The evidence was on the tape Desmond Trufant watched all week before Stanford came to Seattle.
When behemoth Cardinal tight end Levine Toilolo — 6-foot-8, 265 pounds, LeBron James’ frame, basically — trotted out to the right on fourth-and-4 from the Washington 34-yard line with two minutes remaining, Trufant went out with him and crept toward the line.
The Huskies had seen that movement on film and knew it meant a fade pass was coming to Toilolo, who is eight inches taller than Trufant.
Trufant was by himself. No help. Him versus Toilolo. If he played press-bail coverage, he’d drift right along with Toilolo as a much smaller impediment.
Dreadlocks bouncing on his black jersey, the 6-foot Trufant broke, high-pointed the lofted pass and leaped above Toilolo for the interception. Following the game-sealing pick, he sprinted to the sidelines, swagger and teammates in tow.
When defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox saw the matchup, his thought process was simple.
“There’s our best player, here’s your best play,” Wilcox said. “And, he won it.”
That about sums up Trufant’s senior year as a Husky, which comes to an end Saturday when Washington plays 20th-ranked Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Four years ago, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian visited the Trufants right after being hired. After playing at Wilson High School, Trufant and his family wanted him to stay local. Sarkisian told him he could be part of the resurrection of a Washington program that had fallen down the wormhole on the way to an 0-12 season in 2008. Tyrone Willingham had been knocking heavily on Trufant’s door prior to being dismissed. Sarkisian headed to Tacoma to make sure he kept Trufant’s attention.
“I knew he was coming from a winning tradition, and I wanted to be a part of turning the program around,” Trufant said.
He got his chance in his freshman season when he started the final nine games to begin a streak of 45 consecutive starts before a hamstring injury forced him out against Colorado this season.
Buying into Sarkisian’s approach wasn’t the only coaching adjustment Trufant had to make. After defensive coordinator Nick Holt was fired, Wilcox was hired and brought a new scheme with more man-to-man principles. It suited Trufant’s versatility.
Wilcox deployed him all around the field, even dropping him to a safety spot on occasion. Whether it was in front of players like Toilolo or chasing dynamic USC receiver Marqise Lee, Wilcox was able to stick Trufant in a problem area, then worry about other things.
“As much as anything, Desmond wants to be good,” Wilcox said. “It’s important to him to play good football. He’s got a lot of pride, very competitive. He studies, and that has as much to do with it as his physical skills. I wish he was going to be here for another three years.”
Lee finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting because he had 112 catches for 1,680 yards this year. A mere two of those came against Washington. Lee had just 32 yards with Trufant on his tail, less than half his next-lowest total on the season.
And, with each fruitless route for Lee, Trufant’s draft stock clicked up.
“He certainly continues to be among the top five senior corners and perhaps in the top five corners overall, depending on which underclassmen come out,” CBS Sports senior draft analyst Rob Rang said.
Rang projects Trufant to be taken in the second or third round.
“His senior season being his best one, his draft stock is climbing,” Rang said.
Though it’s counter-intuitive, lower numbers show Trufant’s senior year as his best. He made 30 fewer tackles this season than last. He had fewer pass breakups and one fewer interception. Basically, his numbers were down because nobody wanted to mess with him anymore. Even UW quarterback Keith Price would try to avoid throwing toward him in practice.
Thanks to his work, Trufant was named first-team All-Pac-12 Conference. After being voted a captain at the start of the season, Trufant received the Guy Flaherty Award, the team’s oldest and most prestigious internal award, and was also named defensive MVP at the end of it.
Sarkisian feels the list of Trufant’s achievements grew in accordance with his confidence.
“Desmond has always been talented,” Sarkisian said. “I think at times in his past he’s gotten a little bit anxious; I don’t know how much of the belief was there. He’d practice one way, and I don’t know how much of it transferred to the field.
“He’d be a little bit cautious, but this year his belief in himself and ability to cover and make plays on the football in one-on-one contested battles really has shown up.”
Trufant said the start of his college career has the duality of feeling like a long time ago and a recent event. When things were going well, he says, the days flew by. Losing weeks seemed to slow the clock.
Saturday in Las Vegas is the end of his college run. Trufant will likely be the only Washington player drafted this year. That’s an accomplishment to come at the end of next April. For now, he’ll settle for what can often be the most elusive goal in sports or otherwise.
“I have no regrets,” Trufant said. “I’m happy.”firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas