Ranked fifth in the nation, there were few defenses better than Washington in college football this season.
And at the heart of it all was Vita Vea, who on Tuesday was named the Pac-12 Conference’s Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year.
He’s the fourth Husky to win the award and its the fifth time in program history a UW player has captured the honor. Defensive lineman Steve Emtman won it in 1990 and again in 1991. Linebacker Dave Hoffman earned the honor in 1992 with linebacker Jason Chorak being UW’s most recent winner in 1996.
The 6-foot-5 and 340 pound defensive tackle ended the regular season with 38 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He anchored UW’s line which heads into the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl with the No. 1 rushing defense in America. No. 11 UW (10-2) will play No. 9 Penn State (10-2) on Dec. 30 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
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Offensive coordinators around the conference would often try to contain the powerful Vea with double teams in an attempt to slow him down. His ability to surge through and force the issue is why many publications, including USA Today, project Vea as a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Earlier in the day, Vea was one of five Huskies selected to the conference’s all-football first team. He was joined by offensive linemen Kaleb McGary, Coleman Shelton, safety Taylor Rapp and Dante Pettis, who was selected as a receiver and a returner.
Vea was also named UW’s defensive Most Valuable Player at the team’s award banquet Sunday. On Monday, he was named a finalist for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.
Rated by Rivals as a three-star prospect, Vea starred at Mipitas High (Calif.) and was considered to be the No. 21 defensive end in the nation. He finished with 296 tackles and 19 sacks in high school and as a senior, recorded 89 tackles plus eight sacks.
Vea delayed his enrollment by a year and took a redshirt in 2014.
His tenure began in 2015 when he played in all 13 of UW’s games and finished with 17 tackles and three tackles for loss.
The following season saw Vea take a step forward in his development. He played in 14 games and established himself by having 39 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss in 2016 to help the Huskies reach the College Football Playoff Semifinal.
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark