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One Tutogi is good for Arizona; two would have been better

Taimi Tutogi

Taimi Tutogi will be playing against his brother in college for the second time. Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE

There will be two Tutogi brothers on the turf at Arizona Stadium on Saturday night, eager to compete against each other, eager to beat each other.

Oh, if only they were on the same team.

Senior Taimi Tutogi will continue his dual role as a fullback/third-down defensive end for Arizona. When he’s on offense, he’ll be watching for No. 50 for Washington, junior linebacker Thomas Tutogi, who leads the Huskies in tackles.

Sounds like someone the Arizona defense could use right now.

But the former UA coaching staff only nibbled at Thomas after his one season at Southwestern College in the Tutogis’ hometown of Chula Vista, Calif.

“I was actually really disappointed because my brother had offers from USC and Washington, and those are two pretty good schools,” Taimi said.

“If teams like that are recruiting my brother, I figured it would be a steal here. He actually wanted to wait until we offered him, and for some reason, we never got around to it. I was upset at the time. But on Signing Day, I told him he had to make a decision.

“I said, ‘Don’t worry about coming here. Hopefully, we’ll meet again one day on the same field, on the same team. But right now it’s about you and you have to make the best decision for you. And whatever decision you make, they’re both Pac-12 schools, so we’ll see each other soon or later.’”

They saw each other last season, when Washington beat Arizona 42-31 in Seattle. They collided a few times on special teams.

“We had fun contact all night,” Taimi said.

“I was on punt last year and he was on punt return, so I would walk up to the line because I make the calls and I would just talk a little bit of mess. No matter what guy he had, he made it a point to come try to get me.

“A couple of times on kickoff returns, he swore he blasted me. We saw on film that it was like a double team. I let him have that one.”

On Saturday, with Thomas seeing much more time at linebacker, the chances of a two-Tutogi crash are greater than last season.

Taimi’s role on offense has been diminished this season because of the extra workload on defense, but he is coming off a game in which he three catches for 25 yards vs. Stanford. With just one carry, he’s still a valuable blocker, seeking out linebackers, such as his brother.

Thomas has 38 tackles, although he’s technically a starter.

“He plays a lot,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.

“He’s almost always in there in the fourth quarter. He’s like their closer.”

Last year, the Tutogi family made special T-shirts, bearing the slogan “Family Always” to wear in the stands. The “A” in “Always” was the Arizona logo. The “W” was the Washington’s logo. Taimi said his family has come up with a new T-shirt design for this season.

“Everybody that is affiliated with my family is going to have a shirt on,” he said.

“I’m sure you won’t be able to miss them. The majority of them is going to be on the Washington side, just because I’m on the home team, but I have some family coming sitting on the Arizona side. They’ll all be supporting both of us.”

Taimi, who is 13 months older, was the bigger prospect in high school. Thomas didn’t have the same scholarship opportunities after high school; hence, the detour to junior college, where he quickly blossomed.

“When I didn’t get picked up out of high school, my brother was always there for me,” Thomas was quoted as saying in the Seattle Times this week. “He said, ‘Just keep grinding. Got to keep grinding.’ And sure enough, I went to a JC and did what I had to do.”

And now “little brother” is doing fine on his own, so Taimi said he is no longer disappointed that the former UA coaches didn’t offer him a scholarship.

“I’m proud of what he’s doing now. I’m actually glad he didn’t come here because my whole life he’s kind of been under my shadow,” Taimi said.

“I want him to go somewhere else and make a name for himself on a stage like this and just represent the Tutogi last name.”

And what will be his final message to Thomas before they meet as rivals Saturday?

“To be honest, probably, ‘I love you,’” Taimi said.

“‘Play hard. Don’t look at me as your brother when we’re out there, I’m still a Wildcat. Don’t take any of this personal. At the end of the day I’m going to still love you.’

“That’s pretty much it.”

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