The Tuiasosopos are UW's First Family of Athletics
When Leslie Tuiasosopo decided to come to Montlake 14 years ago, little did she know that in her wake a flood of brothers, sisters and cousins would become Huskies as well
Inevitably, her little sister Ashley would be outside, holding a cell phone and waving as she crossed a footbridge at the UW campus.
Separated by 11 years, the Tuiasosopo sisters spent much of the 2008-09 school year fostering their sibling relationship. They talked on the phone every day and started having dinners together once, sometimes twice, a month. Where they had once been more like a baby and her sitter, the Tuiasosopos finally felt like sisters. It could be said that being at UW together helped bridge the family ties.
These days, that sibling connection has increased by one member.
Three-fifths of the First Family of UW athletics are back on campus this fall, now that former football star Marques Tuiasosopo is helping out with the football team as a weight room assistant.
The most famous surname in Husky sports has certainly brought the school some memories, including two national titles and a Rose Bowl championship between the trio currently on campus. Not a bad haul for one single family.
Ashley Tuiasosopo, who will be a junior this fall, became the latest family member to receive honors when her UW softball team won the national title last spring. Older sister Leslie has been an assistant coach for the Huskies volleyball team for nine years, so she was part of the 2005 squad that won an NCAA championship.
While Marques Tuiasosopo may be the most famous sibling, he doesn't have bragging rights when it comes to national championship rings.
“That was something I was always gunning for while I was here,” said Marques, who now works with the football team but is not an official member of the coaching staff. “I'm definitely happy my sister could be a part of that (2009 softball) team and that my other sister was able to coach on a national championship team. That's cool. That's what you shoot for. I'm extremely happy for them.”
Not that Marques Tuiasosopo's UW career was a failure — not by any stretch.
As little sister Ashley pointed out when asked whether the Tuiasosopo girls have teased Marques about his lack of a national title: “He has a Rose Bowl ring, and was a Rose Bowl MVP. So there's not a lot we can say.”
The Tuiasosopo family has been around UW athletics for 14 years, dating back to when Leslie Tuiasosopo came to the school as a volleyball player in 1995. The interesting part of her arrival is that UW wasn't originally in Leslie's plans.
The volleyball star visited Minnesota, Illinois, Arizona and USC and had no thoughts of staying close to home. But when her parents — Manu and Tina — pushed her to at least look at UW, Leslie Tuiasosopo reluctantly agreed to make a courtesy visit.
“I was like, OK, what could it hurt?” said Leslie, who went on to become an All-Pac-10 volleyball player for the Huskies in the late 1990s. “And when I made my visit here, I just had this feeling.”
One by one, the other four Tuiasosopo siblings followed suit on signing day.
Marques Tuiasosopo led the UW football team to a Rose Bowl and is considered by most to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the program. Zach Tuiasosopo, now 26 and living in Issaquah, played fullback for the Huskies from 2001 through 2004. Youngest brother Matt Tuiasosopo signed on to play football at UW but ended up getting drafted by the Seattle Mariners, for whom he finished the season earlier this month. And then Ashley Tuiasosopo joined the softball team, for which she spent most of the 2009 championship season as a reserve outfielder watching from the bench.
That doesn't even count several cousins who have gone to the school, including three who are currently at UW — football player Trenton Tuiasosopo and volleyball manager Lindsay Tuiasosopo, both of whom are from Everett, and Bellingham native Dante Aure.
Looking back on it, Leslie Tuiasosopo is surprised that her entire family followed in her Husky footsteps.
“Growing up, with my dad being a UCLA alum, we did the eight-clap as kids,” she said, referring to a famous Bruin fan cheer. “So I thought for sure one of us would end up there.”
While having an older sibling at UW didn't necessarily make the college choice for Marques, the former Husky quarterback said that Leslie's decision to go to UW “definitely helped. She was here to help me out and watch over me. It was definitely one of the factors in why I chose to come here.”
Although it's only been 14 years, the Tuiasosopo family seems like it has been dominating Husky sports for the better part of two centuries.
“It's ubiquitous with winning and excellence and everything that Husky athletics stand for,” athletic director Scott Woodward said when asked what the Tuiasosopo name means to the university. “They're class people, a real strong family unit. They're everything we embody in a true student-athlete.
“When I think of them, it's synonymous with Husky athletics.”
The athletic success of the Tuiasosopo family has been about more than just bloodlines. Competition was a constant throughout the five siblings' formative years, even when they were at home playing Scattergories, Spinners or cards.
“We've got a lot of cheaters in the family and a lot of people who talk smack,” Ashley Tuiasosopo cracked. “So it can get a little ugly at family dinners like Easter and Thanksgiving.”
Ashley, the youngest of the five siblings, added that watching her older brothers and sister play sports helped build her own competitive fire.
“I grew up at the baseball field, at the volleyball court, at the football field,” she said. “I was the little kid at my brothers' games that had a glove or a basketball, playing on the side. I don't think I even watched the games much; I was too busy playing catch.”
As family lore goes, when Tina Tuiasosopo was pregnant with her fifth child in 1989, 11-year-old Leslie threatened to run away if the baby turned out to be another little brother.
“So when I was a girl, she promised that she'd take care of me,” said Ashley, who used to know Leslie mainly as a babysitter because of their age difference. “She was always protecting me from boys.”
Now, the Tuiasosopo sisters are as close as they've ever been. In addition to their daily acknowledgement from the footbridge, and the championship rings in separate sports, the Tuiasosopo girls have formed a close, sisterly bond that never seemed possible when they were younger.
“She's become my best friend,” Ashley said. “We'll talk about boys and makeup and sports. We've definitely grown. It's no longer the go-to-your-room talk; it's an actual conversation.”
Said Leslie: “I guess it's more of a friendship relationship than a mother relationship because I never tell her what to do.”
Not that Leslie, who recently got engaged, doesn't still protect her baby sister from boys.
“Whenever I tell her I like someone,” Ashley said, “she always does her homework. She's a coach, so she goes through her coaching world and asks around.”
The bad news, for Husky fans, is that Ashley marks the last of the Tuiasosopo line. This Tuiasosopo line, anyway. Marques has a nine-month-old son, Brayden, while Leslie plans to eventually start a family with fiancée Anthony Gabriel, a former Stanford football player who now works in academic services at UW.
“So I'm looking forward to giving national letters of intent for birth gifts,” joked Woodward, the UW athletic director.
Marques Tuiasosopo said he's in no hurry to pick a college for his son, and the fact that wife, Lisa, played volleyball at the University of North Carolina could eventually lead to a household recruiting war.
“By that time, a lot of years will have passed,” said Marques, who spent the past eight years playing professional football with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets. “You just want what's best for your kid. He'll decide what's best for him.”
The Tuiasosopos certainly have given the University of Washington their best. UW's First Family of sports has left a mark, and three siblings aren't finished yet. There are still a few bridges left to be crossed.
“It's fun to be able to see them,” Marques said. “I've been away from here awhile, so it's nice to be back home.”
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