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Huskies’ Kikaha thrilled to play

Wed., Oct. 30, 2013, midnight

SEATTLE – He’s a football player, and a pretty good one, so Hau’oli Kikaha’s personal expectations will always demand excellence, no matter the circumstances.

But he’s also grounded enough to stop and appreciate the fact that he’s even playing.

“This is a little bit of a shock to me, just in that a year ago I wasn’t playing, and a year before that I wasn’t playing,” Kikaha said after Washington’s practice on Tuesday. “So to be able to get the opportunity to play, and play consistently throughout this year, has been a blessing. Every day I’m just like, ‘yay, I get to play.’ ”

The Huskies are likewise pleased with the re-emergence of the fourth-year junior defensive end, who leads the team this season with six sacks after sitting out two consecutive years with ACL injuries.

Kikaha recorded three sacks as a true freshman, all the way back in 2010, when his last name was still Jamora – he changed it for family reasons – and the Huskies finished the season with 28 sacks as a team.

Through eight games this year, they’re tied for 14th in the country with 24. And Kikaha is a big part of that, using his speed and agility from his end position to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Cal freshman Jared Goff went down twice at Kikaha’s hands Saturday, when UW totaled five sacks and should have had a couple more, if not for a handful of missed tackles in the backfield.

“It first starts with the effort that he plays with for the majority of the game and the majority of practice,” said second-year defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi. “So it all starts there. He takes it serious and he’s on, I believe, a constant kind of weekly grind to get better. It all starts with his effort. He plays with tremendous effort and it shows up on tape, for the most part.”

The left knee, Kikaha says, feels fine after two ACL surgeries. He was unsure at times during the rehabilitation process where he’d fit into UW’s defense upon his return, but those concerns seem to have been left in the training room.

“I can’t really gauge compared to what it was before because it’s been two years since I’ve been normal,” he said. “So I just feel great.”

His health has been essential to the Huskies’ pass rush.

“We’re working a lot better lately, especially just in our games and figuring out where we need to be so that we can make the rush better for the next person,” Kikaha said. “Just better rushes in harmony.”

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