Family weekend: Arizona football's Tutogi brothers go face to face
Last year, the Tutogi family wore shirts reading “Family Always,” with an Arizona logo in place of “A” and Washington’s logo as the “W,” when the Wildcats traveled to Seattle in a 42-31 loss to UW.
This time the family will travel to Tucson as Taimi Tutogi, the Arizona fullback/defensive end, and Thomas Tutogi, a UW linebacker, face off for just the second time in the past two years.
With Thomas on defense and Taimi occasionally on offense, the possibility of the two brothers clashing on the field has certainly crossed their minds. But just because they’re family doesn’t mean they are going to hold back.
“If the right play is called, I’ll definitely meet him in the hole,” Taimi said. “Saturday’s going to be fun and exciting, but he’s still wearing a ‘W’ on his chest, so I gotta go after him like anyone else.”
Washington defenders John Timu (10) and Thomas Tutogi drop Colorado tailback Tony Jones for a one-yard loss during the second half in Seattle, Washington, Saturday, October 15, 2011. The University of Washington Huskies defeated the University of Colorado Buffaloes, 52-24. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/MCT)
“It’ll be good,” Thomas said, laughing. “I’m not gonna back down.”
The Tutogi family will be sporting a new shirt design, and both brothers said they are excited to be playing against each other again, especially considering the magnitude of the game. Both Washington and Arizona enter the game 3-3, fighting for a bowl berth.
Thomas leads the Huskies in tackles with 38, while Taimi has received time on both offense and defense due to a variety of injuries and depth problems on defense. Taimi has eight receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown on offense, and one fumble recovery and tackle on defense.
The Tutogis speak over the phone a few times every week, and at least once before and after games. But, if all had gone according to plan, the duo would be playing alongside each other in an Arizona uniform.
Thomas, who is 13 months younger than Taimi, went to Southwestern Junior College in his freshman year. Soon after, offers from top Pac-12 schools like USC and Washington came rolling in. Thomas said he didn’t want to play for the Trojans or the Huskies. He said he wanted to play with his brother.
“He said, ‘I don’t wanna go to USC. I don’t wanna go to Washington. I’m gonna wait for Arizona to offer me,’” Taimi said.
“‘I wanna play with you,’ he said. I talked to [former head coach Mike] Stoops, I talked to [former defensive coordinator Tim] Kish and I guess they didn’t wanna jump on it, and I was puzzled as much as he was.”
Thomas isn’t bitter.
“I just put the pieces where they lay and let them fall,” he said.
“I made my decision here [in Washington] and I love it.”
And while Taimi certainly would like to be playing with his brother, after playing with him throughout high school, Pop Warner leagues and in the backyard as kids, Taimi said he’s happy that his brother is finally paving his own way.
“I’m happy it worked out. He loves it there,” Taimi said. “His whole life he’s always been Taimi’s little brother, and now he’s in Washington and he’s making a name for himself.”
Thomas credits Taimi with toughening him up — after Taimi pushed him around growing up as most big brothers do — and makes sure to thank him when they talk on Saturdays before games.
“He does an amazing job setting a path for me to follow and I thank him for it before every game,” Thomas said.
Taimi played fullback for three years, but in the fall Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez started to give him time at defensive end due to a lack of depth and multitude of injuries. So that begs the question, who is the better tackler?
“Me,” Taimi said, without hesitation, “I’ll always be faster, always be stronger, I’ll always jump higher. I always tell him he’ll never be able to beat me up. I think he understands that.”
“I don’t know about that,” Thomas said, laughing. “Growing up together, we’ve always been on the same side and I’ve never had to face him or hit him. At the end of the day, he’s my brother and I love him to death, and that’s what it is.”