Brotherly Love - In the Guard-Center Gap
Oct. 16, 2012
SEATTLE - Thomas Tutogi has been getting pummeled by Taimi for years.
Around the house. In reputations within the San Diego-area teen scene. And in athletics, where they were always on the same team from Pop Warner through Chula Vista High School.
Did his big brother - 20 pounds heavier and a year older -- lord over him?
"Growing up? All the time," Thomas says now with a laugh. "He was always bigger than me. He got the best of me into high school.
"I really wasn't recruited out of high school. When we went out, it was always, `There's Taimi Tutogi ... and his little brother.' I never minded that."
Then in 2010, after Thomas was an all-league tackling machine at Southwestern College, a junior college in the Tutogis' hometown, the Huskies offered a scholarship. Thomas would be playing in the same Pac-12 in which Taimi was playing, at Arizona.
Taimi and his family threw a party for Thomas.
"I want to say that was the first time I ever heard him say that he was proud of me," Thomas said with a smile Tuesday, after practicing with his Huskies (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) for Saturday night's game against Taimi's Wildcats (3-3, 0-3) in Tucson.
"I was a happy kid that day."
The Tutogi brothers will reunite at Arizona Stadium this week. Perhaps literally.
Thomas is UW's largest linebacker. He stuffs the middle on running downs and is still refining his pass-coverage skills.
Taimi, at 6 feet 1 and 260 pounds, is a two-way, senior defensive lineman and fullback for U of A. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said Tuesday Taimi is playing about 25 snaps per game on the defensive line out of necessity, and that he "still has an important role on offense."
That means Thomas and Taimi could be saying hello to each other in the "A" gap, between the guard and center, Saturday.
"He's my brother. I love the guy to death," Thomas said. "I expect to see him. He still plays a lot of fullback."
Then he added with a big grin, "I'm hoping to run into him."
Thomas ran into LSU ball carriers a career-high dozen times last month as that game's leading tackler. The 6-1, 244-pound sophomore continued fulfilling his role as UW's run-stopping linebacker with 10 more stops as the Huskies throttled both Stanford's running game and the eighth-ranked Cardinal.
Even after losing 10 pounds to become faster getting off blocks this season, Tutogi is UW's heaviest linebacker -- by far. His listed at 17 pounds more than any other. The Huskies came into this season thinking he could be a middle-linebacker option against more power-based offenses such as Stanford, that he could perhaps eventually replace 2011 senior captain and middle linebacker Cort Dennison in that rugged role.
Now, after four tackles at No. 2 Oregon and five more against 11th-ranked USC, Tutogi is facing a personal challenge Saturday beyond his older brother. Arizona's pass offense with fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Scott is the best in the conference and fifth-best in the nation averaging 371 yards per game.
"Personally, I feel I need to work on my pass coverage and my drops," said Thomas, who has rotated in and out of UW's defense on passing downs this season. "The way our defense is, we go back and forth depending on the formations. Sometimes I can play outside and sometimes I'm inside.
"This defense asks you to be quicker on your feet, more of a speed type, against certain opponents. And then we have a lot of packages, our nickel and our base packages. It varies."
Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian and Arizona's Rodriguez both know this is more than just a Pac-12 game in the middle of October for these Tutogis.
Asked on the league's weekly coaches' teleconference Tuesday if he sensed any extra excitement out of Taimi this week, Rodriguez said from Tucson: "Not out of him. There is out of us. We've been teasing him quite a bit.
"This should be extra special for him."
Sarkisian knows his Tutogi will be extra amped, too. So will their parents, Esperanza and Daniel Tutogi.
"It's kind of cool for them, and I'm sure for their family," Sarkisian said. "I'm sure both guys want to get a chance to hit each other a bit."
The Tutogi brothers played against each other last season at Husky Stadium but were on opposite special teams - punt versus punt-return units, kickoff and kickoff-return teams.
They have a football lineage that includes uncles that played collegiately at Iowa State and Northern Arizona. Former Chargers All-Pro linebacker and San Diego community pillar Junior Seau was a second cousin on his father Daniel's side.
When Thomas got the news that Seau had killed himself in his beachfront home in the north San Diego suburb of Oceanside on May 2, Tutogi said "it was devastating, just because I know his family" - though he never got to know Seau personally.
As news began linking Seau's suicide to possible imbalance from repeated brain trauma during his NFL career, Tutogi said it was a harsh reminder of the brutality of their sport.
Thomas may not be playing it anymore were it not for the encouragement he got from Taimi after the younger brother graduated from Chula Vista High and found no viable scholarship offers.
"When I didn't get picked up out of high school, my brother stayed behind me. He just told me, `Keep grindin','" Thomas said. "He told me not to play for a scholarship or play for anything else - just to play for me and let the pieces fall where they may.
"And they did. I ended up here. I'm blessed to be here."
Thomas said Arizona came to visit him a couple of times at Southwestern College. But the Wildcats never offered him a scholarship.
Now, they are offering a chance for a unique reunion of brothers.
Between the hash marks.
INSIDE THE DAWGS: On a sunny, cool morning, Sarkisian had the Huskies inside for practice at UW's Dempsey facility for the first time this season. The idea was to try to simulate a higher air temperature in advance of the trip to Tucson. The high there Saturday is predicted to be 92, and still in the 80s and 70s as the 7:07 p.m. game goes on. ... Arizona runs a 3-3-5 defense as its base, with five defensive backs and interchangeable personnel. That has Sarkisian and his offensive staff stressing blocking the correct defensive position and not focusing on jersey numbers or specific players in assignments this week. Sarkisian said Arizona essentially uses six defensive backs, since second-leading tackler Marquis Flowers has moved up from safety to essentially a linebacker. UW has made a similar move with freshman Shaq Thompson on its defense.