When Benning Potoa’e was busy racking up one tackle behind the line of scrimmage after another at Lakes High School, he was also building a star-studded reputation.
He was a big guy who could run. Usually those types show up high on FBS college football recruiting boards.
The part that comes after it — fulfilling high expectations — is what Potoae’s is ready to do now in his third season at the University of Washington.
And at 6-foot-3, 278 pounds, he might be the biggest college outside linebacker in America.
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But that is where the Huskies see him as the best fit for their defense.
“For what we are asking him to do, he can do fine,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “The biggest thing we ask those guys to do is set that edge.”
As great at Potoa’e was in high school, Lakes coach Dave Miller asked him to go one direction on defense — straight ahead at the quarterback or running back.
By the time he arrived at the UW, Potoa’e had never been asked to back pedal and do some of the other things outside linebackers have to do.
Predictably, learning a new skill, it took Potoa’e awhile to get the mechanics of the position down.
“It was probably last year when I started getting it,” Potoa’e said. “That is when I started flipping my hips, understanding schemes and where receivers are, and where to be (in zone) and (in man defense).”
Last season, he played in 13 of 14 games, making one start against Colorado. He made 19 tackles, and forced two fumbles.
Now a redshirt sophomore, Potoa’e could be poised to take that next step as a regular contributor.
This preseason camp, he has played both “Buck” (weakside linebacker in pass containment) and “Sam” (strong-side linebacker used as a pass rusher). He has shared those duties with the likes of returners Tevis Bartlett and Connor O’Brien, who all figure to be in the starting mix.
“I am versatile,” Potoa’e said. “Being down and putting my hand in the dirt, or being outside — either way, it works. And my size falls to my advantage.”
Bob Gregory, the Huskies’ linebackers coach, said it was a wait-and-see thing with Potoa’e when he first came to the university.
“You never can quite tell until you get him here ... how much (weight) can he carry,” Gregory said. “But if his body can do it, and he moves effectively, he can play that position.”
His brother, Sione, who played defensive tackle for the Huskies, was a squat 6-2, 280.
Potoa’e has been able to keep the added weight off of his taller frame.
“It is a battle for him because of his genetics,” Kwiatkowski said. “He is a big kid. He is big-boned. But he has done a nice job with (his weight).”
Now, it is his time to be an impactfull contributor.
“I feel like I am much better,” Potoa’e said. “(Playing linebacker) is starting to be more mental than physical, just knowing where to be.
“It doesn’t take much speed out of me to be where I need to be.”
Safety Taylor Rapp and defensive lineman Jared Pulu remained out of practice. Offensive guard Nick Harris did limited work, and wore the designated “yellow” jersey for injuries Thursday. At this point, the injuries don’t appear to threaten their status for the Sept. 1 season opener at Rutgers. ... This was easily the Huskies’ best practice of preseason camp for their passing attack. Quarterback Jake Browning threw a long touchdown pass to Aaron Fuller late in team period, and seemed consistently a half-step ahead of the No. 1 defense.