UW’s Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui are back to turn up the heat on opposing passers

Seattle Times staff reporter
If you can’t stand the heat, get off the couch.
Is that how the saying goes?
Regardless, it’s a mantra Zion Tupuola-Fetui embodied in the sizzling Seattle summer of 2021. Six months after exploding onto the scene with seven sacks and three forced fumbles in UW’s shortened four-game season, “ZTF” — a second-team All-American — found himself without a home.
The Pearl City, Hawaii, product was forced to forfeit the final two months of his lease, due to — Tupuola-Fetui’s words — “a landlord that requested more than the house was worth, in terms of how we had to live our lives. I mouthed back one time, and she wasn’t with it.”
Which is how Tupuola-Fetui became temporary roommates with a redshirt freshman named Bralen Trice.
At the time, Trice had just returned to the team after opting out in 2020. And, because Trice’s girlfriend and dog were both out of town that summer, he also had an available couch.
“Bralen has a big dog. So it’s a nice couch, but the dog had done a number on it by that point,” the 6-foot-4, 254-pound Tupuola-Fetui said with a laugh. “You figured out the ways you needed to lay. The middle cushion was kind of ran through, so I was sleeping with a divot in the middle. But when the alternative would have been nothing, that’s all right.”
This was considerably better than the alternative.
Especially considering what was to come.
Together, Tupuola-Fetui and Trice (528 pounds of combined pass rusher) withstood a three-week heat wave in a one-bedroom apartment — culminating in the hottest day in Seattle’s history, a 108-degree siege June 28, 2021.
“He had four little AC units,” ZTF recalled. “But we were hot in that thing. I was taking four [daily] showers. It was pretty bad.”
Added Trice: “I came out in the living room [one day] and this dude’s laying on the ground, sweating his [butt] off, just sprawled out. He was like, ‘Dude, it’s too hot.’”
Given the circumstances, ZTF and Trice could have bickered and quarreled and broken apart.
Instead, they pulled together.
“[Trice] was recently like: ‘I didn’t know about you back then. I was a little iffy.’ But that sparked where we are now, to become — really — best friends,” Tupuola-Fetui said. “I’m thankful for him, man. We’ve been through a lot together.
“I’m happy he’s still here, happy we’re both chasing our dream together and have this incredible season in front of us. I get to look at the other side of the line and have complete trust and love for the guy standing next to me. So it’s fun.”
Or, at least, it’s about to be.
Rather than declaring for the 2023 NFL draft, Trice and ZTF
Published simultaneous social media posts announcing their joint return to Washington. That post comprised a 45-second highlight tape, and an identical 15-word caption:
“WE BACK … with every intention to be the Best Pass Rush Duo in the Nation.”
WE BACK… with every intention to be the Best Pass Rush Duo in the Nation!! #Huskynation pic.twitter.com/lh605SsoG0
— Bralen Trice (@BralenTrice8) December 19, 2022
They seem to be on their way.
The 6-4, 274-pound Trice finished with 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks last season, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors. And while splitting time with departing senior Jeremiah Martin (11 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles), Tupuola-Fetui added 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble of his own.
Each arrived this offseason with proven pedigrees — and a willingness to improve.
“8’s been unbelievable here,” said co-defensive coordinator Chuck Morrell, referring to Trice. “Obviously he’s extremely talented, but it’s just cool to see how hard he plays. You wonder why a guy has production. Of course they have the talent, but it’s the elite-level effort he plays with all the time. He’s put on weight. He’s stronger. He’s faster. He understands the scheme better. He’s been extremely dynamic early on. He’s made major improvements.
“And ZTF has slowly but surely improved his edge play. We know he can rush the passer, but there’s going to be times when you have to set edges and be physical on the outside, and he’s made some strides in that area.”
UW edge coach Eric Schmidt also acknowledges: “There was a lot of meat left on the bone last year. We had a lot of sacks and things like that, but we left a lot of sacks on the field.”
Trice might be king of that category — as the Phoenix product and fifth-year junior led the Power Five with 67 pressures in the regular season but finished tied for 19th in the nation in sacks (9).
So, in practices where you’re hardly allowed to hug the quarterback, how do you improve at finishing plays?
“I can’t go finish on Mike Penix,” Trice admitted. “I can’t go finish on any of my quarterbacks, regardless of who they are. You’ve got to save those guys. When I say it’s mental, I’ve got to visualize myself finishing, visualize myself going for the ball, shots on goal.
“To be honest, we had a lot of missed tackles, a lot of missed sacks last season. We could have had record numbers. If we go into games with the mentality that we have to finish every single play, every single rush, every single tackle, the sky’s the limit on our production numbers.”
Granted, that has to transcend UW’s top two. Beyond Trice and Tupuola-Fetui, UW’s edge rotation will likely include some combination of senior Sekai Asoau-Afoa, junior Voi Tunuufi, redshirt freshman Lance Holtzclaw and sophomore Maurice Heims. (Sophomore Sioux Falls transfer Zach Durfee’s participation hinges on a pending NCAA waiver evaluating his eligibility.)
Of that group, Tunuufi — a converted defensive lineman — is the only established option.
For UW to improve upon its 37 sacks (third in the Pac-12) and 70 tackles for loss (fifth Pac-12) in 2022, the Huskies’ depth must develop in a hurry.
Its leaders must motivate.
“He hates to lose,” Schmidt said of Trice. “He’ll do whatever he has to do to make sure he’s the guy coming out of the room. I just love that about him, and it permeates through the rest of the room. When your best player is playing that hard, the other guys are like, ‘All right man, I’ve got to do what he’s doing.’ So it’s been awesome to watch him practice like that.”
Added Trice, who was named one of four UW captains last week: “I’ve just got to play with a chip on my shoulder, whether I’m a freshman coming in, trying to earn a spot, or I’ve already earned that spot. I think that’s important across the board on the team. Dudes need to play like nothing’s going to be handed to us, because that’s the only way we’re going to win a championship. That’s the only way we’re going to win a natty.”
For former roommates Trice and Tupuola-Fetui, it’s almost time to turn up the heat.
“It was amazing playing with Jeremiah [Martin] and Zion at the same time last season,” Trice said. “But this year is going to be big, because it’s going to be me and Zion side by side, running the front. I’m excited. I know he’s excited. It was a big decision for both of us [to come back], and I think we made the right decision.”

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