Tuiasosopo headed in right direction
Seattle Times staff reporter
The story of a player who gets in trouble then says later that he has learned from his mistakes and turned his life around is such a sports cliché that it barely registers anymore.
Most readers likely turn the page with a shrug, figuring it won't be long until they read about said player getting in trouble again.
So take it with a large grain of salt if you want, but those who know Zach Tuiasosopo say the best thing that might have ever happened to him was the one night he got in trouble, and that he might not be where he is today without it.
"He's just a better guy now," said UW linebacker Joe Lobendahn, whom Tuiasosopo calls his best friend on the team. "That changed everything."
"That" was the night Tuiasosopo was arrested for breaking the windows of four cars in Seattle in May 2003 after a night of drinking. He later pled guilty to malicious mischief and was ordered to attend a year of alcohol treatment as part of his punishment.
In the process, Tuiasosopo also got serious about life and football, realizing he might be throwing away his future.
And now, that future looms brighter than it ever has.
Tuiasosopo is not only a co-captain and starting fullback for the Huskies, but he has been called by some draft experts as probably the best NFL prospect at his position.
"In terms of a collegiate fullback going into the NFL as a fullback, there is no one at his level," said Rob Rang, a Tacoma resident who runs a Web site dedicated to the NFL draft.
A 6-foot-2, 250-pound former linebacker, Tuiasosopo has the bulk needed to be an NFL blocker. As his career-best 50-yard run against Fresno State showed, he has just enough speed and elusiveness to be a dangerous ballcarrier. And as his five catches for 47 yards showed, his hands aren't a problem.
"He fits the mold of what they are looking for," UW offensive coordinator John Pettas said. "He can run and catch similar to a lot of the fullbacks you see in the NFL."
Tuiasosopo admits to sneaking a peak at NFL games every once in a while to see how he measures up. He watched Sunday's Seahawks game with a keen eye on New Orleans rookie fullback Mike Karney, a Kentwood High grad who became friends with Tuiasosopo when the two played in a high school all-star game.
"It's not really to size yourself up but to get an idea of what it takes to play that position in the NFL," he said.
But he also says the NFL is a long way off, and he has learned his lesson about taking the present for granted.
After his arrest, Tuiasosopo moved out of the Lake City apartment he was sharing with several teammates and back to Woodinville and the first family of Seattle sports. He lives now with his parents, two sisters and younger brother Matt, who recently signed with the Mariners. Matt and Zach share a room. Only older brother Marques, a quarterback with the Raiders, lives elsewhere. Many days, Zach Tuiasosopo rides to UW with oldest sister Leslie, who is an assistant coach for the volleyball team.
"I moved in there the same weekend it happened," he said, calling it a mutual decision with his parents. "It was probably the best thing at that time for me."
Lobendahn said he noticed almost an immediate difference.
"You know that college life, partying every weekend and stuff, got him in trouble," Lobendahn said. "But when he got in trouble, he learned. You've got to learn somehow."
Tuiasosopo admits to being more placid, if not downright boring, these days.
"I went through a stage of being loud and maybe a little immature," he said. "As much as people would say I'm not, I'm pretty low-key these days."
Everywhere but on the football field, apparently, where he said he takes the same attitude he carried as a linebacker his first two years at UW — he changed after the 2001 season after a suggestion from the coaches — to fullback.
"You still have that little sense of no-holds barred at fullback," he said. "Sometimes you run or catch the ball, but half the time you have to go hit the linebacker. Either he hits you or you hit him. There's just a little more technique (to blocking), but I play it the same way I played defense."
Still, defense holds a spot in his heart. Lobendahn said Tuiasosopo asked coaches, in apparent seriousness, if he could play both ways this season and try defensive end for a few plays.
"He's still got that defensive mentality," Lobendahn said.
But that, Lobendahn said, may be about all of the old Tuiasosopo that still exists.
"It's crazy," Lobendahn said. "He used to be just one of those kids. But he's like an awesome kid now."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company