Mathisen: Look for Tuli Letuligasenoa as Breakout Player for Huskies in 2020

The sophomore has the size and athleticism to play several positions on the defensive line

Posted on September 30, 2020

Nathan Mathisen
  By Nathan Mathisen of Dash Sports TV for SportsPac12

Every year a player seems to come out of nowhere, shocking fans by playing way better than expected. 

In this shortened and unusual season, it could be more difficult for a freshman to be that player who comes out of nowhere and makes a name for themself, like Trent McDuffie did for UW last year.

In studying the University of Washington football roster, I looked for a player who has been on the team for a couple years. Coaches will be more comfortable with them than with true freshman this year. The player themselves will also be more comfortable with their previous workouts and film study, having done it together for a couple of years.

I also was looking for a player who has an opportunity to get playing time, giving him a better chance to make an impact play that gets the coaches’ attention.

Washington’s Tuli Letuligasenoa against Eastern Washington in 2019 | Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Using this criteria to narrow the list, I came to the conclusion that the Huskies’ 2020 breakout player is going to be defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa.

Letuligasenoa went to De La Salle High School, becoming a 4-star defensive tackle prospect. He originally committed to USC in 2017. However, in 2018, just two days before national signing day, he decommitted from USC and committed to Washington, where he would ultimately sign.


In Letuligasenoa’s true freshman year he played in just two games, enabling him to redshirt. However, the year proved valuable  as he learned behind the older and more-experienced interior Husky defensive linemen, including Greg Gaines and Levi Onwuzurike. 

As a freshman, Letuligasenoa was listed at 318 pounds. Now, going into his sophomore season, Letuligasenoa has lost some fat and gained some muscle, resembling a grizzly bear on the field at 311 pounds. He also has some of the biggest legs on the team, something all interior defensive linemen need to hold their own in the trenches.   

Letuligasenoa | Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Given his strong base, Letuligasenoa can play the nose tackle position, even though he is lighter than most of his teammates at that position. More likely, he will primarily play a regular three technique. But with his weight loss, combined with powerful legs, Letuligasenoa will be able to play multiple positions.

As such, he is always going to find playing time. 

The sophomore has been thrust into the second starting defensive tackle position, due to Levi Onwuzurike opting out of this season, and he is in a prime position to make a name for himself in college football. 

Letuligasenoa has the experience, the opportunity, and he has the measurables. Now, the question is, Does he have the talent to be a consistent force on the interior and earn his playing time?

My answer to that question is, Yes, he does. 

In 2019, Letuligasenoa was utilized in specific situations, often being subbed in for short-yardage running downs, or when the starting defensive linemen needed a breather. He ended up playing in 12 of the 13 games, making key plays in almost all of them.

Against California, he got his first career sack; against Hawaii, he made two key stops on short yardage situations; against Stanford, he had a career high five tackles; and against Arizona, he had a key stop on a short yardage situation. He had another five-tackle performance against Oregon, and against Oregon State, he had a half a sack. 

Whenever Letuligasenoa took the field, he found a way to find the ball carrier and make a play. That’s the type of player you want on your team, someone who makes a positive impact when given the opportunity. 


Letuligasenoa is also being coached by someone who knows how to produce NFL defensive linemen. For the past five years, sinice 2015, Husky defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe has produced NFL talent the likes of Vita Vea, Greg Gaines and, most recently Draft prospect Onwuzurike. 

Malloe might very well be looking at his next NFL prospect in Letuligasenoa, who is going to have his fair share of highlight plays during his breakout 2020 season. 

You can watch Mathisen’s Husky Dash Sports Talk Show on Dash Sports TV, and read Mathisen’s other sports stories and columns at The Daily.

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