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Bruener plans to start what he finishes

Carson Bruener looked like a Big Ten linebacker the entire time. He runs well in coverage. Contains terrifying hits. Is unfailingly tough in the heat of battle. We dare say you can almost imagine him wearing an Ohio State or Penn State uniform, with both places being known as LB schools.

The problem is he wasn’t always recognized as the University of Washington football player he was always meant to be: a starter.

The Husky coaching staff of Jimmy Lake and Jedd Fisch has resolutely viewed him as a first-team player and a team leader. Kalen DeBoer’s guys preferred to use him coming off the bench. It was almost as if Bruener became a favorite flavor in the process – when it just wasn’t the right flavor for everyone.

Granted, the competition at UW linebacker has been downright fierce in recent seasons, making for tough decisions.

Bruener, a 6-foot-1, 226-pound senior from Woodinville, Washington, initially stepped in as the starter midway through the 2021 season and sensationally replaced the injured Edefuan Ulofoshio after Daniel Heimuli briefly held the job and Bruener got the nod about Alphonzo Tuputala after an injury.

The following season, DeBoer’s staff took over and made Pittsburgh move Cam Bright and Tuputala to be the season’s starters, relegating Bruener to a reserve role while waiting for Ulofoshio to return to health. Bright and Tuputala each earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors for the 11-2 UW team.

A year ago, Ulofoshio and Tuputala were the leads, with Bruener appearing again in a replacement role. Ulofoshio was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, while Bruener, only a one-game starter but enjoying a season worth more, was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

Now it appears Bruener and Tuputala will enter next season side-by-side as the UW’s No. 1 linebackers. All the while, these two seemed interchangeable in talent and ability.

“They’re showing confidence in me so far,” Bruener said of Fisch’s staff.

This is one in a series of articles – ranging from 0 to 99 on the Husky roster – examining what each scholarship player and leading walk-on did this past spring and what to expect from them in the future.

Carson Bruener has taken a leadership position at Husky linebacker.

Carson Bruener (42) has taken a leadership position at Husky linebacker. / Skylar Lin images

Bruener is the guy who returned an Oregon interception 50 yards and fell just short of scoring in the 2021 game. Last season, he went 33 yards on another pass steal against Boise State.

In his first start against Stanford in 2021, he recorded a career-best 16 tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, plus the conference’s top freshman of the week. He has had 14 tackles on three other occasions, once as reserve, no small feat.

He is the son of Mark Bruener, a legendary Husky tight end for the 1991 national championship team and beyond who went on to a 14-year NFL career.

What’s not to like about this guy?

the DeBoer staff and Bruener did not always have a smooth connection. One day during practice last season, former co-defensive coordinator William Inge and the linebacker bickered while the coach barked loudly at the player. Of course, not every UW coach and player get along, but this was out in the open.

Fisch was nothing but complimentary about Bruener, noting all spring how the upperclassman always seemed to make plays.

Bruener, as the older man, is poised to receive even more individual rewards as his Husky career comes to a close. No one has been more loyal to the cause and more committed to the program. While others left after the national championship game appearance and subsequent coaching change, the linebacker only dug his heels deeper into Montlake.

“This is my home, this is my team, this is my program,” Bruener said. ‘I’m from the area. It is a family school for me. Personally, I haven’t thought about going to the portal. I haven’t even thought about talking to other schools. None of that.’

Carson Bruener covers 33 yards on an interception return against Boise State.

Carson Bruener covers 33 yards on an interception return against Boise State. / Skylar Lin images

CARSON BRUENER FILE

What did he do: Bruener has played in 39 Husky games since reshirting and has made six career starts, including five in 2021. He has collected 202 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss and those 1.5 sacks against Stanford, plus he had a tackle for a safety against Utah. He also has six pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two pass thefts. He does it all.

Starter or not: He has been a starter and has earned the right to be one again. Still, nothing better demonstrates Bruener’s ability than when he started last season against Oregon State as an injury fill-in for Tuputala and collected 14 tackles, then returned to a reserve role the following week against Washington State – and came up with another 14 tackles came. .

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