Thursday, September 8, 2011
Tuiasosopo so much more than a volunteer
By Ramona Shelburne
LOS ANGELES -- Back home in Washington he is a legend. Recognizable to everyone, beloved by all. There might be seventeen letters in Marques Tuiasosopo's name, but most know him by only three, "Tui."
He isn't just the guy who led Washington to an 11-1 record and the Rose Bowl in 2000, or the only player in NCAA history to amass 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing in the same game. He is one of the enduring symbols of an era when the Huskies were perennial contenders in the Pacific 10 Conference and on the national stage.
Marques Tuiasosopo is a volunteer assistant with the Bruins and a link to Rick Neuheisel's glory days as coach at Washington.
Here in Los Angeles however, he's the guy who sets up the room for UCLA's quarterbacks meetings and makes coffee in the work room if Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel asks.
He's the intern. A volunteer coach, limited to office work, yelling encouragement at UCLA's players on the sidelines, and listening in on coaches meetings.
And, yes, he's here by choice.
"If you want to start out in this business, you have to be willing to grind it out," he said without the slightest hint of annoyance or embarrassment.
"And I want to do this for a living. I really feel a calling to this. I love working with the kids, being around them, sharing some of the experiences I learned throughout my career."
The original plan was for Tuiasosopo to be a graduate assistant, but that's on hold because of an NCAA rule which restricts programs from employing graduate assistants who are more than seven years out of college.
Tuiasosopo left Washington in 2001, then played eight seasons in the NFL, primarily with the Raiders, before returning to UW as a strength coach in 2009.
UCLA has appealed the case, but for now it means that the Bruins have one of the most qualified interns in all of college football.
"It's by a glitch that he's not allowed to be a graduate assistant and hopefully it'll be remedied," said Neuheisel, who coached Tuiasosopo in his junior and senior years at Washington.
"Because there couldn't be a better guy to help teach kids what that next level is really about and how fleeting it can be.
"What I appreciate is that there's a stigma some of these NFL guys have that they're going to have a hard time learning the craft of coaching because they're not wanting to go through the steps or climb the ladder.
"Marques is anything but. He's got so much self confidence that he doesn't mind being subservient as is the normal role for an intern or GA as they go up through the system."
Besides holding the title of graduate assistant, one of those steps on the coaching ladder is to put together a resume of diverse experiences and skills. Learning different offenses or position specific skills, working on multiple coaching staffs, taking on a wide-range of responsibilities.
All of which is why Tuiasosopo is here in Los Angeles after two years in Steve Sarkisian's program at Washington.
"It would've been very easy to stay and just continue in the role I was in, maybe wait for a spot to open up," he said. "But I called a lot of coaches and they said, 'You know that offense. You played in it as a pro. It won't hurt you to take a look at something else and go learn some other things somewhere else."
Though he is limited in what he can do, his presence has had an immediate impact on the players and the staff.
“I just love his competitive fire,” Neuheisel said. “I think he's just one of those guys who brightens a room. One of the reasons I wanted to revamp our staff was that I needed more of that kind of energy.”
For a guy who needs all the friends he can get these days, that's a nice energy to have around.
For Tuiasosopo, it's simply a good opportunity to get started on the second phase of his football career.
Though his NFL career was limited mostly to back-up quarterbacking, Tuiasosopo says he has no regrets.
In eight seasons, he really only had one real chance to become a starter, in 2003 he was supposed to play at length after Raiders starter Rich Gannon went on injured reserve. Instead, he sprained a knee ligament in the first game he started and sat out the rest of the year.
"There's times I think, 'I know in my heart that if I had a little bit more of an opportunity, they would've seen what they wanted to see,' " he said.
"But for whatever reason it happened the way it did, and I'm fine. Really. I look back and realize I got to live a dream. Was it what I totally dreamed? No. But when you look at the big picture, I was very blessed."