SEATTLE — While a handful of University of Washington freshmen got thrown into the cold, deep water of college football last fall, the experience of making the transition for high school could be even more frustrating for those who never got their chance.
Two of them, defensive lineman Tani Tupou of Archbishop Murphy High School and offensive lineman Dexter Charles of Stanwood High, are Snohomish County products who are happy to have their redshirt season in the rearview mirror.
“It was hard, especially coming from Murphy, where I was always playing both ways,” said Tupou, a 275-pound freshman who has been running with the No. 2 defense this spring. “Other than that, it was a humbling experience. A real humbling experience.
“… It was going from big fish in a small pond to little fish in the ocean. All these guys out here, they’re all good.”
After watching from the sidelines on Saturdays last fall, Tupou and Charles are hoping that spring opportunity leads to playing time in the fall. A third local product, senior safety Justin Glenn from Kamiak High School, is hoping to impress his third coaching staff in five years to find a role of his own.
“Everybody has a clean slate, and everybody’s competing,” said Glenn, who has been holding down the starting free safety position at camp but should get a stiff challenge from incoming prized freshman Shaq Thompson in the fall. “Competition just makes everybody better. So that’s just going to make us better as we progress to fall camp and all that stuff.”
For UW’s 2011 redshirts, just being a part of the competition is a step in the right direction. Charles is reveling in his shot to work at left guard with the No. 1 offense this camp while teammates Colin Porter, Colin Tanigawa and Erik Kohler rest injuries.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Charles said of the possibility of earning a starting job in the fall. “Once I’ve proven myself to the coaches, and once I’ve proven it to myself, I feel like, come fall, I’ll be ready to play.”
Charles wasn’t initially that excited about sitting out the 2011 season as a redshirt, but he said the experience has helped him become a better player.
“Looking back now, I’m like: ‘Wow, I’m so glad I redshirted,’” Charles said earlier this week, after such an impressive Monday practice that senior teammate Drew Schaefer called him the most improved member of the offensive line. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to play, and I wouldn’t have been good at all. So I’m really happy I redshirted. I think it’s going to help me a lot.”
Tupou, a three-star recruit who also considered BYU, Notre Dame and four other Pacific-10 Conference schools before signing with UW, said the experience of sitting out as a redshirt only motivated him more.
“When you see your team go out there, and you’re on the sidelines cheering, you only wish that you’re out there,” he said. “That helped fuel the fire a lot.”
Glenn, who is one of only five recruits left over from coach Tyrone Willingham’s final recruiting class, is fueled by a different kind of motivation. He has only one more year to make an impact at UW, and he doesn’t want to let go of his position at the top of the depth chart.
“They told us since the first day: every position’s open,” he said this week. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been starting for three years, that’s what it is. But being that I am an upperclassman, I am a senior, I feel like I’m in more of a leadership role this year, developing and getting guys in the right position.”
Glenn already has competition from fellow senior Nate Fellner, who has started 20 games over the past three seasons, and the competition will only get hotter when Thompson arrives in the fall. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound incoming freshman from Sacramento was the nation’s No. 4 overall recruit by Rivals.com.
There are outsiders who believe that Thompson will be starting sooner rather than later, but Glenn isn’t letting the addition of a five-star recruit distract him.
“You really can’t think about that,” he said when asked about Thompson being added to the mix in the fall. “All you can think of is what you can take care of on the field. Do your job, and let the rest kind of take care of itself.”