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With Bright On Board, An Inside Look at the UW Inside Backers

Down on numbers, this Husky position area just got a lot stronger.

The University of Washington didn't have enough linebackers and Pittsburgh had too many. So it shouldn't have been that big of a surprise that one came to Seattle.

Former Panther Cam Bright used the transfer portal to find his way to Kalen DeBoer's Huskies, making a slightly undernourished position suddenly feeling full.

The 6-foot, 220-pound senior originally from Montgomery, Alabama, brings strong credentials to Montlake as a 20-game career starter and someone who had to learn how to share.

This past season, Bright split time with John Petrishen. For the 11-3 and Peach Bowl-bound Panthers, Bright drew 8 game-opening assignments, Petrishen 6. Bright returned a fumble 26 yards for a score against Michigan State, Petrishen an interception 33 yards for a TD against Georgia Tech. Bright was a Pitt team captain, Petrishen All-ACC honorable mention.

Yet the newcomer won't find the linebacker battle any less competitive in Montlake. To earn one of the No. 1 inside spots, Bright will primarily push for playing time against junior Edefuan Ulofoshio and sophomore Carson Bruener, both battle-tested and really good at times in the second row. 

Imagine if Ulofoshio somehow was the odd man out. More likely Bright and Bruener battle for the spot opposite him. But you never know until they get after it. 

“This thought of a fresh start has been on my mind for weeks now, and after much prayer, I have decided to use my last year of eligibility to find a new home and conquer new heights," Bright wrote in a social-media posting.

With spring football just over two months away, we examine all of the inside linebacker candidates, giving Bright a better idea of what he's up against, plus what he provides.

Edefuan Ulofoshio returns a fumble against Stanford.

Edefuan Ulofoshio returns a fumble against Stanford. 

Edefuan Ulofoshio

One of the reasons this past Husky team went in the tank last season was the loss of the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Ulofoshio in the sixth game against UCLA to an arm injury that required surgery. You pay for it when a guy this good sits down. He entered the year as a returning second-team All-Pac-12 selection and mentioned as one of the nation's elite linebackers. He has 147 career tackles on his ledger. He's played in 29 games, starting 12. As a walk-on redshirt freshman in 2019, he came off the bench at Oregon State and collected 9 tackles, including a sack and a half, and was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. That alone might have earned him an overdue scholarship. Showing how truly dominant he can be, the Las Vegas product piled up 18 tackles against Stanford in 2020 and 16 at Oregon State last October. He had a 39-yard fumble return against the Cardinal before they caught up to him. No other linebacker nationwide, make that worldwide, can top this claim: Ulofoshio's name, in Nigerian, translates to "Unafraid of War."

Carson Bruener had 16 tackles against Stanford.

Carson Bruener had 16 tackles at Stanford in his first career start. 

Carson Bruener

When Ulofoshio went down, Bruener took over. The Huskies would have much rather preferred playing these guys side by side. With Jackson Sirmon transferring to California, that possibility remains, though Bright comes to the UW determined to play a lot, not watch. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound sophomore and Seattle-area native has excellent bloodlines as the son of Mark Bruener, a tight end for the UW national championship team and a 14-year NFL veteran. The younger Bruener has 11 career games under his belt, 6 starts. He's chalked up 70 tackles. He came up with a 50-yard interception return against Oregon and looked elusive in the open field before getting tackled. Here's how good he can be: In his first Husky start, Bruener rang up 16 tackles at Stanford, including a sack and a half, forced a fumble and he was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.

Cam Bright

He played four full seasons for Pittsburgh, appearing in 52 games and drawing 17 of his 20 starts over the past two years. He piled up 182 career tackles, including 20.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. At all times, he was a big-play guy. In 2019, Bright went 79 yards with a fumble against Georgia Tech before he was pulled down, providing the longest fumble return for the Panthers in 18 seasons. In 2020, he picked up 10 tackles, including 2 TFLs and a half sack, and forced a fumble against Syracuse, all of which earned him ACC Defensive Player of the Week accolades. This past season, he registered a career-best 12 tackles against Western Michigan. In his final Pitt game at the Peach Bowl, the native Alabaman memorably returned that Michigan State fumble for a score, supplying one of five defensive touchdowns for the Panthers last season.

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Daniel Heimuli agonizes over a Colorado loss.

Daniel Heimuli shows his despair following a loss at Colorado.

Daniel Heimuli

This guy was a much higher regarded recruit than Ulofoshio, Bruener and even Bright at Pitt, a 4-star prospect who chose the UW over Alabama and Oregon. Now a 6-foot, 225-pound sophomore, the California native has played in a dozen career games. He started this past season against Arkansas State and Arizona when Ulofoshio got banged up and Bruener wasn't quite ready for the first team. The California native has 20 career tackles, 8 coming against Arizona. He's worked his way up where he can start if necessary but he's not yet in position to beat out the others for a steady No. 1 job. It's time for him to match his credentials and become a more serious candidate.

Ruperake Fuavia, Alphonzo Tuputala and the depart Josh Calvert head for spring practice.

Ruperake Fuavai, Alphonzo Tuputala and the since departed Josh Calvert head for spring practice. 

Alphonzo Tuputala 

A 6-foot-2, 230-pound sophomore, Tuputala is the darkhorse player of this bunch. Tall and fast, he earned playing time right away when he joined the program, moving ahead of Heimuli and the since-departed Josh Calvert (Utah) in the rotation. Unfortunately for him, Tuputala tore an Achilles tendon last spring, had surgery and played only in the final five games last fall. The Seattle-area product has appeared in 13 career outings and has 7 tackles, 5 this past season. He could be a starter before he's done. Either way, he will play a lot. 

Ruperake Fuavai

He went from the great unknown, a walk-on playing regularly on special teams to the ignition point in the Jimmy Lake firing. Squabbling on the sideline with an Oregon player he claimed spat on him, Fuavai got shoved by his annoyed coach, an inadvisable action seen by a lot of people watching on national TV and leading to Lake's termination. A Seattle-area product, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound sophomore was said to be embarrassed by his sudden celebrity, but continued on after his coach was long gone. Fuavai appeared in seven games and will be back for more.

Drew Fowler

Another walk-on special-teamer only without any of Fuavai's notoriety, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore appeared in eight games last season, and has played in a dozen overall in his career. From suburban Seattle, Fowler supposedly turned down scholarship offers from UCLA and a host of other schools to take his chances in earning a full ride from the Huskies. He'll now have to convince a new UW coaching staff that he's worthy of that. He remains a little undersized.

DeMario King

This 6-foot-3, 215-pound Cerritos College transfer could get a shot here, but it's more likely DeBoer's staff uses him in a hybrid safety/linebacker spot that serves as the fifth guy in the secondary. He had 96 tackles in two JC seasons. Likewise, he needs another 20 pounds to pull time at inside linebacker.

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