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'Sackmaster' finally makes impact

Daily Sports Writer
Published September 30, 2002

Michigan defensive end Alain Kashama is the first to admit that as far as his football career is concerned, "The sky's the limit."

That is, if he gets an opportunity to play like he did Saturday in the absence of injured defensive end Shantee Orr.

Kashama, a French Canadian "Sackmaster," hasn't made the impact he expected to make in his first two-plus years at Michigan. Coming in with a 6-foot-4, 236-pound frame and a 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash, many thought he would be an immediate force in college football.

But Kashama, who grew up in Zaire before moving to Montreal when he was 10, fell victim to something most players don't have to deal with - a drastic language barrier. He speaks six languages, including "Swahili, English, French and Ebonics," but it has taken him too long to fully understand the language of American football.

"I really think that if you speak another language, you can relate to what Emmanuel (Casseus) and I are going through," said Kashama, who joins Casseus and Deitan Dubuc as French-Canadian players on the Michigan roster. "When they call the play in the huddle, it takes us an extra 45 seconds to understand what was said. I don't think people understand how hard it is."

Kashama, a cousin of former Michigan running back Tim Biakabatuka, is not your average defensive end. He plays soccer, hockey and, according to fellow end Larry Stevens, he can do 18 back flips in a row.

"I do some back flips," Kashama said. "Maybe not 18, but 15."

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said that Kashama is one of the fastest players on the entire team. But learning how to harness his uncanny natural ability hasn't been as easy as a succession of back flips.

"My freshman year, I was just using my speed and God-given talent, and I came to find out that there are other people who can run here," Kashama said. "In order to be a great one, I had to become a better student of the game."

There are many people who still believe Kashama can be "a great one" - and a quick answer to some of Michigan's defensive problems. Kashama receives a lot of e-mails from students who are wondering why he isn't playing more.

"I answer them with one thing: 'Ask coach Carr,' " Kashama said. "Sometimes, I felt forgotten, or whatever. When somebody wonders why I don't play as much, that makes me feel good because they're thinking about me."

Carr has begun to think about Kashama more and more, as the junior has improved his technique and understanding of the game, as well as his ability to read the keys of opposing offenses.

And when Orr went down with an injury to his right knee against Utah, Kashama finally got to "do his thing" in a Michigan uniform. In his first substantial action with the first unit, he hurried Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer countless times and used his vertical leap to block an Illini field goal attempt to end the first half.

"I've been doing this for a long time," Kashama said. "I just haven't had the opportunity to show my talent yet."

Kashama said he has to get back in game shape because he hasn't seen consistent action since his freshman year, when he recorded 14 tackles and one sack.

But his chance to find a rhythm may end quickly if Orr comes back from his injury (Carr has not disclosed Orr's expected return date).

"I came here to play," Kashama said. "I know that when I play my 'A' game, I don't think there are a lot of offensive linemen out there that can really stop me."