SEATTLE — Shaq Thompson, the one with the flowing dreadlocks and a likely NFL future, attracts the most attention, and John Timu is a co-captain, but lightly regarded Princeton Fuimaono — the one they call “Bobo” — perhaps best exemplifies what the Washington linebackers are all about.
“He’s probably the most physical out of all of us,” Thompson said. “Bobo just doesn’t care.”
The fact that Fuimaono, a senior who started every game in 2011, regained a starting job after losing it last season is a testament to his work ethic.
“This is my last year,” Fuimaono said, “and I worked hard in the offseason to get ready for it. My thing was, no regrets. Go as hard as I can every day and just leave it all out there.”
But few would have predicted Fuimaono, who has 30 tackles, would lead a Washington defense ranked fourth in the country in points allowed. He had 31 tackles all of last season.
The Huskies give up just 10.8 points per game. They’re also second nationally in pass-efficiency defense, fifth in red-zone defense, ninth in passing yards allowed per game and 13th in overall total defense.
“He’s surprised me in a great way,” UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “I’ve never been down on Princeton, but he’s just so plugged in and prepared that he’s going to make sure he’s in the right spot at the right time now.
“He’s not perfect, but he’s a very accountable guy. He’s very smart. He tries to do exactly what you tell him to do.”
Thompson (6 feet 2 and 225 pounds) has the size, speed and athletic gifts that could transition perfectly to a professional career, and Timu (6-1, 231) has the football acumen that makes him a natural field general.
And then there’s Fuimaono.
At 6-1 and 217, he’s a little smaller than Thompson and Timu.
However, he compensates for a lack of bulk with technique, preparation and determination.
“He’s got really good instincts,” Wilcox said. “He’s very smart. He’s well prepared. He’s got a real good feel for the game. And he has zero regard for his body. I don’t know what Bobo is at right now, he’s probably at 215.
“He is a tough kid. He’s going to give all 215. Those things to me is what sticks out.”
Fuimaono registered a career-high 13 tackles last week during a 31-13 win against Arizona. He also led UW with nine tackles against Illinois.
This week, No. 15 Washington (4-0) faces its toughest test at No. 5 Stanford (4-0), which boasts a 12-game winning streak and a powerful offense that averages 41.3 points and 439.3 yards.
“It’s going to be a physical game,” Fuimaono said. “Stanford is a physical team. This is going to be a real challenge. I know they want us because of last year’s game.”
Last year, Washington upset Stanford 17-13 at CenturyLink Field.
“They run a very heavy O-line offense, and it’s critical to get them down in small spaces,” said Fuimaono, who stressed the importance of tackling. “It’s going to be hard.”
The average height and weight of Stanford’s offensive linemen are 6-5 and 305 pounds, so Washington will theoretically use its speed to combat the Cardinal’s size.
“It’s more than that,” Thompson said. “Our speed will help getting around the blocks, but still we’ve got to play physical because they’re big.”
Thompson is second among the Huskies with 26 tackles, and Timu, last year’s leader who missed a game due to a shoulder injury, is third at 23.
“The thing about us is we stick together,” Thompson said. “We got this band-of-brothers thing going. We’re all aggressive tackling. And we’re all physical. That’s probably our identity: physical and fast.
“That came from coach (Peter) Sirmon. He preaches play fast, play smart and play harder. That’s what we feed off of every game.”
Fuimaono said there’s no secret in defending a team like Stanford.
“In some ways it’s very simple,” he said. “Play physical and fast. Make tackles and create turnovers. Basically get off the field as quick as you can.”