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Breaking Down the Huskies' Changing of the Guard

The three-player competition on the left side of the Washington line proves intense.
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They resemble three ocean-going freighters, each stacked high with cargo containers, all jockeying for the same slip on the Seattle waterfront. 

One's going to tie up soon while the others have to drop anchor out in the bay.

Ulumoo Ale, Nate Kalepo and Julius Buelow represent these extra-large human beings traveling through local shipping lanes, finding themselves locked into the most intriguing position battle on the University of Washington football team.

One by one, they're trying to become the No. 1 left guard and make an enormous and experienced Husky offensive line coming back even better this season. 

Ale, the heaviest guy on this UW roster at 355 pounds, is the incumbent as a four-game starter from 2020.

Kalepo made his move for the first-team assignment during spring practice, forcing Ale to share reps for a couple of weeks.

Buelow, the tallest player for the Huskies at 6-foot-8, took turns as the starter with Kalepo before moving ahead of him and Ale in the past week. He still had the job for Wednesday's closed scrimmage.

Anything goes in this Seattle Beef Bowl over the next 10 days before the UW hosts Montana in the season opener.

"They're making each other better," said Luke Wattenberg, the starting center who can see everything taking place by glancing to his left. "It will be interesting to see who comes out on top."

What makes this tug-of-war different from other Husky positions up for grabs is this involves three rather than two leading candidates. Injuries have not been a factor in alternating bodies in and out. And the guy who has held the job for the longest time might have the longest odds in reclaiming it.

We take a look at these three candidates, who all play together on extra-point kicks, and offer our own forecast for each one, picking the eventual winner.

Ulumoo Ale

Clearly you don't discard this massive player, because he has shown he can dominate a Pac-12 opponent. Yet he needs to keep improving or step aside momentarily. He carried a 6-foot-6, 365-pound frame into spring football and both coach Jimmy Lake and offensive-line coach Scott Huff insisted this was a good weight for him, that he still could move adequately. Ale lists at 355 now. So it wasn't necessarily a good distribution of poundage for him. When asked about his recent play, the coaches give the stock answer that Ale needs to be more consistent. The big thing to remember about the native Samoan and former Australian resident is he's just a sophomore and he's already appeared in 17 games. He'll be back. With a little refinement, he could be a tackle before he's done with college ball. Projection: No. 3 at left guard.

Ulumoo Ale is the incumbent left-guard starter, now in a three-way battle for the job.

Ulumoo Ale is the left-guard starter incumbent. 

Nate Kalepo

At 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds, Kalepo is the little guy of this group at left guard. With the Huskies returning all five line starters, he's was the first interloper to shake up the chemistry. Over the latter half of spring ball, he made Ale alternate at the position during practices, giving the first indication that something could be done better there. While highly recruited by USC, Oregon, Michigan and others before the UW locked him up, Kalepo was said to sometimes have trouble keeping up with athletic defenders on the edge, hence he was deemed better suited for interior duty. Likewise, the Renton, Washington, product is just a redshirt freshman. He has just two games under his belt. Projection: No. 2 at left guard.

Nate Kalepo builds strength in the weight room.

Nate Kalepo is one of the stronger Huskies. 

Julius Buelow

Nothing gets the coaching staff more excited than when one of its real young project players suddenly gets it and begins to pan out in a hurry. Buelow had done just that. When he committed to the UW over the likes of Oregon, Notre Dame and Florida, the Hawaiian admitted to recruiting analysts to being a passive personality who would need an attitude adjustment to excel at the college level. Apparently, someone put extra hot sauce on one of his recent Conibear Shellhouse dinner steaks. Getting his chance, he's combined his impressive 6-foot-8, 330-pound physique with the requisite nastiness to make him a serious starting candidate. He might be on his way. He might not come out of the lineup again. He might play somewhere else on the No. 1 Husky line before he's done. Similarly, someone as tall and as heavy as Buelow with a little bit of irascible behavior eventually moves from offensive guard to left tackle, which is what Jaxson Kirkland did. Oh, did we forget to mention that Buelow is just a redshirt freshman? He's appeared in just one Husky game, soon to be several more. Projection: Starter.

Overview

While Ale must be sorely disappointed to have his starting job put in question, he shouldn't let this moment define his career in any way. Kalepo, if he doesn't win the spot, shouldn't get impatient either with his depth-chart progress. It's real early in everyone's careers here. Similar to that extra-point team, these three could all become starters together and really create some conversation about their possibilities. USC once had a line that was so gigantic, the joke was that when these guys stood up they could see Denver. This trio of Huskies paired with two others some day at least should be able to see Salt Lake City.

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