CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: What role will UW Huskies’ seniors play in 2023?

May 13, 2023, 11:39 AM

UW Huskies Zion Tupuola-Fetui...

Zion Tupuola-Fetui of the Washington Huskies reacts against the Colorado Buffaloes on Nov. 19, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Things could always change between now and September via the transfer portal, but for now, it appears the UW Huskies will have 14 scholarship seniors on their roster for the 2023 season.

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Four of those seniors came to UW as transfers — quarterback Michael Penix Jr., receiver Giles Jackson, linebacker Ralen Goforth and edge rusher Sekai Asoau-Afoa — with nine entering their sixth season in Seattle (due to the COVID-19 eligibility pause) and a 10th, Asa Turner, finishing his eligibility in five years.

You know what to expect from Penix in his second season since arriving from Indiana. Jackson, originally a Michigan signee, will be part of the rotation at receiver. Likewise with Goforth, a USC transfer, at linebacker. Asoau-Afoa, a Federal Way product who went the JUCO route, will battle for snaps behind established starters at edge rusher. (One other senior, walk-on cornerback Antonio Hill, also arrived as a JUCO transfer.)

But what about those 10 scholarship seniors who have spent their entire careers at Washington? Here is a look at UW’s longest-tenured players — six on defense and four on offense — and their expected impact this season.

DEFENSE

DL Tuli Letuligasenoa (2018 class)

Long one of the team’s most underappreciated players, Letuligasenoa returns as one of the most valuable pieces of this defense. He’s a multi-year starter who anchors against the run and has caused some havoc in the backfield throughout his career, too, even if he hasn’t been an all-conference performer. The UW Huskies don’t have any other interior D-linemen nearly as experienced.

EDGE Zion Tupuola-Fetui (2018)

ZTF’s career didn’t progress the way many assumed after his seven-sack, four-game season in 2020. A torn Achilles wiped out most of his 2021 season, and he spent last year as the first edge rusher off the bench behind Bralen Trice and Jeremiah Martin. Now, Tupuola-Fetui is ready to step into a starting job opposite Trice, and he’s in line for the most playing time of his career.

LB Edefuan Ulofoshio (2018)

Another potential star whose participation has been thwarted by injury, Ulofoshio is finally healthy and has resumed his role as a key player in the middle of UW’s defense. He went through spring practices playing beside returning starter Alphonzo Tuputala, and those two will combine with Goforth and Carson Bruener to form UW’s most promising linebacker corps in years.

S Asa Turner (2019)

The lone member of UW’s 2019 recruiting class who will exhaust his eligibility this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Turner is voted a defensive captain by his teammates. He’s earned the respect of the coaching staff, certainly, and is a candidate to lead that side of the ball in total snaps.

S Dominique Hampton (2018)

His career has taken him all over the secondary, including the current coaching staff’s hybrid “husky” position, where Hampton started 11 games last season. He moved to safety this spring, and seemed to settle into a starting job alongside Turner. Coaches want to use Hampton’s size and physical mentality at the position.

DL Ulumoo Ale (2018)

Ale started all four games in 2020 at left guard and was a part-time starter there in 2021 before coach Kalen DeBoer’s staff moved him to defensive tackle. Injuries sort of slowed his progress last season, though he did contribute. Ale has slimmed down quite a bit this offseason, to a listed size of 6-6 and 331 pounds, and should battle for a starting job throughout fall camp. He will have a role as a senior, regardless.

OFFENSE

OL Matteo Mele (2018)

A top reserve throughout his career so far, Mele is finally stepping into the starting center job as a senior. He took every snap there with the No. 1 offense during spring practices, and is among the surefire starters on a talented, experienced offense. Offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb has said Mele is among UW’s most athletically gifted linemen, and now will be relied upon to lead the o-line and make calls.

TE Devin Culp (2018)

Essentially a co-starter with Westover last season, Culp caught 29 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown in 2022. He’s struggled with drops throughout his career, but has put up progressively better numbers in each of the last two seasons. There might not be many more targets to go around, with basically everyone returning at receiver, but Culp will be an important player, regardless.

TE Jack Westover (2018)

Westover actually played slightly more than Culp last year — 511 snaps to 469 for Culp, per Pro Football Focus — and should have a similar role in 2023. The Huskies have more depth behind their senior tight-end duo than they did a year ago, with fifth-year junior Quentin Moore and Cal Poly transfer Josh Cuevas both impressing during spring practices. But UW still is going to rely on Culp and Westover to carry the load here.

RB Richard Newton (2018)

Another senior who stuck it out through multiple injuries, Newton’s path to playing time is less clear than some of his 2018 classmates. Other running backs like Cam Davis, Dillon Johnson, Daniyel Ngata, Sam Adams II, Will Nixon and Tybo Rogers will make it difficult for Newton to carve out many carries. But he did see the field some last year when he was healthy, and made a positive impression on the coaching staff with his physical style. We’ll see if they can find a role for Newton in his final college season.

This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to OnMontlake.com for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.

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