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Washington's "Tui" more than meets the eye
By Marc Connolly
BCSfootball.com

It was the fall of 1991. Nirvana was just starting to explode, Magic Johnson was leaving the NBA after revealing he had the HIV virus, and "Northern Exposure" was considered must-see TV.

Miami, the dominant behemoth of the '80s, and Washington were on one of those pre-BCS non-collision courses where someone would have to lose in order to decide the national championship. Neither of them lost. More in tune to this developing situation rather than the Grunge uprising in Seattle, 12-year-old Marques Tuiasosopo begrudgingly sat through Huskies games with his friends in nearby Woodinville, Wash.

Marques Tuiasosopo
Miami's defense will have to contend with Marques Tuiasosopo.
"I watched the (Washington) games because I was a huge fan of college football, but I wasn't a big fan of the Huskies," said Tuiasosopo, Washington's dazzling senior quarterback. "I just remember watching it with all my friends because they were die-hard Huskies. We used to get into all kinds of arguments. Same with when Miami played U-Dub in '94."

That's because he was a fan of another Pac-10 team, the one that his father, Manu, played for before an eight-year career in the NFL as a defensive lineman.

"When I was younger, I really thought I'd play quarterback for UCLA," said the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder who has been voted as team captain the past two seasons. "I didn't start liking the Huskies until high school."

Now he is a Husky, just six years after rooting against Washington when it ended Miami's vaunted home-winning streak in the Orange Bowl. He is the main figure standing in the way of a victory and a run at the national championship for the No. 4 Hurricanes. Seeking to stake his claim for his now-beloved Huskies in front of a rare national audience, Tuiasosopo is more than just another pigskin-slinging 21-year-old in what has been dubbed "The Year of the Quarterback."

Like the Breeses, the Vicks, the Weinkes and the Crouches, he has all the stats and accolades: He is the only player in NCAA history to rush for more than 200 yards (207) and pass for more than 300 (302) in a single game; set a new UW single-season record with 2,762 yards of total offense, while his 2,221 passing yards were the fifth-most in Washington history; was named second-team All-Pac-10 last season, and was this year's preseason MVP in the conference.

But it's his mental and physical toughness, down-to-earth nature and Navy Seal-like leadership abilities that have made him a bigger legend in the eyes of his teammates and coaches than any of the purple-clad crazies at Husky Stadium on Saturdays.

ABC analyst Gary Danielson
"Marques has a great opportunity these next two games (Miami and Colorado). He is going to get plenty of national attention and this is going to be make-or-break for Washington.

"If the Huskies win these next two ball games, they are going to enter the national stage."

"He doesn't just talk the talk. He walks the walk, and I think people respect him for that," said Washington head coach Rick Neuheisel, himself a former quarterback at UCLA. "He has got the desire, the work ethic, the charisma, and unbelievable leadership skills. He is one of those types of players who causes all the other players around him to take their game up a notch, just because you want to be like him.

"It's easy to want to be around a guy like that. He is a great role model for our entire team. The sky is the limit for this guy, It's fortunate we have a team leader that is as well-respected as Marques."

"He leads by example," said safety and special teams commando Nick Olszewski. "That's one of the things I admire about him. He's not a big talker. He never sits in the back, always up front. He puts himself in situations where, frankly, I wouldn't want to be in, but that's how he leads. I think everyone respects that, which is why he keeps getting voted captain. He deserves everything he gets because he works for everything, and everyone looks up to him."

No one on the team knows him better than Olszewski, who is his cousin and someone he's roomed with in college.

"He comes from a great line of leaders," said the junior from Lake Washington High School, one of the rivals of Tuiasosopo's Woodinville High. "He had a very good childhood and a great upbringing."

When you're one of 14 family members to either play collegiate or pro football, volleyball or basketball, it's hard to stand out and make a name for yourself. But at the same time, being around his father and uncles (most notably Jesse Sapolu of the San Francisco 49ers) in NFL locker rooms went a long way in keeping him grounded and not one seeking attention from the media and his peers.

"He's just a happy-go-lucky guy, who has the same troubles we do like credit card bills and stuff," said Olszewski. "He likes where he's at, but I think sometimes he wishes he could just fall away in the bushes and not have everyone know who he is."

Tuiasosopo admits that he just wants to be a normal college student, but doesn't think any of his budding fame or the fact that much of Washington's Pac-10 title dreams rests on his shoulders make him uptight in the least bit.

"It's not too bad at all," said Tuiasosopo, who considers himself a passing quarterback though he ran for 541 yards and six touchdowns last year to go along with his 2,221 passing yards and 12 TDs through the air. "I don't feel any pressure being one of the leaders. I think pressure is just worrying about things you can't control."

Shunning a baseball career (the Minnesota Twins drafted him in the 28th round of the 1997 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft) to sit on the sidelines for two years behind Brock Huard, "Tui" believes it was meant to happen that way.

"Learning from him (Huard) was the best thing that happened to me in terms of development and growth -- watching him and how he dealt with the team."

One of those ways is through his tireless work ethic and mental stability to take as many hits from the coaches even though he's the star of the team.

"He's not the type of quarterback that does everything perfect, so the coaches are always on his butt for something," said Olszewski. "Because of that, he looks at every game as a chance to get better and test himself. Whether it's Oregon State or Miami, he doesn't care."

"I work hard and hopefully the other guys see that," said Tuiasosopo. "I won't hesitate to be vocal at the same time. It's important that the team stays together. If things start coming apart, I'm not afraid to step in and try to keep it all together."

That's what he'll have to do on Saturday against a lightning-quick Miami defense that won't be intimidated with his multi-faceted play. What Miami doesn't know are the things that don't show up as easily on film or in the statsheet.

"They'll see I'm a battler," said Tui. "Someone who always goes all out, that never says die, and does what it takes --- whether it be a pass, a run, or a block to get the bottom line done."

If that happens, there's one man who won't be surprised.

"He's capable of the whole enchilada. He can be an all-American quarterback. He can win a Heisman Trophy," said Neuheisel. "Those things aren't necessarily in his control because they have a lot to do with media attention and the way the ball bounces, but he is capable of the whole thing and anything he achieves this year will not surprise me.

"He is a dream to coach."

Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online.


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