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FEDERAL WAY — He wondered if his shoulders were broad enough to bear the load, that his arms might not be long enough to embrace the challenge.

But Jared Pulu proved more than capable of filling the big shoes his three older brothers left after enjoying outstanding football careers at Federal Way High School.

“He’s filled them just fine, just being the best Jared Pulu he could be,” coach John Meagher said.

“And in many ways, he’s exceeded (in filling) the shoes, so to speak.”

Pulu’s midseason return from summer shoulder surgery has been key to Federal Way’s run to the Class 4A state quarterfinals. The fifth-ranked Eagles (9-2) face No. 10 Newport (9-2) Saturday at 7 p.m. at Newport, hoping to return to the semifinals for a second straight season.

Pulu, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior outside linebacker, is playing for family pride, and bragging rights.

The Pulu tradition at Federal Way started with J.R., then Andru, then Jordan and finally Jared.

The brothers are all three years apart. During one stretch, they put on Federal Way pads two at a time, one a senior, the next a freshman.

Andru believes Jared is the most talented of the lot.

“There’s no doubt he’s the best,” said Andru, who played linebacker at Washington and Eastern and was a short-term member of the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent this past summer.

Jared believes there’s one way he can prove it — by leading Federal Way to its first state football championship.

“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about since freshman year, to be honest,” he said. “My brothers, they’ve left a legacy in this school. But I’ve always felt I had some kind of weight on my shoulders, some kind of competition to prove myself, prove I could hang with them. And that state title is always one thing I could get that would make me feel like I got them.”

The Eagles reached the semis last year for only the second time in school history (they lost the 1976 title to Snohomish) and fell short against eventual-champion Chiawana of Pasco. Pulu, who has offers from Boise State, Colorado, Idaho and Army, plus several Division I-AA schools, remembers the bus ride home from Pasco, and how the seniors on that team told them this could be their year.

While Chico McClatcher makes monster plays on offense, Pulu provides the push on defense, relentless in his pursuit of opposing quarterbacks and running backs. He made a difference in last Friday’s 23-14 victory over No. 4 Union of Vancouver.

“He played with a great motor all night and was difficult to block,” Union coach Gary McGarvie said.

As Meagher puts it: “He plays with a fire in his belly.”

Yet he is the most light-hearted and fun-loving among the Pulu siblings, which include one sister.

“He’s just a little kid still in a big body,” his mother, Ana, said — adding he is the “smarty-pants” of the bunch with excellent grades (3.6 GPA) and strong leadership qualities. “He’s looked up to by many of his peers.”

He gave them all a scare during his surgery last July where doctors repaired his torn labrum. Jared suffered an allergic reaction to the anesthetic and wound up in intensive care after a “code blue” alert.

“We almost lost him,” Ana said.

Jared remembers being groggy and laughing when he woke up to find twin cousins Dominique and Deion Fetui — who play for Eastside Catholic — in his room.

“I was like, ‘What are you doing here? It was just shoulder surgery,’ ” he said.

The complications delayed recovery. Pulu didn’t play until the sixth week of the season. Still, he received All-SPSL honors after posting 31 solo tackles, 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.

He hopes to make enough of them Saturday to help the Eagles get through to the next round, and then the one after that — pushing toward that ultimate prize, a state title.

Proof, in his eyes, that he finally got the better of his brothers. And that’s exactly what they want for him.

“I feel like he’d be winning that for the whole city, all of us,” Andru said.

“We all support him. We’d like to see all those guys make it and get something we didn’t have, but we always wanted.”

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com