Oct. 11, 2006
by Joshua Mayers
SEATTLE -- Fullback Mark Palaita was not recruited to play football at Washington. In fact, he was denied admission on his first application to the UW.
Years later, a degree in American Ethnic Studies already in hand, Palaita is a critical ingredient in a dangerous Husky offense.
"He's a hammer, he's a physical kid," offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said. "When we line up in two backs, he's the nuts and bolts of it. He's a team guy and a great leader; he means a lot [to this offense]."
Growing up in Hawaii, Palaita always played football. From the early Pop Warner days to playing varsity years at Waipahu High School, he was always comfortable on the gridiron.
Despite a first-team, All-League selection and All-State consideration after his senior season at Kennedy High School in Burien, Wash., Palaita was never heavily recruited. Joining his older brother at the University of Washington, he decided to walk on to the team his sophomore year of school.
The pace of Division I football caught him by surprise.
"Oh man, the adjustment was tough," the senior said. "In high school things are really slow; you can see things develop. It was kind of difficult for me to adjust to Division I play and faster pace of the game."
Originally on the team as a linebacker, Palaita eventually moved to fullback - a position he has started at for the past two seasons. Although he admits excitement when he gets to "carry the rock," the powerful, 245-pounder is content with helping his teammates succeed.
"I just try to go out there and do my job being a hard-nosed fullback trying to open up holes," he said. "I know my role on this team. I know my role in the offense. I just want to go out there and help my team get the win."
Paving the way for two of the Pac-10's top-10 leading rushers, his team-first attitude has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.
"He's a great guy, a very humble guy," said tailback Louis Rankin. "He gives everything his all. In everything he does he works his hardest."
As a walk-on, Palaita knew success would not come easy. Having to compete against scholarship athletes for playing time and recognition, he knew nothing would be guaranteed to him; everything must be earned.
And earn it he would.
Against Notre Dame last year, in the fourth quarter of an assured Irish victory, Palaita - in one of only three carries the year - barreled into the end zone on a 1-yard rush. His only career touchdown served as a reminder that hard work does bring rewards.
"Starting off as a walk-on and earning the starting job, then being able to score a touchdown, it's a great feeling," said Palaita. "These coaches gave me a shot, they gave me an opportunity to go out there and prove myself, Coach Willingham especially. I really thank him for that."
Palaita cannot express enough how much he has matured in his years as a Husky. When asked about his favorite memory here at the UW, Palaita did not hesitate to credit his cherished friendships with his teammates.
"There is nothing like the relationships I have built with these guys," Palaita said. "Ever since I came to UW, they have accepted me. The guys on the team, I have so much love for them. The thing I'm going to miss most is that camaraderie."
Off to an impressive 4-2 start this season, Palaita insists that there is more work to be done. With that workman-like attitude, there are surely more rewards in store for the Husky fullback.