Husky Roster Review: Bruener Plans to Start What He Finishes

The UW linebacker is poised to be a first-teamer again in his final season.
Carson Bruener and the departed Jaivion Green celebrate a play against Boise State.
Carson Bruener and the departed Jaivion Green celebrate a play against Boise State. / Skylar Lin Visuals

All along, Carson Bruener has resembled a Big Ten linebacker. He runs well in coverage. Lays out fearsome hits. Is unfailingly tough in the heat of the battle. Dare we say, you can almost picture him wearing an Ohio State or Penn State uniform, with both places known as LB schools.

Trouble is, he hasn't always been recognized as the University of Washington football player he seemingly was meant to be all along -- a starter.

Jimmy Lake and Jedd Fisch's Husky coaching staffs resolutely have viewed him as a first-teamer and a team leader. Kalen DeBoer's guys preferred to use him coming off the bench. It was almost as if Bruener became a preferred taste in the process -- where he just wasn't the right flavor for everyone.

Granted, the competition at UW linebacker has been nothing short of fierce the past couple of seasons, making for difficult decisions.

Bruener, a 6-foot-2, 226-pound senior from Woodinville, Washington, initially stepped in as a starter at midseason in 2021 and replaced an injured Edefuan Ulofoshio in a sensational manner, this after Daniel Heimuli briefly held the job and Bruener got the nod over Alphonzo Tuputala coming off an injury.

The following season, DeBoer's staff took over and made Pittsburgh transfer Cam Bright and Tuputala the season-long starters, relegating Bruener to a reserve role while waiting for Ulofoshio to get healthy again. Bright and Tuputala each were named All-Pac-12 honorable mention for the 11-2 UW team.

A year ago, Ulofoshio and Tuputala were the main guys, with Bruener again appearing in a substitute role. Ulofoshio was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection while Bruener, just a one-game starter but enjoying a season worthy of more, was chosen All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

Now it appears Bruener and Tuputala will enter the upcoming season side by side as the UW's No. 1 linebackers. All along, these two have seemed interchangeable in talent and ability.

"They show trust in me so far," Bruener said of Fisch's staff.

This is one in a series of articles -- going from 0 to 99 on the Husky roster -- examining what each scholarship player and leading walk-on did this past spring and what to expect from them going forward.

Carson Bruener has taken a lead position at Husky linebacker.
Carson Bruener (42) has taken a lead position at Husky linebacker. / Skylar Lin Visuals

Bruener is the guy who returned an Oregon interception 50 yards, coming up just short of scoring in the 2021 game. He went 33 yards with another pass theft against Boise State last season.

In his first start against Stanford in 2021, he came up with a career-best 16 tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, plus the conference's top Freshman of the Week. He's had 14 tackles on three other occasions, once as a reserve, no small feat.

He's the son of Mark Bruener, a legendary Husky tight end for the 1991 national championship team and beyond who went on to a 14-year NFL career.

What's not to like about this guy?

the DeBoer staff and Bruener did not always have a smooth connection. One day at practice last season, former co-defensive coordinator William Inge and the linebacker quibbled, with the coach heard heard barking loudly at the player. Naturally, not every UW coach and player get along famously, but this was out in the open.

Fisch has been nothing but complimentary about Bruener, noting all spring how the upperclassman always seemed to be making plays.

Bruener, as the older guy, is poised to receive even more individual rewards as his Husky career winds down. No one has been more loyal to the cause, more dedicated to the program. Where others were leaving after the national championship game appearance and subsequent coaching change, the linebacker only dug his heels deeper into Montlake.

"This my home, this my team, this is my program," Bruener said. "I'm a local kid. It's a family school for me. I personally didn't consider entering the portal. I didn't consider even talking to any other schools. None of that."

Carson Bruener covers 33 yards on an interception return against Boise State.
Carson Bruener covers 33 yards on an interception return against Boise State. / Skylar Lin Visuals

CARSON BRUENER FILE

What he's done: Bruener has appeared in 39 Husky games after reshirting and he's made six career starts, five coming in 2021. He's piled up 202 tackles, which include 8.5 tackles for loss and those 1.5 sacks against Stanford, plus he had a tackle for a safety against Utah. He also has 6 pass break-ups, 3 forced fumbles and the 2 pass thefts. He does it all.

Starter or not: He's been a starter and has earned the right to be one again. Yet nothing better demonstrates Bruener's ability than when he started against Oregon State last season as an injury fill-in for Tuputala and collected 14 tackles, and then returned to a reserve role against Washington State the following week -- and came up with 14 more tackles.

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Dan Raley

DAN RALEY

Dan Raley has worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, as well as for MSN.com and Boeing, the latter as a global aerospace writer. His sportswriting career spans four decades and he's covered University of Washington football and basketball during much of that time. In a working capacity, he's been to the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the MLB playoffs, the Masters, the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and countless Final Fours and bowl games.