Sacking QB's, stealing headlines

These days you look in the headlines and you read about Willie Hurst's phenomenal early success in the Canadian Football League. Nothing against Willie, but he's a running back - a position that's supposed to steal the spotlight. For those on the other side of the ball, getting "pub" often isn't nearly as easy. That's one reason that former Husky Mac Tuiaea has seemingly fallen off the radar.

Most people recall the Corey Dillons of the world, the Napoleon Kaufmans, the Rashaan Shehees. They know Dillon has spent the last five years playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, that "Nip" has retired from the Raiders and devoted his life to God, and that Shehee spent some time with the Kansas City Chiefs before playing in the now-defunct XFL. But most folks have a harder time remembering what happened to even the best former Huskies on the defensive side of the ball - the Tony Parishes, the Jabari Issas, or for that matter, the Mac Tuiaeas.

Well, Mac would be happy to tell you that he's now in the CFL, a teammate and roommate of Hurst as a member of the B.C. Lions. He's up to 295 pounds, but insists that all the bulk he's added since his days as a Husky is "good weight."

Since leaving Montlake, Tuiaea has had stops in San Diego while playing for the NFL's Chargers in 2000, and in Chicago while a member of the XFL's Enforcers in 2001. When the XFL went out of business last year, the six-foot, six-inch defensive tackle returned home to Washington and became a trainer. While holding that job he continued to lift and move, staying in shape all the while. Knowing he'd like to one day return to the gridiron, he kept in contact with the B.C. Lions personnel director.

The proactive approach paid off. A month ago, as the CFL season approached, Tuiaea got a phone call from the Lions asking him in for a tryout.

Tuiaea remembers getting the call. "I was like, ‘right on!'" he said.

Now that he's got a few games under his belt, he treasures the opportunity and says he feels quite comfortable playing north of the border. "It feels good," Tuiaea said. "It's a natural feeling, just like riding a bike. You never really forget."

The play of the CFL is a bit different from football in the United States. The biggest change, Tuiaea says, is that there are three downs for a first down instead of four. "It makes things up-tempo," he said. "That's one thing that I've got to get acclimated to is how much passing (there is) and how quickly the plays happen."

Despite that difference, Mac's role remains the same as it was as a Husky - hounding opposing quarterbacks. "I'm doing a lot of pass-rush moves," he said. "I have to do quick moves on the offensive linemen to get past them."

Playing with Hurst has made the entire experience much more enjoyable. Tuiaea still remembers the first practice when he had to go up against his former college teammate. "It felt like de ja vu," he said. "I was playing defensive tackle sifting through the offensive linemen and then there was Willie right there, and I was like ‘wow, there he is again!' It's always fun chasing him down."

As roommates, the two feel like they've gone back in time. So far, Tuiaea says things couldn't be better. "He's got a faster-paced lifestyle than me," Mac explained, "but we've got our history at UW together, and it's just like being back in college again really."

Tuiaea came to Washington from Hanford, Washington and spent four years (1996-99) of his life around the University District playing for the Purple and Gold. He admits it's hard to believe that he's already been gone for two seasons, but says there are still some memories that are fresh in his mind. "I still have dreams about (Defensive Line) Coach Hart," said Tuiaea, laughing nervously.

So what are those dreams about?

"I'm like a sled-dog and he's crackin' the whip," Mac added. "You can never forget Coach Hart!"

The memory that stands above the rest during his time as a Husky was the "Miracle in the "Desert" when the Huskies opened the 1998 season in Tempe, Arizona against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Tuiaea still remembers the drama after tight end Reggie Davis hauled in the fourth-and-long pass from Brock Huard inside the final minute of the game on that warm September evening.

"It was just an extremely exhilarating moment," he recalled.

College meant a lot to Mac. He says he'll never forget the experience of being a Husky and running out of the tunnel before 70,000 fans. "If I could be like a seven-year senior and run out of the tunnel again I would," he said. "I miss everything. The college atmosphere was just so fun. I miss kickin' it with all the players. I miss all the guys I graduated with like Lester (Towns), Jabari (Issa), (Anthony) Mizin - we hung out all the time."

For now, Tuiaea finds himself in Vancouver, B.C. - three years and 150 miles removed from the University of Washington. As a member of the Lions he says he's happy just to be playing football. And when this story appears, he'll be even happier to find himself - a defensive player - stealing a headline from the running backs of the world. Top Stories