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What Sophomore Jinx? 3 UW Players Who Exceeded Expectations

Bralen Trice, Troy Fautanu and Alphonzo Tuputala each became full-time starters for the first time.
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As the DeBoer coaching staff sorted through the inherited talent, three moderately-used University of Washington football players caught their eye, though these guys didn't have much on their game-day resumes yet.

Bralen Trice, Troy Fautanu and Alphonzo Tuputala, all sophomores in class standing, held up just five career starting assignments collectively, all doled out during the 2021 season, and they offered limited stats and no individual accolades.

Yet the new position coaches spotted something in each of these guys that suggested team leader and they weren't afraid to make bold moves to get these players on the field, even at the expense of others presumed to be first-teamers. 

The 6-foot-4, 269-pound Trice moved ahead of 2020 first-team All-Pac-12 edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui, one of the team's emotional leaders.

Fautanu proved so adept as the starting left tackle, the so-called NFL money position, that DeBoer's staff asked two-time, first-team All-Pac-12 selection Jaxson Kirkland to change positions when he rejoined the team late. 

Troy Fautanu offers a menacing presence for Cal.

Troy Fautanu stares down a Cal opponent.

The DeBoer staff installed Tuputala as a starting inside linebacker almost as soon as spring practice opened, elevating him over returning starter Carson Bruener, one of the few Huskies to flourish during 2021 and a legacy player.

The positive results of these moves not only showed up on in games, the ability of this trio of UW players was rubber-stamped with this week's release of the All-Pac-12 teams determined by a vote of the coaches.

Trice became a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, same as ZTF, the player he replaced as the starter for 10 of 12 games. Trice had an impressive 11 tackles for loss and 8 sacks among 33 tackles. The year before, he finished with 14 tackles, 5 TFLs and 2 sacks, plus he had a 72-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Arkansas State that gave a strong hint of his potential.

Bralen Trice returned a fumble 72 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas State last season.

Bralen Trice has his game face on against Stanford

For that matter, fellow starting edge rusher Jeremiah Martin was named first-team All-Pac-12, while ZTF earned all-conference honorable-mention accolades.

"The edges with ZTF, Bralen and Jeremiah, that's probably the position as a whole that impressed me beyond what I realized we had," DeBoer said. 

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The 6-foot-4, 312-pound Fautanu started 12 games, 11 at tackle, and earned second-team all-conference honors while the player he supplanted at tackle, the 6-foot-7, 340-pound Kirkland, showed himself to be versatile no matter where you put him because he was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick for the third time, only at guard.

"Troy's only limitation at tackle is length," UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. "Athleticism and power, he's not short on either of that. I would always rather have a guy with athletic ability over length." 

Alphonzo Tuputala breaks through to sack Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee.

Alphonzo Tuputala sacks Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee.

Tuputala, who carries a 6-foot-2, 238-pound frame, opened every Husky game at linebacker and currently ranks as the team's second-leading tackler with 66, including 6.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. He received All-Pac-12 honorable-mention honors.

"It's never going to stop," Tuputala said of the linebacker competition. "I've got that mindset to chase that player I want to be, to be that perfect player every day and see where it takes me."

That's 34 starts among the three Husky sophomores this season. Prior to DeBoer's staff taking over, Fautanu pulled just three injury replacement starts for Kirkland in 2021, Trice opened only the final two games and Tuputala had no starts in his career. It was clearly their time to move up.

Unless any of them head early to the NFL — and they're all eligible for the draft after coming in together as part of the UW Class of 2019 and now spending four seasons in Montlake — the Huskies will have each of them as starters for two more years.


  

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