There will be a group of fans wearing “Family Always” shirts in the stands at Husky Stadium on Saturday night. Those will be the Tutogis, who have rooting interests on both sides of the ball.
Taimi Tutogi is a junior running back for the Arizona Wildcats. Thomas Tutogi is a sophomore linebacker for the Washington Huskies.
On the Tutogi family shirts, the “A” in “Always” will be the Arizona logo. The “W” will be Washington’s logo.
Arizona fans know the wallop Taimi can deliver as a blocker and runner, so you can assume Thomas brings an equal and opposite force on defense. Add in a dollop of sibling rivalry, and a Tutogi-on-Tutogi collision could send shockwaves all the way to the family in the stands.
“I’m going to have to run into him sooner or later,” Thomas told reporters this week. “It’s not going to be pretty.”
Taimi was not made available to the media this week, as interim head coach Tim Kish continues to “put ourselves in a cocoon” following the firing of coach Mike Stoops earlier this month. Only team captains and the coaching staff were available for interviews this week.
(You can see the interview with Thomas Tutogi at Bob Condotta’s excellent Husky blog at SeattleTimes.com.)
The Tutogis, who attended Chula Vista (Calif.) High School, grew up playing on the same football teams since they were about 4 and 5 years old. Taimi is a year older.
“We always got in big fights,” Thomas said.
“In high school we were like the biggest kids on the team. He was always an offensive player and I was always a defensive player, so went heads-up all the time. It turned out pretty good.”
Thomas (6-1, 244 pounds) spent a year in junior college before enrolling at Washington in January. He said attending Arizona was a possibility but the Wildcats’ interest came too late and that UW “was my true choice.”
He has 11 tackles as a backup linebacker and special teams player.
Taimi (6-1, 250) is coming off his most impactful game of the season, carrying seven times for 32 yards and two touchdowns. He had only six rushes in the first six games.
Taimi can thank quarterback Nick Foles for his increased workload in the running game.
Not only did Foles work with the coaches to script the first dozen or so plays — Taimi carried once on the first two drives — but the quarterback wanted to feature the big back more through the game. Coaches agreed.
“One of the things that Nick Foles wanted was for Taimi to get the ball more. Us having plays for Taimi was really Nick,” said running backs coach Garret Chachere.
“It was one of those things as the running backs coach I was glad to see. I have been trying to get more guys to carry the ball because it just takes the toll, the beating, off Keola (Antolin) and Ka’Deem (Carey). I have always been pulling for Taimi to get the ball because he adds something the others don’t.
“They’re quick and they’re tough and they will break tackles, but he’s a big back, a punishing runner.”
Perhaps the most likely Tutogi crash will come on special teams. Taimi is on the kick return team and has a couple of returns this season; Thomas is on kick coverage. It’s reversed for punts. Taimi is on coverage and Thomas is on the return team.
Thomas said he is definitely looking forward to chance to tackle his older brother.
“Just for fun,” he said. “He’s the older brother, so he has done a lot of things. Growing up, we got a lot closer, so now it’s all fun and games for us.”
Thomas was watching the Arizona-UCLA game with his Washington teammates last week when Taimi scored a touchdown.
“I jumped up and was like, ‘Yeah!’ and the whole team looked at me like I was crazy,” Thomas said. “But that’s my big brother. I have love for him.”