Amid the rubble, UW finds a gem in sleek Tuiasosopo

September 21, 1997

Dave Boling; News Tribune columnist

Any Washington Husky football fans out there still lamenting the transfer of Shane Fortney?

Didn't think so.

If you are, you weren't paying sufficient attention to the Washington-Nebraska game Saturday.

Yes, No. 2-ranked Washington probably lost its shot at a national championship, and stellar sophomore quarterback Brock Huard, who has played flawlessly, might be temporarily derailed by a sprained ankle.

But sparkling through the grim aftermath of the Huskies' 27-14 loss to Nebraska was a remarkable kid named Marques Tuiasosopo.

Tuiasosopo. So hard to type. So fun to say.

Six melodic syllables. Flowing, fluid - like a sound track for the way he plays the game.

Tu-i-a-so-so-po.

In Samoan, it means: Poised kid with great skills.

OK, maybe it doesn't. But it could.

While some of his 18-year-old contemporaries were gearing up for the Saturday dinner rush at Dick's, or trying to figure out if their T-shirts can be washed with their jeans, Tuiasosopo was getting thrown in at quarterback for the Huskies against one of the most storied programs in college football.

All in front of 74,023 fans and a regional television audience.

Many of us believed, especially after disgruntled reserve Shane Fortney transferred out, that if Huard went down, the Huskies' hopes would turn to vapor and float off like morning fog over Lake Washington.

As it turns out, that's not the case at all.

Huard limped off at the end of the first period.

And with just his second pass, the true freshman lofted a 41-yard completion.

The numbers are a bit difficult to fathom, as he passed for 270 yards on 12 completions - with five plays exceeding 36 yards (plus a 47-yarder that was called back because of a penalty).

After the game, Huard - the nation's leader in passing efficiency, humility, leadership skills and Christian fellowship - was so disappointed that he couldn't even say how disappointed he was.

When asked about it, he just shook his head, and shook his head, and nothing came out. He could not find enough expressions of misery to measure the depth of his dismay.

But even he was "very proud" of the way Marques played.

That's what is perhaps the funniest part of all this: None of the Huskies seemed too surprised by the kid's capacity to handle the pressure.

"I told him just to flow out there and not think," Huard said, single-handedly debunking anyone's attempts to suggest that this game is a cerebral pursuit. "Usually when quarterbacks get in trouble it's when they think too much. It forces you to kind of aim balls. If you just let it flow and let your athleticism shine, you're usually pretty successful."

UW quarterbacks coach Bill Diedrick said Tuiasosopo handled the full playbook - not just the color-by-number parts.

And his composure, Diedrick said, was in keeping with his character.

"When he won the (backup job) in fall camp, the one thing that impressed not only the staff, but his upperclassmen teammates as well, was the amount of poise he showed," Diedrick said. "The first time he stepped in the huddle, it wasn't a rookie freshman coming out of high school, it was someone who had a great deal of presence and a good deal of leadership."

Fresh out of Woodinville High, Tuiasosopo scored higher in some performance-efficiency ratings than Huard, himself, Diedrick said.

Football, of course, was a cradle language for Tuiasosopo, whose father, Manu, played defensive tackle in the NFL for eight seasons.

And aside from all the important genetic coding, Manu imparted other crucial lessons to his son, lessons that allowed him to come onto the field Saturday and play with uncommon poise.

"He just really pushed us," Marques said of his father's influence. "Sometimes my sister (Leslie, a UW volleyball player) and I were like 'Come on dad, give us a break.' But he was always pushing us."

Apparently, that conditioning made Marques able to handle the grinding he took in the crucible of Husky Stadium on Saturday.

"He is very confident," receiver Jerome Pathon said. "He tried to rally us together and get us pumped up and ready to go."

It couldn't have been easy.

Consider the reaction of Nebraska's All-American defensive tackle Jason Peter to Tuiasosopo's appearance.

"I might have said something like, 'Hey, rookie, I'm gonna take your head off'," Peter admitted.

But he didn't. Largely because the speedy Tuiasosopo is difficult to catch.

Afterward, the kid played down his performance. No biggie. Hey, man, he's been through the wars in the Kingco Conference.

"It wasn't really any different than any other day," he said. "Like any other practice or game - just go out and play."

Which he did. With skill and verve and confidence.

"He showed what he can do," Diedrick said.

Yes, he did.

Faster than you can say Tuiasosopo.


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