Even with the late additions of Sean Parker and Josh Shirley, many pointed to Lakes High’s Sione Potoa’e as the crown jewel of the University of Washington’s 2010 recruiting class.
And when his first career tackle was a sack against Syracuse, the true freshman’s tenure seemed to be off to a promising start.
But even though the defensive tackle has played in 10 of the team’s 12 games, he’s endured an up-and-down season. He was a starter against Stanford and Oregon. But after the Huskies’ final bye week, Semisi Tokolahi was inserted to replace Potoa’e in the lineup.
Now with Tokolahi sidelined with a knee injury, Potota’e will be counted on, albeit in a reserve role, to play a significant role Dec. 30 against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
Whatever playing time he has had, and will continue to get, has exceeded his first-year expectations.
“I thought I would redshirt when I first came. It was a personal choice,” Potoa’e said. “I thought I could get bigger, faster and more knowledgeable in the defense.”
He played because the Huskies needed him. Even though he flashed the ability to bull-rush between creases and get into the backfield, he also was spotty with some of his gap control.
By the end of the Stanford game – a 41-0 loss – Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt pointed to his eager young players and noted they needed to do one thing to compete – get bigger.
“True freshmen go through some of the ups and downs – that’s natural,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “And I think part of it is doing things every snap, every game, every play – that real tenacity to do it over and over and over again. That’s one of the biggest challenges for kids taking the step from high school to college the ability to do it consistently over an extended period of time.
“Not that (Potoa’e) isn’t a heck of a player, and going to be a heck of a player – he’s just still learning to play.”
Potoa’e is learning to survive, too, for a second meeting with the Cornhuskers.
“I’m very eager,” Potoa’e said. “With experience comes understanding, so I feel like I have a better understanding of Nebraska’s offense and their offensive line. So I feel like I’m more prepared than I was before.”
Again, defensive tackle Chris Robinson (knee) did not participate in the team’s final practice in Seattle on Monday morning at Husky Stadium. Sarkisian said the defensive tackle’s status is uncertain. Defensive end Talia Crichton (knee) continues to do more work and appears likely to play some in the bowl game. How much depends on “more of his quickness, his strength and what it looks like more so than how long he can sustain,” Sarkisian said. Parker (shoulder) and fullback Zach Fogerson (shoulder) did no work Monday, and are questionable. Although the team leaves for San Diego until Thursday, 43 players will head to Southern California early. The team will hold a meal and social gathering after practice Christmas Day. Despite being a 90-minute drive away, Sarkisian said he won’t get the chance to visit his family in Torrance, Calif., next week. Quarterback Jake Locker was engaged over the weekend to former UW fastpitch player Lauren Greer.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports
HOT TOPIC: Nebraska’s special teams
Alex Henery is both the placekicker and punter; the punt returner is Niles Paul; the kick returners are Paul and Tim Marlowe.
PR Rex Burkhead, Eric Hagg and Marlowe; KR Brandon Kinnie.
Henery was 18-of-19 on field goals, with a long of 53 yards. He averaged 43.9 yards per punt; Paul averaged 25.2 yards per kick return, and 11.4 yards per punt return. He returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown; Hagg had a 95-yard punt return for a score.
Nebraska is traditionally one of the best in the country at special teams. The Cornerhuskers ranked 14th in returning punts (12.9 yards per attempt) and 31st in kickoff returns (23.3 yards). But it was a sub-par season for the coverage units who barely cracked the top 100. Paul (broken foot) is expected to return after missing the final two games of the regular season.
“The kicker/punter (Henery) is phenomenal. He’s the best in the country, and that sets the stage for them because of the simple fact that there’s not a lot of kickoff returns, and he’s a big touchback guy, so their (opponents) are constantly starting on the 20-yard line.” – UW coach Steve Sarkisian
Todd Milles, staff writer