, 1964
Rick Redman, 1963, 1962
Mike Briggs, 1963
Rod Scheyer, 1962
Jim Skaggs, 1961
John Meyers, 1961
Roy Mckesson, 1960
Kurt Gegner, 1960
Chuck Allen, 1960, 1959
George Strugar, 1956
Fred Robinson, 1955
Milt Bohart, 1953
Lou Yourkowski, 1952

Update: Note that center Tom Turnure (1979) and guard Mike Ryan (1966) has been added to the list above. Both were honorable-mention All-American and first-team “all-coast” selections (the UW records books makes a distinction between all-coast and all-conference selections). The all-conference list has also been updated to correct the spellings of Ernie Janet and Kurt Gegner’s names.