The name on the back of the jersey will be different. The number will be, too.
But when Washington opens new Husky Stadium against No. 19 Boise State on Saturday, Hau’oli Kikaha has every intention of being the same, dominant pass-rusher he was three years ago as true freshman named Hau’oli Jamora.
“I feel awesome,” Kikaha, who changed his name after turning 21 recently to honor his mother’s side of the family, said this week.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior defensive end from Laie, Hawaii, has proved to be the Huskies’ most pleasant surprise on defense this month. Kikaha tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in September 2011, and then did it again in the same knee early during training camp in August 2012.
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It’s been nearly two years since he’s worn a UW uniform on game day, and he gets “too excited” at the idea of walking out of the Husky Stadium tunnel for pregame ceremonies on Saturday.
“I got to take it a day at a time, because you never know,” said Kikaha, who has switched from jersey No. 52 to No. 8. “I just got to be on the safe side of everything but push hard in whatever I’m doing at the moment.”
Kikaha expects to start again at weakside defensive end against Boise State. It’s a position he grabbed hold of as a true freshman in 2010, starting the final seven games that season and recording a sack and four tackles in the Huskies’ Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska at the end of that season.
“He’s a really physical player when you go against him,” said left tackle Ben Riva, who often faces Kikaha head-to-head in practices. “I’m really excited to have him back. He makes me better, and I’m glad he’s back. I love the guy.”
With sophomore Cory Littleton and junior Josh Shirley also having a productive camp at the weakside/rush end hybrid position, Kikaha has gotten some work at the other end position this month, too. Developing a consistent pass rush will be important for UW, which ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in 2012 with just 27 sacks in 13 games.
“He’s playing great,” said coach Steve Sarkisian, who also singled out Kikaha as one of the team’s top leaders. “We’re giving him multiple responsibilities. He’s playing all over the place; he’s doing nice things rushing the passer, defending the run, dropping into coverage. We’re thrilled to have him back. I think he’s a real key component to our defense.”
Before he can return to being the dominant force he was before the injuries, Kikaha believes his last hurdle is again putting complete trust in his knee.
“It’s a lot (better) than it was before, psychologically,” said Kikaha. “It’s something I can overcome, and I will. It’s almost gone, out of my head. Slowly but surely, I think about it less and less. It’s just a process.
“I’ve had a lot of time to cover the mental aspect of the game, to rep out different scenarios in my head. So I’ve matured in that way. Physically, I’ve grown up. I don’t have that baby fat I had back then. I’m more of a man now.”
A man the Huskies would love to have dominating on the defensive line once again.
• Junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and true freshman wide receiver John Ross are both listed as starters in the depth chart UW released Saturday, a week before its season opener.
Seferian-Jenkins’ status for the opener remains uncertain. He broke a bone in his right pinkie finger that required surgery on Aug. 15.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @a_jude