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Originally published Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Washington freshman Travis Feeney proving to be a good fit at linebacker

Travis Feeney played safety on the scout team last year at Washington, as he redshirted. A move to linebacker has agreed with Feeney, who made five tackles in the Huskies' season-opening victory over San Diego State.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

UW @ Louisiana State, 4 p.m., ESPN

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There's always the unknown when a college football player takes the field for the first time, wondering just how he really will perform.

But even though Washington coaches had never seen Travis Feeney in a game before Saturday, they'd gotten a pretty good gauge of what they might have.

Feeney, a linebacker, spent last year on the scout team as a safety, where one of his regular responsibilities was trying to tackle Chris Polk, who in three years became the second-leading rusher in school history.

"It was hard for Chris to break his tackles," UW coach Steve Sarkisian recalled. "So we thought he (Feeney) had a chance."

Feeney proved he could tackle non-Huskies, as well, on Saturday when he helped lead a defense that proved the key in UW's 21-12 win over San Diego State.

Feeney, a redshirt freshman, had five tackles, two for a loss, and also forced a fumble as the Huskies allowed their lowest point total since a 19-7 win over Nebraska in the 2010 Holiday Bowl.

"He's got a lot of tools that are pretty special," said UW linebackers coach Peter Sirmon.

Sirmon is the happy beneficiary of those tools now after Feeney — 6 feet 4, 209 pounds — was moved from safety early during fall camp to help fill the void at linebacker, where the Huskies had been hurt by injuries and attrition.

Coaches thought it might be a natural move for Feeney, given the changes in the defensive scheme under first-year coordinator Justin Wilcox.

"He really enjoys contact," Sirmon said. "He's fine with that part of it. He's extremely long and he runs probably as well as anybody on our team. He just has some physical attributes we'd like to get on the field."

For a long time, though, Feeney thought if he was playing defense anywhere, it might be center field.

A native of Richmond, Calif., in the east Bay Area, Feeney began playing baseball at about age 6.

His hero was a player who made his name on the other side of the Bay, former Giants great Willie Mays.

"That's who I tried to play baseball like," Feeney said.

He took up football around age 11 and starred at both sports at Pinole Valley High. While he was considered something of a sleeper by the recruiting websites, he received and accepted an offer from Arizona before his senior year of high school.

But these days, for every early commitment a school loses to another school, it tends to gain one from somewhere else.

Feeney said as he continued to get interest from other schools, including UW, he decided to look around.

"I just wanted to see more options," he said. "I saw Washington and liked it more."

He visited UW shortly before the 2011 signing date and quickly committed.

One slight complication arrived that June, however, when Feeney was taken in the 48th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the hometown Oakland A's.

"I wanted at first to try to do football and baseball," he said.

But he said that didn't last long and he has committed to playing only football.

Listed at 200 pounds last season, he spent the year not only working on the scout team but also on bulking up. He had shoulder surgery in the offseason and spent the spring in a non-contact jersey.

He showed quickly in the fall he was past the surgery, and having put on 10 to 15 pounds was a little sturdier.

And soon, he had a new position.

"It's been a smooth transition," he said. "It hasn't been as hard as I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be totally different and that I wasn't going to adjust as fast. But I feel like I'm adjusting fast and just trying to learn and catch on to everything."

Notes

• The Huskies practiced Wednesday, but there was no longer a tiger on the sideline, the Bengal named Sheena who had been present at Tuesday's workout having moved on. Sarkisian, though, said he thought the ploy got the desired result. "Just trying to minimize distractions," he said. "There can potentially be a lot of them when you get down there with the stadium, the crowd, the heat, the tiger outside the locker room. So hopefully Saturday when we walk out of the locker room we are not so enamored that that might be the first time someone has seen a tiger before when we get warmed up and get ready to play."

• LSU's starting left tackle, Chris Faulk, was injured in Wednesday's practice and will miss Saturday's game, coach Les Miles told reporters after practice. Faulk, a junior, is considered one of the better left tackles in the country and a potential first-round pick in 2013.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @bcondotta

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