Azeem Victor fully embraces the idea of being a role model.
The Washington Huskies’ preseason All-American middle linebacker walks the walk, too, both in his kind, soft-spoken demeanor, as well as with his backpack-giveaway charity through “Azeem Dream Foundation.”
Which is a big reason Victor’s one-game suspension because of an undisclosed team-rule violation to start the 2017 season stung so much.
“You just have to learn from your experiences and everything, and keep moving forward,” said Victor Tueday in his first public comments since missing the season-opener at Rutgers. “That is what I’ve been doing.”
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Victor did not disclose what he was suspended for, but said once he served his punishment, “everybody ... came in with open arms” welcoming him back.
“I kind of put my phone away and focused on what I am going to do when I come back,” Victor said.
Since his reinstatement, Victor’s role has expanded.
After Rutgers, the fifth-year senior from Compton, California, started the next four games before coming off the bench Saturday in the Huskies’ 38-7 victory over California.
His start-of-game absence prompted reporters to ask UW coach Chris Petersen during his weekly Monday press conference if Victor was completely healthy.
Petersen confirmed his standout was fine, but that the team had a bevy of linebackers it wanted to rotate in and out of the lineup.
“We know he can play linebacker, so we’re trying to get our best guys on the field in terms of certain packages,” Petersen said. “As strange as it seems, there is a lot of complexity in terms of assignments and those things when we move a guy. ... Azeem is unique where he can do a couple of things.”
In essence, Petersen and the defensive staff have given Victor more responsibility while regulating his snaps. He cedes playing time to a teammate very deserving of being on the field — and also the guy who replaced him in the starting lineup at Rutgers – in junior Ben Burr-Kirven.
Burr-Kirven leads the Huskies by a wide margin in tackles (40). The next-best performers, safety Taylor Rapp and cornerback Myles Bryant, are at 24.
“(Burr-Kirven) is all-around good,” Victor said. “There are really no holes with him. He does his job.”
Co-defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has paired Burr-Kirven and Victor together but moved Victor near the line of scrimmage on third downs, which is something he did a lot in high school.
“Being inside, there’s a wide-range of field that you have to cover,” Victor said. “When it’s off the edge, it is a little bit more narrow getting to the quarterback. It is a little bit easier.”
Victor had his best game of the season at Colorado, notching 10 tackles and a sack in the UW’s 37-10 win over the Buffaloes.
But he has been quiet the past two games, totaling three tackles and one pass breakup.
Yet, the numbers don’t always show the impact, as cornerback Austin Joyner points out.
“He is a very, very aggressive player. That aspect about him, you’ve got to love it, especially when he is on your side,” Joyner said. “Sooner or later, he is going to make a play.”