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Originally published October 16, 2012 at 8:01 PM | Page modified October 17, 2012 at 12:24 PM

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Dogs and Cats: Tutogi brothers go at it Saturday | Husky football

Washington linebacker Thomas Tutogi tries to approach each opponent, each offense, the same as the next.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

UW @ Arizona, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks

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Washington linebacker Thomas Tutogi tries to approach each opponent, each offense, the same as the next.

"Nameless, faceless," says the 6-foot, 242-pound junior, UW's leading tackler.

He concedes, though, that'll be tougher Saturday night in Tucson, when one of those names on the other side will be the same as his — older brother Taimi, who lines up at fullback, defensive end and on special teams for the Arizona Wildcats.

"He's my brother, yeah, but on the field I've got to look at him like he's another guy," Thomas Tutogi said Tuesday.

Taimi Tutogi, though, is more than that to Thomas, as would be any big brother. The two are separated by about a year.

Growing up in Chula Vista, Calif., near San Diego, they gravitated quickly to football, dreaming of following in the footsteps of Chargers great Junior Seau, a second cousin of their father. Though they never met Seau before his death last spring, Thomas Tutogi said "he was a big inspiration" to the two brothers.

The two are the only children in their family, and growing up, Taimi had the upper hand.

"He was always bigger than me, got the best of me," Thomas recalled.

And as the older brother, it was Taimi who tended to get the most recognition.

"Everywhere we would go, it would be, 'There's Taimi Tutogi and that's his little brother,' " Thomas said, "But I didn't mind that. I didn't mind being Taimi Tutogi's little brother."

Taimi, a 6-foot-1, 260-pound senior, was considered among the top fullback prospects in the nation as a senior in fall 2008, and quickly accepted an offer from Arizona and coach Mike Stoops.

Thomas hoped such an offer would come his way the next season. But despite earning his share of accolades, Thomas Tutogi had only an offer to walk on at San Jose State with a chance that it might turn into a scholarship. One theory is that colleges mostly viewed him as a running back/fullback, like his brother, instead of a linebacker.

Rather than take the San Jose State opportunity, Thomas Tutogi decided to attend Southwestern JC in Chula Vista, buoyed by words of faith from his older brother.

"When I didn't get picked up out of high school, my brother was always there for me," Thomas said. "He said, 'Just keep grinding. Got to keep grinding.' And sure enough, I went to a JC and did what I had to do."

After making 120 tackles in one year at Southwestern, Tutogi had his share of offers, and eventually chose UW, where the Huskies needed to replace Mason Foster. Arizona never offered a scholarship, though Tutogi says he holds no grudge. "I'm really happy I came here," he said.

As if getting the scholarship wasn't enough, he remembers during a goodbye party before he left for Washington that Taimi "told me he was proud of me. I want to say that was the first time I ever heard him say he was proud of me. I was a happy kid at that time."

A highlight of Thomas' first season at UW in 2011 came when the Huskies beat Arizona and Taimi, 42-31. On the opening kickoff, Thomas Tutogi had to shed Taimi to try to get to the ball carrier — the first time, he said, they had ever met as opponents in a game.

"After it happened I was trying to get him to admit that I put him on his back," Thomas said with a smile. "But he wouldn't admit it. But it's all in good fun."

Taimi joked to The Arizona Daily Star this week, "I'll always be stronger. I'll always jump higher. He'll never beat me up. I think he understands that."

This year, their paths could cross more often now that Thomas has a regular role on UW's defense, sharing time in the middle with John Timu in some schemes and playing alongside Timu in others.

Taimi Tutogi, meanwhile, has added defensive end to his fullback role to help up front for a struggling Arizona defense. His main offensive role is as a blocker and receiver, his eight receptions including a spinning grab against Stanford that made national highlights.

Each is also on special teams. Taimi is on Arizona's punt protection team and Thomas is on UW's punt return/block team, so they know a few collisions Saturday night are all but guaranteed.

"He's my brother and I love him to death," Thomas said. "But on the field, it's time to go. If he's on the ground, I will help him up. ... But I've just got to play every down like it's anybody else."

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

On Twitter @bcondotta

Tutogi brothers
Taimi Thomas
School Arizona Washington
Position(s) FB-DL LB
Year Senior Junior
Age 21 20
Letters 3 1
Jersey no 31 50
Height 6-1 6-0
Weight 260 242
2012 stats 8 rec., TD 38 tackles

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