UW Fresh Start (No. 98): Healthy Peihopa Could Greatly Improve Defensive Line – Sports Illustrated


He made fellow defensive tackle Voi Tunuufi his closest friend after they fought on the basketball court. 
From the outdated Hollywood film "The Karate Kid," he references the wisdom of the fictional Mr. Myagi.
His first name rhymes with wow or pow, both words that eventually might describe his play someday.
If it takes being just a little off center to turn into an exceptional University of Washington football player, Kuao Peihopa is well on his way, because he fits the profile.
Peihopa, who tends to squint when he looks at you and says exactly what he feels, met with Seattle media members this week for the first time and had them thoroughly entertained by his thought process.
 It was glib pronouncements one after another, nonstop truth serum.
The 6-foot-3, 304-pound redshirt freshman from Makakilo, Hawaii, told how he and Tunuufi, from Salt Lake City, last year squared off in a pick-up basketball game. Neither one backed down. They won each other's respect with their hard-headed ways. They became instant pals.
"I love that guy," Peihopa said. "That was a test. He was testing me. I was testing him. We both passed. Now we've got each other's back no end. … It was who was going to back down. Then we loved it up."
A year ago, they enrolled early at the UW and reported for spring football, demonstrating right away to the coaches they were physically and mentally ready to play as true freshmen. 
Tunuufi appeared in 11 games and started two. Peihopa was limited to four outings after injuring a foot, something that he blamed on himself.
"The only reason I hurt my foot was in the scrimmage I wasn't doing my job," he said, indicating he got hit. "At the college level, if you don't do your job, somebody's going to come around and go poof."
Peihopa said he learned his lesson from that experience, that he makes regular visits to the training room, and he promises himself that no one is going to get the best of him like that again.
"You could be a seventh-year senior," he said, "but I'll still run through your face."
Recognizing his take-no-prisoners attitude and vast potential in the trenches, Kalen DeBoer's new coaching staff has had Peihopa taking snaps with the first-unit defense since spring ball began.
With spring practice at the halfway point, we're offering intel and observations gathered on the UW football personnel in a series of stories on every scholarship player from No. 0 to 99. We'll review each Husky's previous starting experience, if applicable, and determine what comes next under DeBoer.
As is the case with any coaching change, it's a new football beginning for everyone, including the Huskies' No. 98.
Neither Peihopa nor Tunuufi were affected by coach Jimmy Lake's firing to the point they considered going elsewhere. They came to the UW to play football and that's what they intend to do.
"There was no decision," Peihopa said. "There was just, 'Oh, damn, he got fired? All right, who's next?' We're here. Me and Voi, we're here. We're Dawgs."
The Husky coaching change brought in a new defensive-line coach Inoke Breckterfield, a fellow Hawaiian with a demanding personality and a curt style. It was just what the impressionable defensive tackle needed.
"He's a stern man," Peihopa said. "You're not going to hear him say any jokes. It's all business. He's an amazing teacher. All the best teachers, you know, are like Mr. Miyagi. He just uses like a couple of words and uses them over and over again."
Last season, Peihopa appeared in the first two Husky games but re-aggravated his foot injury and missed the next five. The kid whose first name is pronounced "Kwow" played sporadically thereafter. He finished with a pair of tackles, his first one coming against Michigan and the other a tackle for loss against Washington State in the Apple Cup. He should have had more.
Outsiders didn't know it at the time, but Peihopa's injury might have hurt the Huskies as much as any last season, where several players went down, including fellow defenders Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Ryan Bowman and Edefuan Ulofoshio. 
The UW defensive line played overly soft in 2021, giving up a generous 193 yards rushing per game, which proved to be this team's biggest weakness as it nosedived to 4-8. 
The Huskies needed someone far more physical up front to get in the way of the opposing running backs coming through the holes, someone such as Peihopa, plus his sidekick Tunuufi, guys who won't back down from anyone. Or each other. 
UW Starter or Not: Starting is not out of the question for this big, temperamental Hawaiian. In fact, it almost seems ordained. Peihopa has run with the No. 1 defense since the first day of spring ball. He still has four seasons of eligibility remaining for the UW and still seems to be on a fast track. He might be the reason the Huskies didn't pull another defensive tackle out of the transfer portal. He might have been part of the reason that former teammate Taki Taimani entered it and fled to Oregon.
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