Leadership comes from the linebackers

When you come from out of nowhere to sign with a Pac 10 school like Donald Butler and Mason Foster did, it's expected that it will take you some time to acclimate to D-1 football. However, the two Washington linebackers both started as freshman and now both are being looked at heavily to lead a defense that is desperate need of playmakers.

As a sophomore in 2007, Butler headed into camp as the man on the inside for the Huskies. After he posted a solid second half to his freshman season, many expected him to take over the reigns of the linebackers and to run with it, but that didn't happen, as a knee injury caused him to play his entire sophomore season at about 75-percent.

Now he said he's 100-percent and ready to go.

"It feels good to be back at 100 percent," Butler admitted recently. "There were things I wanted to do and I just couldn't. Me and Dan (Howell) both had that issue, but this year I'm ready to go and I can't wait for us to get started."

Even though he only managed to play in nine of Washington's 13 games, the physically gifted 6-1, 245 pounder still managed to wrack up 52 stops and rank sixth in tackles. This year, Butler promises to be the playmaker on the inside, especially now that it's not a given that leading tackler E.J. Savannah will be back before the start of the season.

"E.J. was our most productive linebacker last year, but then again he has an obligation to the team that he wasn't taking care of, so we have to move on," Butler noted. "I hope E.J. is here because that's my man and he's the other linebacker out there with me. He gets after it and he plays emotional and I like the way he plays, but he hasn't been doing the things he needs to do and that's why he isn't here right now."

Joining Butler for sure in the starting lineup will be Foster who came in as an unheralded recruit from a small school in southern California, but he proved his worth in special teams and as a backup and started four games – three at weakside linebacker and one inside – during a freshman season that saw him total 25 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery.

The youngster from Seaside, California says year two should be much easier for him because of the knowledge and experience he gained as a freshman.

"Last year I didn't know anything and I was just coming in with pure athleticism and determination," Foster said with humility. "Now I have a fuller grasp of the situation so that I can sit back and learn mentally more and learn my plays and adjustments so I think I'm more adjusted to my role now.

"Guys like Donald Butler brought me along and gave me advice, so he's a guy I will always look up to and when I'm being asked questions by the younger guys coming in, it's an example for me to know how to handle those situations as well."

It sounds as if the linebackers and the entire defense in general is looking forward to playing in the aggressive system being installed by new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, but both admitted it isn't so much the scheme, but the energy the lifelong NFL assistant has brought to the unit.

"I think it's just a lot more intense," Foster said. "Everybody is a lot more intense and excited about getting going with this new defense where everybody's swarming and everybody just really wants to play. There's a different type of energy in meetings and stuff that we didn't have before."

Butler echoed the energy comment, but said the scheme isn't much different than they were taught in former coordinator Kent Baer's three year tenure.

"It's not that much different honestly," Butler said. "Coach Baer talked about the same exact things, but it just so happens that the guys, us, we didn't take care of the things we were supposed to.

"I put a lot of it on the players and not just coach Baer and the defensive coaching staff and the scheme we were running. I really do put that more on the players."

Joining Butler and Foster in what could turn out to be one of the best linebacking units in the conference.

Trenton Tuiasosopo is the "old man" of the group, but Chris Stevens' leadership on special teams and the athleticism of Josh Gage, Matt Houston, Cort Dennison and walk-on Fred Wiggs, another special teams standout, make this unit very compelling, and that doesn't even include the additions of freshmen Kurt Mangum and Bradly Roussel.

"All of us know what we have to do and that we have to lead by example," Butler said and then added with a chuck, "I'm not as old as some of these other guys here. I'm only 19, but I guess you could say I'm a veteran and I'm doing my best to help out some of these young guys.

"We all know this season is really important for the whole program. We want to win for ourselves and getting to start off with a big game like we are against Oregon is exactly why you come to play at Washington. I can't wait to get it started."

"This is our time to shine," Foster added. "We're young, we're hungry and we want to make plays and be leaders. It's time to get it going.

"It's a new year, we're ready to get started and make name for ourselves so we're ready to go."

Husky fans are hoping that name begins with a "W" on August 30th.

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