UW's Tafisi Needs to Create Another Buzz After Suffering That Stinger

Dan Raley

MJ Tafisi's high school football coaching staff in the Salt Lake City area knew a good marketing opportunity when it saw one.

As the linebacker began to draw increasing recruiting attention, his Alta High mentors tweeted out the following message: "The Warhawk hits so hard, it hurts your feelings."

Hard-hitter best describes the now sophomore inside linebacker for the Washington Huskies. Yet at Arizona last October, his extra-physical style of play left Tafisi with a scary injury and cost him half a season.

Rushing up to stop a screen pass, the compact defender made impact but he couldn't get up on his own power. Tafisi was lifted carefully, strapped to a makeshift stretcher and driven off the field on a cart, bringing a hush to the stadium. 

The 6-foot, 241-pound Tafisi suffered what is known as "a stinger." It's best described as a nerve injury caused by a player's shoulder going one way and his neck moving the other when making a tackle. 

As it turned out, Tafisi was examined at a Tucson hospital, released and caught the team's chartered flight home that night. He was back at practice within three weeks, though limited to what he could do. The UW wisely kept him out of games for the rest of the season. 

This is another in a series of profiles on prospective UW football starters. While spring practice was canceled because of the pandemic, Husky Maven/Sports Illustrated continues to provide uninterrupted coverage.

When healthy, Tafisi is considered starting material at an inside linebacker area that's been in a state of flux for some time now. He might have got promoted last season had he not had his mishap in that seventh game. He was playing more and more.

Once football resumes in these pandemic times, Tafisi will get another chance to move into the lineup. He'll be lumped together with fellow sophomore Edefuan Ulofoshio and Jackson Sirmon as the leading candidates for first-team assignments. Ulofoshio is a speed guy, while Sirmon and Tafisi bring physicalness to the job.

A three-star recruit, Tafisi rang up 200 tackles as a senior at Alta, averaging 15.4 per game, including 16 tackles for loss. He was given a lot of responsibility with his Utah schoolboy team.

"MJ was the quarterback of our defense," Alta coach Alemo Te'o said. "He made the calls. He was everywhere."

The coach couldn't have been more right about that assessment. Tafisi played both ways and even served as Alta's long snapper.

When it came time to pick a college, Tafisi narrowed his choices to California, Oregon and Utah before Washington made a serious pitch for him. 

Hailing from the Beehive State, it was kind of ironic Tafisi had to step away from football temporarily because of a stinger.  He should be fully recovered now.

SUMMARY: Tafisi, a noted tough guy, needs to stay safe. The Huskies want him on the field.

GRADE (1 to 5): He gets a 3. He showed he can play. He showed he can hit.

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