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Originally published Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 9:26 PM

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Steve Kelley

Washington found a star in an unlikely place in linebacker Mason Foster

The Huskies were one of the first schools to show interest in the player from Seaside, Calif. He will be asked to keep watch on Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez.

Seattle Times staff columnist

The city of Seaside, on Monterey Bay just south of Fort Ord, is off college football's main recruiting highway.

Even in the 21st century, when it seems as if every player from even the most remote area codes is noticed by somebody, a good player can get lost in a city the size of Seaside.

Talent can slip through the recruiting cracks in that backwater town of 34,000.

Take University of Washington linebacker Mason Foster, for instance.

"We missed the boat on him," said Washington's defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who was a defensive coach at USC when the Huskies were the only Pac-10 school pursuing the little-known Foster.

Foster was playing quarterback and linebacker at Seaside. He would throw for maybe four touchdowns in a game, make maybe a-dozen-and-a-half tackles and wonder why the entire Pac-10 wasn't filling up the bleachers.

"It was kind of frustrating," Foster said this week, sitting at a table inside Hec Ed. "But at the same time, deep down inside, I knew I was as good as anybody in the country. I knew that, sooner or later, somebody was going to have to take notice that I was putting up big numbers."

Then-Washington offensive coordinator Tim Lappano noticed the big numbers and made the effort to get to Seaside. He saw a fast, tough, two-way starter, a 48-minute man who was willing to run and hit and throw all night long.

Lappano was prescient enough to project the kind of brilliant future Foster has realized. He was far ahead of this curve.

"By the time we got to playoffs the big schools finally started to show up," Foster said. "But I stayed loyal to the U-Dub. That was the school that recruited me tough, and I knew that was the school that was going to make it work."

Foster, a 6-foot-2, 242-pound senior, has grown into Washington's best defensive player and one of the best linebackers in the conference. ESPNU ranks him as the 11th-best player in the Pac-10.

This season, he has been moved inside so he can be around the ball on almost every play.

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Is it working?

In his first two games he has 24 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. On this upcoming monstrous Saturday, he will be one of Washington's spies, watching every move made by Nebraska's unique, quicksilver redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez.

"He picks things up really well," linebackers coach Mike Cox said of Foster. "He takes a lot of things right from the meeting room right to the field without a whole lot of reps."

Foster, who has missed only one game in his Huskies career, practically is a lock to go in the middle rounds of next spring's NFL draft.

"He's a very smart, instinctive football player, with good athletic skill," Holt said. "When you combine that, plus being tough, you have a sensational football player, and that's what he's becoming."

His parents (Margaret and William) were wise enough to demand that he spend the necessary time in class before they allowed him on the field.

Foster remembers a time between eighth and ninth grade, when he reached his crossroad. He was acting up at his cousin's graduation, disrespecting his parents, hanging out with the wrong people, instead of spending time with his cousin.

"I was still a little bad, a little crazy," he said. "I got in trouble one last time with my dad. Nothing serious, but he took away my video games. I couldn't watch TV and I had to do chores all day. That's when I realized my parents were serious and they really cared about me and they weren't going to let me do the wrong thing."

Foster's parents taught him balance. Not the kind of balance a linebacker needs to fill a hole and level a running back. The kind of balance that is sustainable, after the last hit, after the games are gone.

"I take pride in being one of the guys who had good grades and also was good on the field," Foster said. "I didn't get it at first, but my mom and dad stayed on me and made me realize that it wasn't uncool to have good grades.

"They made me get a 3.0 grade average before I could play football, basketball and baseball. I had to have good grades and stay out of trouble all the time. After a while it just became a habit. You go to school and you get good grades. You do your homework and you ask for help when you need the help."

The moral of this story is as simple as it is profound: Do your work and people will find you, even if you're playing off the main gridiron grid, in an out-of-the-way town, with a cool, mellow name like Seaside.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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