SEATTLE – In an emotional win over California, Edefuan Ulofoshio and Dominique Hampton exorcised individual demons.
With 12 minutes, 48 seconds left in the first quarter of a 59-32 rout, Cal quarterback Ben Finley took a shotgun snap, pump-faked, felt pressure from edge Zion Tupuola-Fetui and threw a spiraling gift. Ulofoshio – UW’s sixth-year senior linebacker – tipped the ball in the air, secured it and ran untouched for 25 yards
In a 31-26 loss to Stanford on Dec. 5, 2020, Ulofoshio found himself in a similar situation. Trailing 31-23, Husky cornerback Trent McDuffie stripped tailback Austin Jones, with Ulofoshio recovering at Stanford’s 49-yard line. The former walk-on broke a tackle and rumbled into open space before quarterback Davis Mills abruptly cut him down.
His trot ended 10 yards shy of a touchdown.
And he learned an enduring lesson.
“I told myself: ‘If I ever get that chance again, I’m cutting back. Either way, I’m cutting back,’ ” Ulofoshio said Saturday night. “Literally, it looked so similar. The moment I saw (Finley) coming, I’m like, ‘Yep, I’m cutting back immediately.’ That’s really what happened.”
At the 22-yard line, Ulofoshio cut back, pushed past Finley – another Bay Area quarterback – and coasted for a redemptive 45-yard score. He dropped the football as Husky Stadium’s new LED lights flickered on and off, stared into a bouncing student section and basked in the buzz.
“It was definitely one of those overflowing (emotional) moments,” said Ulofoshio, who also avenged a dropped interception against Tulsa two weeks prior. “It’s definitely up there now, I’m not going to lie. There’s not a lot of moments that top it.”
“It was crazy,” added Hampton, who arrived at UW with Ulofoshio in 2018. “The energy, the atmosphere was just electric. I’ve been playing with Eddy for six years now, so it was just amazing to see all the work he’s done, all the bounce back he’s had.”
Hampton knows about bouncing back.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound safety played every secondary position at Washington – corner, then safety, then nickel, then safety – until something finally stuck. As a redshirt freshman cornerback in 2019, he dropped a gifted pick-six in the second half of a blowout win over Eastern Washington.
It was an error that endured.
“I was looking at the touchdown before the ball even came. It went clean through (my hands),” the senior said this week. “I definitely did beat myself up (about it). You go through a lot of ups and downs as a football player, and that was definitely a low. I just had to re-up from there and understand why I decided to play football and continue to push forward.”
The Glendale, Arizona, product pushed – through position switches and struggles and uncertainty. But after shifting back from the “husky” nickel spot to safety this offseason, the sixth-year player has excelled, leading the Huskies with 23 tackles in his first four games.
“Obviously (it was) a big positional change for him,” co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chuck Morrell said. “There’s a big difference between playing nickel and the boundary safety for us. His attention to detail, the communication level, the speed at which he’s playing … he’s been involved heavily in our game plan. He’s involved at the point of attack.
“He’s playing really fast right now. I’m very, very pleased in games one through four with what his growth has been. But his growth since last season has been through the roof for us.”
On Saturday, Hampton made up for the mistake. Trailing 21-6 with 1:38 left in the first quarter, Finley took a shotgun snap and fled right to elude blitzing linebacker Carson Bruener. Before Bruener tackled him, Finley floated a pass toward the right sideline.
It never made it there.
“(The moment) definitely slowed down after he threw it,” Hampton said of his first career interception. “Carson had amazing pressure on the play, and I think he was trying to throw it out of bounds. He didn’t put enough mustard on it. It was just an amazing feeling to get one.”
Hampton centered under the ball before coasting into the Cal sideline. He described his thought process as: ‘Make sure you catch this, and you can worry about going later.’ I made sure I caught it.”
Ulofoshio and Hampton have grown from the picks they previously missed … which might explain Washington’s wider interception surge. The Huskies have seven picks in their first four games, after managing seven all of last season.
All seven of UW’s interceptions have been pulled in by a junior or senior.
“Guys ultimately have confidence in where they’re going, what the communication points are going to be between themselves on the field,” Morrell said. “We’re getting the quarterback off his spot a lot, making him throw off his back foot. Then guys are playing fast.”
The Huskies are hoping to continue that trend in Tucson, against an Arizona offense that has surrendered five picks in its first four games.
And if Ulofoshio – who has 21 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and an interception this season – touches the ball, expect him to cut it back.
“It was preconceived,” the sixth-year senior captain said of his first career interception. “That was three years in the making. That’s really what happened.”