Washington’s Benning Potoa’e in the first half of a Sept. 23, 2017, game in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Washington’s Benning Potoa’e in the first half of a Sept. 23, 2017, game in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Diet change has positive impact on Huskies linebacker Potoa’e

SEATTLE — Benning Potoa’e will not be swayed either by a Burger King or a Dairy Queen. Nor will his circle of friends include the likes of anyone named Arby’s, Carl’s Jr. or Wendy’s.

Potoa’e’s rapid fast food vendetta started with a wager he made with former University of Washington football teammate Will Dissly more than a week ago. Dissly wagered $100 that Potoa’e cannot hold out on eating fast food until Nov. 30, the day of the Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

“I asked him how he got in shape so well because he was where I was at. He said he made a bet with one of our other teammates that he wasn’t going to eat fast food for a year,” Potoa’e recalled after practice Friday. “He made the bet with me. I did the same. We made a list of foods I can’t eat.

“In terms of how hard it is? It’s pretty hard. I’m not going to lie to you.”

Take away pocketing an extra $100. Potoa’e’s reasoning goes beyond winning a bet. Washington’s redshirt junior outside linebacker has already lost around eight pounds, and he feels better about how his body is performing. It showed during Day 3 of spring camp when the 6-foot-3 and now-267-pound former Lakes star flew around the field during drills.

He had one sack and was close to getting another. Controlled setting or not, these are glimpses that the Huskies find so inviting when it comes to Potoa’e and the kind of player he can become. A former four-star recruit, he’s played in all 26 of UW’s games over the last two seasons.

Potoa’e went from 19 tackles and two tackles for loss in 2016 to gaining 27 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks last season as a starter. The change in diet, in his mind, is the start of a ripple effect — one that could lead to him being the latest menace for a Huskies’ defense that returns nine starters from what was the No. 8 unit in the nation.

“It definitely comes out in how I feel,” he said, “regardless of how I move or not. I feel good. I feel better. I feel lighter on my feet.”

Potoa’e came to UW in 2015 after coming off a senior year at Lakes when he finished with 19 sacks and 72 tackles.

The height. The size. The speed. Such promising attributes, once harnessed at the collegiate level, could benefit the Huskies even further.

It’s taken time for Potoa’e to put it all together. Especially if that means giving up fast food.

“I see Benning just growing up,” Huskies senior defensive lineman Jaylen Johnson said. “Every player comes in. They eat whatever they want. They want to have poor work habits. I think he’s just starting to mature into the player he can be. He’s seeing that translate onto the field.”

Senior linebacker Tevis Bartlett is becoming the touchstone for all things related to any member of the Huskies’ defense in the way he can describe his teammates.

Bartlett said Potoa’e is “one of the best guys you’ll meet for sure” on the entire team. He openly admits Potoa’e is faster and can jump higher while outweighing the 238-pound Bartlett by more than 25 pounds.

An Academic All-Pac-12 First Team selection, Bartlett surrenders Potoa’e has him beat in another important category.

“Of course he has better hair,” Bartlett said of Potoa’e’s long, curly black locks that have a thick blonde streak down the left side. “He has the best hair on the team. Are you kidding me? Especially now that (Ben Burr-Kirven) cut his. It’s not even a contest.”

Bartlett said Potoa’e’s athleticism is so great that he’s told him there’s times when an opposing player has no business getting past him.

What Bartlett has seen so far from Potoa’e is a consistently relentless approach during practice while emerging into a leader for the outside linebackers.

Seniors like Bartlett and Johnson along with proven yet hungry (just not for fast food) players like Potoa’e are why Washington is in the discussion for the College Football Playoff.

Potoa’e could play a role in UW reaching the CFP for the second time in three seasons. Getting there means having to reach and then presumably win the Pac-12 Championship Game.

From there, who knows what’s next? But if it helps, there is a Carl’s Jr. and a Taco Bell less than two miles away from Levi’s Stadium.

“I can’t cut corners,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a whole lot more I didn’t put on the list on purpose but I’m trying not to eat at those places as well.”

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