Huskies Sharing the Load

Aug. 15, 2006

Washington hit the one-week mark of fall training camp Tuesday, and already, certain position battles are shaping us as 'ones to watch' in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. San Jose State.

Perhaps the best of these competitions has been at running back, where senior Kenny James and junior Louis Rankin are both attempting to lay claim to the Huskies' No. 1 job.

Of course, it would seem more like a competition if the two weren't so supportive of each other.

'I don't even like to use the word `competition,'' Rankin says. 'When Kenny's in there, I'm always pulling for him to do well, and I know he's pulling for me, too.'

In fact, James seems almost effusive when talking about what Rankin brings to the offense:

'Louis brings a lot of speed,' James says. 'He can catch the ball well, he can block well, and he can run well -- there's just so many ways we can use him.'

Rankin, too, is equally full of praise for his backfield-mate, James:

'Kenny can break a long run, or he can pick up the short yardage inside,' he says. 'He's a fast back, but he's powerful, too -- it's tough to stop him.'

The duo's support for each other may stem in part from the fact that both have experienced the pain of losing their job to injury -- in James' case, more than once.

Projected to start for UW at this time last fall, James suffered an injury during fall camp and was forced to miss the first four games of the season. That opened the door for Rankin to start the season-opener against Air Force, and the junior from Stockton, Calif., responded with the first 100-yard debut for a UW back since Corey Dillon in 1996.

Rankin, who finished with 112 yards rushing against the Falcons, tacked on 100-plus-yard efforts against Idaho (115) and UCLA (109), and boasted a 4.7-yards-per-carry average that was the highest for a regular UW back since 2001. Like James, though, just when Rankin's career seemed on track for stardom, an injury -- in his case, a sore toe -- cut his season short. After carrying for 100 yards in three of the Huskies' first seven games, Rankin spent the rest of the season watching from the sidelines as James, and senior James Sims, Jr., shouldered the load.

Rankin's injury in turn re-opened the door for James, who reclaimed top honors at the tailback position with a strong effort in the Huskies' 2006 spring practice season.

'I didn't do anything special,' James says of his efforts in the spring. 'I just went out there and was myself -- doing the things that I'm capable of doing, and the things that I hadn't been able to show last year because of the injury.'

But just when it seemed James had pulled ahead once again, he suffered another injury setback -- this time, a slight break in his wrist just before the start of fall practice. The playing field once again evened, both Rankin and James -- who is practicing with a brace on his wrist -- attack practice every day, knowing that each carry, each block and each catch represent a chance for them to show what they can do for the team this fall.

Rankin envisions a scenario in which both he and James see time in Washington's early games, depending on the situation.

'Kenny's a more physical-type back -- he looks to put his shoulder down and run you over -- whereas I'm more the type of guy who looks to make you miss,' Rankin says. 'With both of us out there, the defense doesn't really know what to expect.'

Notes: Gold No. 1 jerseys, for outstanding performances in the previous day's practice, were awarded to three players on Tuesday -- cornerback Roy Lewis earned the honor on defense, wide receiver Anthony Russo wore the gold jersey on offense, and punter Sean Douglas was recognized for excellence on special teams.

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