Defense By the Numbers: Kwiatkowski Assumes New Role as Digital Coach

Dan Raley

Pete Kwiatkowski called in precisely at noon. A dozen Seattle media members were waiting to hear from him. The Washington co-defensive coordinator, somewhat old school in approach, was almost giddy when his voice came booming over the line.

He acknowledged embracing his newfound role as a college football coach relegated to a digital world, a situation mandatory by the global pandemic outbreak that has overrun the U.S. over the past month.

"It's made me have to really hone up on my technology skills," Kwiatkowski said. "This has been big-time positive. All these meetings we're having over Zoom actually have been really, really good."

His mornings are taken up by football. Film study. Coaches meetings. Player position meetings. Scouting an upcoming non-conference opponent such as Sacramento State. All virtual.

"Everybody is at their houses and watching the same video and communicating," Kwiatkowski said. 

As the Huskies await the world to become disinfected and permit physically reassembling, the job of Kwiatkowski and his other UW defensive coaches is to keep their players motivated to stay in shape and complete their classwork.

It's a complicated time with the novel coronavirus bringing spring football and all other sports to a sudden halt, forcing schools to get creative in keeping their teams together. 

The NCAA offered another year of eligibility for affected spring athletes, though Wisconsin, as shown in the accompanying video, this week became the first Power 5 school to ask its athletes not to pursue it. 

At Washington, Kwiatkowski returns nine of 11 starters on defense, needing to solidify only his inside linebacker crew -- which was the team weak link this past season. 

Sophomores Edefuan Ulofoshio and Jackson Sirmon have the most returning experience, with the former starting the final three games, including the Las Vegas Bowl.

Once they get back on the field, Kwiatkowski will sort through redshirt freshmen Miki Ah You, Daniel Heimuli, Josh Calvert and Alphonzo Tuputala, looking for someone to step up and make things interesting.

Calvert, a promising player who participated in spring football a year ago and was lost with an injury in fall camp, is still recovering from a leg injury.

Sophomore MJ Tafisi made a breakthrough and played a lot but he was injured, carried off the field at midseason with a head injury. He should be ready to go again.

"They're all going to have a role to play," Kwiatkowski said. "Having that many guys that are that similar creates a lot of competition."

He mentioned Ah You as someone who is very decisive in his actions and plays fast. Tuputala was another singled out for having a slightly different skill set.

"Zo is a physical guy," the defensive coordinator said. "He's got a little more in his lower halves (strength) than the other guys. He can bring it and be really physical."

For now, until college football gets back to normal, everything is mental and digital.

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