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July 11, 2011

Washington duo unique in many ways

MORE OPENING: Gallery | The Opening/NIKE page

BEAVERTON, Ore. - Recruiting has become so mainstream and prospects are so comfortable with interviews that players know what's coming if they're elite. They've been through rudimentary media training, making them much savvier than players 10 years ago and light years ahead of their parents' generation.

They have Twitter and Facebook accounts, some even have personal websites with stats, videos, pictures and contact information. That kind of celebrity has made some prospects not want to talk, so inundated with calls that they shut off their cell phones to the outside world. Even at camps, these recruits try to get done with interviews as soon as possible.

And that brings us to Zach Banner and Joshua Garnett.

At The Opening elite camp last weekend in Oregon, the duo could not have been more refreshing and engaging. The massive offensive linemen from Washington are affable and cordial, enlightening, interesting and talkative.

It's rare when someone 6-foot-5 and about 300 pounds (Garnett) calls himself a nerd. And then there's Banner, who said he isn't concerned about growing more - he's already 6-9 and 335 - because even if he grows to 6-11, he'll make it work at offensive tackle.

The two stood around after lunch for more than 10 minutes chatting with reporters.

"I'm barely able to play this sport but I don't make any excuses," Banner said. "That's not going to be an excuse. Our workouts are so intense that to be real with you if I have to be the first 6-11 NFL lineman I will, I'll do that, because I can do it out here. That's why I'm here.

"I have to do a lot of different things than everyone else. I have to sit down more, I have to work on leaning back more in my pass set. In run block I have to get my hips down more. It's just because of my size but if you use that as an excuse you're not going to make it anywhere."

These two are rare prospects, which make it an even better story that Banner plays at Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes and Garnett is at Puyallup (Wash.), they're close friends, they work out together and they're seriously thinking about playing at the same college.

Banner has trimmed his list to California, Washington, Oregon, Notre Dame, Michigan, Alabama, LSU, USC, Florida State and Oklahoma.

Garnett has Stanford, Cal, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Auburn, Nebraska, Oregon, USC, UCLA and Washington remaining. There seems to be a very good chance both will pick the same school.

They also adhere to the same motto.

"When we get our hands on them, they're done," Banner said. "(Garnett will) take a dude into the ground just like me."

What's interesting, though, is they aren't clones. Banner is much taller and said he styles his game after former NFL offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. His biological father is former Washington All-American and NFL Pro Bowl lineman Lincoln Kennedy.

Garnett, who wants to study pre-med, said he has the mentality of a defensive tackle and prefers to play like a bullet instead of a bowling ball, a phrase he picked up from Oregon coach Chip Kelly. The four-star prospect said he wants to play the game like Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney.

"I try to be fast and powerful and explosive," Garnett said. "I like to knock people off balance. I don't really model my game after any offensive linemen. I have more of a defensive lineman's mindset.

" I want to be more explosive and not like the prototypical offensive lineman where you think he's a big, fat guy. I'm trying to be more powerful and explosive, the new generation of people who are actually athletes. When you think of offensive line you don't think of athletes but I want to change that stereotype."

Banner is quick to add to Garnett's statement. The two are so comfortable around each other that the interview with both players and a handful of media members seems more like a conversation.

"That's something you can find in the both of us that's different than any of the other national linemen is that we both take pride in our athleticism," Banner said.

"We want to be faster, we want to be stronger and we want to be more explosive than everybody. That's what our workouts are based off of, that explosion, technique and speed. That's us."

That does encapsulate Banner and Garnett - special on and off the field.



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