Believe John Timu when he says: “I’m just taking advantage of everything being at Washington has to offer.”
The junior middle linebacker is looking to build on his breakout 2012 season, when he earned All-Pac-12 honorable-mention honors on the field and in the classroom.
He saved his best performance for the biggest stage, registering a career-high 15 tackles against Boise State in December’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
Since then, life has gotten even better for Timu.
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In April, he made history at Washington and became the first student-athlete to win the school’s prestigious Brett E. Baldwin Memorial Academic Scholarship for anthropology.
Past recipients include: Melissa Poe (2005), an environmental anthropologist who studies urban foragers, and Carl Lipo (1993), an archaeologist at California State-Long Beach who co-authored the book “The Statues that Walked – What Really Happened on Easter Island.”
“After winning it, I realized it was something special,” Timu said. “I didn’t know how much it can impact me, my teammates and even my family.”
Timu, who has a full athletic scholarship, won’t keep the $1,200 award, but doors began to open for him on upper campus. His major is American ethnic studies, but he discovered a passion in anthropology, which is his minor.
“It’s just something that caught my eye,” Timu said. “I took a class with professor (Holly) Barker my freshman year, and I fell in love with it. Just to study the culture of anything I want, from sports to my own people, Samoans.
“I’m just more self-aware of who I am and where I come from.”
After the Las Vegas Bowl, Timu and defensive end Hau’oli Jamora began research on a project that examined society’s perception of football players’ intelligence. In May, they were among more than 1,000 students to present their findings at Washington’s 16th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.
Wearing UW lettermen jackets, they delivered a 10-minute multimedia presentation on their project, “Decolonizing Education: Translating Football Intelligence into the Classroom” that attempted to debunk the dumb-jock stereotype.
Timu and Jamora criticized the media and video games for focusing on players’ physical attributes rather than their intellects. They also lambasted football players who reinforce the negative images with bad behavior.
“It’s disturbing how often athletes are compared to animals or described as savage or machine-like,” Timu said in a June article on the University of Washington’s website.
Timu, who has a 3.2 grade-point average, volunteered at a local elementary school last year and made visits to Seattle’s Children Hospital.
“John is everything you could ask for in a student-athlete,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “He’s a role model not only for our guys on the team, but for every student on this campus.”
In June, Timu and 10 Washington student-athletes traveled to Tahiti as part of a 10-day, study-abroad class through the anthropology department. They taught English to kids and held sports clinics, teaching football and softball. A journey to French Polynesia was Timu’s latest exploration into his Samoan culture.
“I wasn’t aware of it,” said the Long Beach, Calif., native. “I just forgot all about my culture.”
Timu was a do-everything player at Long Beach’s Jordan High School.
“He never came off the field,” said Scott Meyer, Timu’s prep coach, who is now at Corona del Mar High School. “He never complained. He played quarterback. If we had to punt, he punted. Then he lined up at free safety. He did our kickoffs. He did PATs and field goals. He did it all.”
Timu declined offers from Oregon, Hawaii and San Jose State and committed to UW before tearing an ACL early his senior season. He arrived at Washington in the fall of 2010 as a greyshirt — an incoming freshman who delays enrollment — weighing 205 pounds.
The past three years, he has literally grown into his role at middle linebacker.
“I didn’t know what I was,” Timu said. “I was in safety meetings one day and then linebacker meetings the next. I guess everybody knew I was going to be a linebacker but me.”
He earned a starting outside linebacker spot as a freshman in 2011 and moved inside last season, where he had a team-high 91 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. He now weighs 238 pounds.
Less than three weeks before the Aug. 31 season opener against Boise State, Timu knows exactly who he is on and off the field.
“I just keep learning about myself every day,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.