Husky DE making some noise

Washington's current defensive line has some experience but no real proven battle-tested producers. Last season they had a difficult time getting pressure on the quarterback despite having all-American Larry Tripplett on the interior, taking up two offensive linemen on nearly every play. That issue is being addressed, and part of the solution may be a sophomore-to-be that didn't play a down last fall.

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Manase Hopoi played middle linebacker for Valley High School in Sacramento, California. Washington liked his tenaciousness and big hits, as did UCLA and Miami, however the Bruins and Hurricanes lost interest after they felt he would not make it academically. The Huskies envisioned him being a force as a pass rusher from their small DE, or "REB" position, so they stuck by Manase. It paid off as he rewarded the Huskies by earning a high enough GPA to be a partial qualifier and entered the UW last fall.

He was unable to participate in any games last year due to the partial qualifier rules, so Hopoi toiled all season on the scout team.

Now he's running firmly with the second team defense, having been moved to the big DE, or "Husky" position, backing up Terry "Tank" Johnson and at times running with the ones when Tank moves inside. The early reviews have been very positive.

"Manase has been doing a good job out there this spring. He's starting to understand a little bit more," said defensive line coach Randy Hart.

"Manase is showing up. He's making noise right now," said defensive coordinator Tim Hundley. "He just needs to learn how to play the game and to get stronger now. We're excited about the way he can get after the quarterback."

Hopoi came to Washington as perhaps the lightest regarded recruit of in his class that included fellow defensive linemen Tui Alailefaleula and Tusi Sa'au. Alailefaleula had earned all-America honors by many recruiting services, while Hopoi went pretty much unmentioned.

However during two-a-days last summer, it became evident that Manase was no sleeper.

"He is the best freshman in that class on the defense," said former UW recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Dick Baird after a practice in Olympia. "He's going to be outstanding, he just kills people. Look at the way that kid runs. His instincts are exactly what you want to see in a defensive lineman."

Hopoi has added 15 pounds to his frame from last fall and now measures 6-3 and 251 pounds. Hundley would like him to add 10 more pounds to help him handle offensive tackles a little easier, but Hopoi says his weight doesn't matter.

"I just want to play football, and be aggressive and dominant. Whatever weight I need to be at to do it, that's where I want to be," said Hopoi after Thursdays' practice.

"I need to work on strength. I never lifted weights in high school so I'm a little bit behind. It's a challenge, but it'll come."

Hopoi is not one of the stronger players on the defensive line but his attitude and quickness are still allowing him to make an early impact during spring practices. He has been able to get around the corner on offensive tackles and disrupt plays at times. He also has a knack for coming up with the big hit because he is more often than not in the right place at the right time. His years of playing rugby appears to have paid dividends, as his tackling skills are solid.

Sitting out last season was not difficult for Hopoi because it allowed him to work in relative anonymity while he learned the schemes. "It was a good experience, a learning one. I just worked on filling up on knowledge and getting physically ready for this. Now, this spring, it's going pretty good. I'm still learning, because now I'm at the Husky (DE) position, but I really like it," said Hopoi.

"Husky is a tougher position than REB (small DE), because you get double-teamed more and you are facing a tight end on your side. It has been easier than I thought to adapt, but when it boils down to it, I'm just a football player. I just want to play, no matter where you put me. I'm ready to get after it."

Although he'll be listed as a sophomore this fall, he can regain last year's lost season of eligibility under the partial qualifier guidelines by graduating in four years. Anthony Kelley, a potential starting REB defensive end, is a partial qualifier, as is current starting Husky DE Terry Johnson. Both of them are well on their way to earning back their freshman season of eligibility.

"I plan on being well ahead on credits by the time it comes to graduating, so I can get last year back. That is my goal, and my intention. I will focus on schoolwork and definitely not get behind in that department," said Hopoi.

Now that his scout team days are behind him and the bullets are live, Hopoi looks forward in earnest to taking on the big offensive tackles of the Pac-10. "My forte is that I'm aggressive and fast. The fact that they outweigh me doesn't bother me, NOT AT ALL. It's part of the fun, and I want to face those guys."

"It's a challenge, and those are what it's all about."

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