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Alphonzo Tuputala 'grateful' to lead Washington Huskies into college football playoff championship game

Fifth-year senior has started the past two seasons at linebacker for the Huskies after coming out of Federal Way High School

SEATTLE - With a big path paved by his gigantic defensive-lineman cousin, Alphonzo Tuputala only had eyes for Washington Huskies football.

And now, the fifth-year senior out of Federal Way is one of a handful of home-state honchos hoping to bring a college football national championship to Seattle.

The Huskies meet top-ranked Michigan on Monday night in Houston for the NCAA Division I title.

"It's gratitude, man," Tuputala said Thursday - the day before the Huskies flew out to Houston. "I'm grateful for the journey ... and I will always remember the reward."

A cousin to Danny Shelton, the ex-UW defensive tackle who won a Super Bowl in the NFL, Tuputala made earning a scholarship with the Huskies a priority.

What buoyed the recruiting process with then-UW coach Chris Petersen and his staff was that Tuputala was the most valuable player at the "Huskies Rising Stars" camp in the summer of 2018.

After that, Tuputala firmly placed himself inside the top 10 recruits in Washington for the class of 2019 - and gave the UW a commitment shortly after his camp showing in Seattle.

"(Tuputala) spent a lot of capital trying to go to UW," said John Meagher, the former football coach at Federal Way High School. "But they did their homework on him."

As much as Meagher praised Tuputala's unique combination of physicality and athleticism as a middle linebacker and fullback, what was equally vital was the teenager's attitude off the field.

"He was a five-star leader," Meagher said.

But it took a coaching-staff change at UW for Tuputala to get his chance in the Huskies' starting lineup.

After Kalen DeBoer was hired late in 2021, Tuputala won a starting spot in preseason camp as a junior - and has started in 26 of the team's 27 games the past two seasons (missed the Oregon State game this fall with a hamstring issue).

And in the Pacific-12 Conference championship game against Oregon in Las Vegas, he registered a team-high seven tackles.

"The Pac-12 (title game), in all my years, was the first championship game I played in ever, even from the point I had started playing sports," Tuputala said. "It was a blessing because I had never played on the big stage.

"And now, I am continuing on the journey."

In terms of name recognition, Tuputala lags behind some of the defense's other standouts, notably defensive lineman Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui,, and fellow senior linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio.

But Tuputala is the reliable force who steers defensive teammates to their proper places - and is rarely out of position himself to make a play.

"Just stay true to your eyes, stay true to you responsibility," Tuputala said. "At the end of the day, luck will find you if you do your job right."

Certainly luck has found this humble, well-spoken local product in being part of something this special.

"It's very important to be able to represent back home - Federal way and the '253", but Washington state, in general," said Tuputala, who is one of six in-state starters on the team.

"And I know back home ... they are just proud to be able to see one of their students, friends or whatever I was to them (in this position). They are happy for me, sending love and letting me know they are back home supporting me and rooting for me."