Two steps forward for Afoa

When sophomore DT Jordan White-Frisbee went down last summer with a foot injury, many observers around the Washington football program fretted about who would step in to take his place. Then Wilson Afoa, a redshirt sophomore from Hawaii, decided it was his time to step in and he came away with a solid 2005 season.

"Coach (Kent) Baer's defensive scheme, if you just love to play football, all coach wants us to do is run to the ball and know our assignments," Afoa told "Coach Baer is a good coach. He has good defensive schemes for us and it's just a lot of mental things we have to work on and I think I adjusted pretty well to his defense."

Afoa started seven games and played in all 11 and recorded 33 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and recorded his first career sack against Washington State. His physical size (6-3, 290) puts him on the smaller side for nose tackles, but don't judge this book by its cover.

"The Pac 10 is a competitive league and they have big offensive lineman," Afoa said. "I don't consider myself an ideal nose tackle, size-wise, but it takes a lot of heart and determination to be a nose tackle.

"I take it upon myself as a challenge to play nose tackle because I'm not the ideal size and I feel that if I can put my heart and soul into it I can do well at this position and I love it."

His position coach, Randy Hart, loves Afoa's non-stop motor and says that even though he isn't a vocal leader, he is a player that has the respect of his teammates.

"His job is as an up-field kind of a chaos creating job," Hart said. "I don't hear much from him, but I think that people listen to him in the locker room.

"He's not a guy who's going to hoot and holler a lot on the practice field, but I think he's one of those guys who will speak his mind in the locker room and I think they listen because he's got tremendous credibility."

Afoa says he's ready to take on that role.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself and as a defensive line we're the ones that anchor the front," Afoa said. "I consider myself a leader now that I've started some games. I'm bringing it upon myself and my teammates to pick up the pace and the intensity and work on getting our team and our defense better."

Over and over the coaches have preached toughness and the staff is doing their best to develop a winning attitude. Head coach Tyrone Willingham says that Afoa is indicative of the type of player the program is trying to develop.

"Wilson is one of those guys, that when you talk about toughness, he's one of those guys that come to mind," Willingham said before practice this week. "For the last year to a year and a half he's been dealing with some back problems.

"He's done, in my mind, a great job of persevering in terms of staying with it and not taking himself out of the lineup and really being tough. That's what we need and that's the type of thing the rest of your team can see and grow from. He's got a lot of toughness and a lot of fight."

Joining Afoa in middle of the Husky defensive line will be White-Frisbee, sophomore Jovon O'Connor, junior Jordan Reffett – who appears to have finally found a home at defensive tackle – and junior Eric Lobos.

Hart says the key to the pass-rush is the pressure provided by the interior linemen.

"The bottom line is, if you've got enough speed coming off the edge, with (Greyson) Gunheim, Chris Stevens or Daniel Te'o Nesheim or Anthony Atkins or whoever's on the other side with an up-field push, the middle guys want to get enough push to make sure the quarterback can't step up into the pocket," Hart said.

"They've got to create that push. Then you have the speed guys coming off the edge to make that play. If there's no push then the quarterback is going to step up in the pocket and then the speed guys can't get to them so it's kind of a team effort."

With Afoa stepping up, the interior of the defensive line looks to be in fine hands for the future. Now, he says, they just need to get some wins.

"I feel positive about our team camaraderie and getting along," Afoa said. "Everybody's working hard at eliminating the mistakes we've had the last couple years by paying attention to the coaches and putting the team before self.

"We're just trying to bring this team back to prominence."

And that all begins when players like Wilson Afoa step up.

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