SEATTLE — Trenton Tuiasosopo delivered some big news as he jogged off the University of Washington practice field on Tuesday.
“I’m coming back next year,” he said, his face dead serious.
It took a couple of seconds, but the Huskies’ sixth-year senior finally cracked a smile.
Tuiasosopo, a 23-year-old senior and former football star at Mariner High School, is finally ready to hang up his cleats after Saturday’s game against Cal. He’s one of two members of the Huskies’ 14-man senior class who have squeezed every last drop of juice from the fruits of athletics.
“It’s surreal. I’m not supposed to be here,” said Tuiasosopo, a reserve linebacker and a member of the Huskies’ special teams units. “I’m not supposed to be practicing, wearing the purple and gold. I stand before you a miracle. I just feel blessed to be out there playing one more time.”
Tuiasosopo and 27-year-old safety Tripper Johnson will play their final game this weekend, and the end has been a long time coming.
“It’s pretty sad,” said Johnson, a Bellevue native who spent eight seasons playing minor league baseball before coming to UW in 2008. “I thought I’d play sports forever, and it’s coming to an end. It looks like this will be my last athletic hurrah.
“It’s been a great experience, and I was fortunate. I lasted a lot longer than most of my friends. I wish I could keep playing, but in life you’ve got to move on.”
Johnson, who has had to pay his own way to UW because he played professional baseball, has a possible career already lined up after his scheduled June graduation.
He said Tuesday night that he has an offer as a sports agent, although he has not yet decided whether to do that or pursue a career in coaching.
“One way or the other, I just want to be in sports,” he said. “It might be coaching, it might be as a sports agent, or it might be in the front office of a sports team. Sports has been my whole life, ever since I was 5 years old. I don’t see anything else other than being involved in sports.”
Johnson originally signed with UW as a baseball and football recruit in 2000, but he signed with the Baltimore Orioles after being the 32nd overall pick in the draft that spring. He never got past the Class AA level, so Johnson hung up his baseball glove and decided to join the UW football team as a walk-on last fall.
Injuries in the UW secondary opened the door for Johnson to see extensive playing time at safety in 2008, but he has been used only on special teams this year.
Some of Johnson’s current teammates were in grade school when he graduated from Newport High School, so he knows “it’s time to move on.”
Said Johnson of his two years playing football at UW: “It’s been a dream-come-true. I grew up going to games, and I wanted to be a Husky all my life and play in front of 70,000 fans. It’s an experience not too many people get to have.”
Like Johnson, Tuiasosopo feels fortunate to still be playing football — for one more week, anyway.
The other thing this pair of “senior seniors” has in common is a lack of playing time. While Johnson and Tuiasosopo saw a lot of action on defense in 2008, the new coaching staff has not been too eager about letting them play anything other than special teams this season.
“It doesn’t always go the way you want it to. But what can you do but keep fighting on?” said Tuiasosopo, who started eight games at middle linebacker last year. “Once you start complaining about what you don’t have, you get to a place you don’t want to go. So what can you do but keep pressing on until the end?”
Tuiasosopo’s end has been extended longer than even he could have imagined. He actually thought last season would be his final one in a UW uniform. Tuiasosopo participated in last December’s Senior Night, then petitioned for a sixth year of eligibility. Because of a serious bicycle accident that required several surgeries in the Spring of 2005, Tuiasosopo was granted a medical redshirt and allowed to come back for one more year.
“Rarely do people walk away with five years of experience. Me? I was able to walk away with six,” he said. “So I’m just happy to be a part of this program and have a chance to go out on this note.”
Tuiasosopo would love to keep playing at another level, but he knows that Saturday is probably it for his football career.
“I’ll see where my options are after this,” he said. “But I’m pretty sure this will be my last go-around.”
Unless, of course, the NCAA grants him that magical seventh year of eligibility.
Starting center Ryan Tolar was among the Huskies who did not practice Tuesday. Head coach Steve Sarkisian said Tolar was ill. Mykenna Ikehara and Drew Schafer split time at center during Tuesday’s practice. … Sophomore linebacker Cort Dennison, who is slated to make his fourth consecutive start in place of injured E.J. Savannah, hurt his right shoulder during Tuesday’s practice. But the injury did not cost him any practice repetitions. … Cal marks the fourth ranked team that the Huskies have faced this season. UW upset No. 3 USC on Sept. 19, but has lost to 11th-ranked LSU and No. 12 Oregon. The Bears (8-3) are ranked 19th in the AP poll.