Sept. 12, 2008
By Matt Winter
If Husky sports had a royal family, Trenton Tuiasosopo would be a part of it. His cousins, Marques and Zach, both starred for the Dawgs before leaving for the NFL. His cousin, Leslie, is a former All Pac-10 volleyball player and current assistant coach for the Huskies. His younger cousin, Ashley, currently plays outfield for the UW softball team. His younger brother, Tyler, is also making his mark at UCLA as a walk-on fullback. Growing up in a family like that, it's hard to imagine Trenton not excelling as an athlete.
"Being around my family the way we were brought up," he says, "and with me playing ball, they were always there for me and helped me in every area. They really helped me out whether it was football, basketball or wrestling. Having their guidance and their support really helped me to excel and focus on the team."
A 2004 graduate of Mariner High School in Everett, Wash., Tuiasosopo was selected to many All-State and All-America teams. After being recruited by many Pac-10 suitors, Trenton followed the path that so many Tuiasosopos did before him - he chose to hone his talents at Washington.
Tuiasosopo redshirted his initial season at the UW and in the spring of 2005, life as he knew it, would be forever altered. In March of 2005, while riding his bicycle, he swerved to avoid a jogger and crashed, causing severe head injuries. The accident left the previously invincible Tuiasosopo battered and broken. He remembered nothing of the accident when he woke up in the hospital.
"I didn't even know how bad it was until I finally got out of surgery and got back home," he remembers.
That surgery included placing nine titanium plates in his face, having reconstructive surgery on the entire left side of his face, and repairing a cut from ear to ear that needed 200-plus stitches. When it came to getting better, he remembers having to overcome the mental shock of the injury just as much as the physical consequences.
"After every accident, people always say, `Why me?'" Tuiasosopo says on his initial shock. "When I figured out what had happened to me and how bad it was, I was praying `Thank God that I'm actually alive to be here.'"
After intense rehab Tuiasosopo was able to come back for the 2006 season, although he admitted that he was not quite 100 percent recovered from the injuries. He had limited playing time, mostly on special teams, but 2006 was less about standing out and more about getting used to playing football again.
"Everyone knows this is a physical and violent game," he explained. "I was eager to get back to playing, but I was unsure of how I would be able to perform with my face being the way it was. My first time coming back I was really timid -- I really was not trying to use my head to hit or tackle or anything. I'd go out before practice and pray, `Lord watch over me let's have a good practice,' and I'd go out there and see what I can do."
He admits that it was a gradual process. After a two seasons of rehabilitation and scattered playing time, Tui was ready to go in 2007. Listed as a co-starter at middle linebacker with Donald Butler, it was time to get rid of his inhibitions and start playing football the way he had played before the accident. In the Dawgs' first game at Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, Tui showed he was ready from the get-go. On the game's first play from scrimmage, the Orangemen ran a swing pass to the sideline that Tuiasosopo was manning. He was able to chase down the runner and make the play -- recording the first tackle of the season.
"It was a very emotional moment for me because I hadn't played in such a long time and being able to play, start, and make the first play, I was like, `Alright, let's start rolling from here,'" he says.
"That's something I'll remember forever, because I don't want to take anything for granted after what has happened to me."
That perspective on life is what has changed his perspective on football for the better. No longer do top-10 teams and All-American linemen intimidate him.
"I don't care who I'm going against now. I don't care who I have got next week. I don't care what I got right now, I'm going to get it done," he says. "It's always been about the team so wherever they need me--scout team or out on the field--whatever they want me to do, I'm going do it. I'm just blessed to be here and do what I can."
Hoping to build off of his 39 tackles in 2007, Tuiasosopo enters his senior season again in the mix with the linebacking corps -- a group much more experienced than they were a season ago. Despite all that has happened, he still has hopes of taking football to the next level. Fortunately for the Huskies, his departure may still be two years off after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
"I'll go through this year, hopefully I'll have a good season, and then see what the [NFL] has in store for me," he says. "And if not, I have a degree under my belt and if possible, I might go for my masters."
While Tuiasosopo has many choices ahead of him after the season, there is one thing that is for certain. There will be a clan of Tuiasosopos supporting him and rooting for him along the way.