Carson Bruener’s rise is not a surprise.
At least, not to Carson Bruener.
“When he was a freshman, when we used to sit down and talk, he hadn’t even played a down of high school football and he was like, ‘Coach, I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to do whatever I can to be the best player I can be, because I want to play football in college,’” said Redmond High School coach Lance DeLay, the UW linebacker’s former defensive coordinator.
“Every week it was like, ‘Coach, I’m going to play football in college.’ ‘I’m going to be a college football player.’ He never, ever wavered. And I told him, ‘I know you are. I know you are.’”
DeLay knew, and not because of his name. Not because he was owed anything. Not because Carson was the son of Mark Bruener — who won a national championship as a tight end at Washington in 1991, was a first-round draft pick and played nine NFL seasons with the Steelers and Texans before becoming a Steelers scout.
DeLay knew, and not because of his size, or his 40-yard dash time, or his bench-press reps or his fast-twitch muscles.
Even as a freshman, Carson understood football.
Just turn on the tape.
“When I had him in drills (as a true freshman), we’d work on bags and we’d work on sled work and all that, and he would show glimpses. He would show that he could do it,” DeLay said. “But then when he got on the field (in scrimmage work), a play would go right and he would read it right off the bat. A play would go left, the guard pulls, and he would read it. He just saw the field at a different speed than the other guys did at a young age. That first week when we padded up, he was just flying all over the field.”
DeLay added: “I’ve never had a player that studied his opponent and broke down his opponent better than Carson.”
Four years later, Carson is a college football player, just like he said. And despite earning offers from Northwestern, Arizona, Boise State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah, Washington State, Wisconsin and more, the former three-star recruit ultimately (and unsurprisingly) followed his father to UW.
“He’s the kind of in-state player that you build the foundation of a class on,” 247Sports.com national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman told The Times in 2019. “He’s not going to be the sexiest recruit, because that’s not his style. He’ll probably be the first one to tell you that. He’s just kind of a throwback, a workhorse type. Obviously he has ties to the program. His father was part of one of the brightest eras in Husky history.”
Three decades after Mark Bruener won UW’s last national title, this does not appear to be one of the brightest eras in Husky history. In Carson’s second season on campus, UW is 3-4 — with consecutive games against Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State still looming.
But don’t expect Carson to jump ship any time soon.
“When he was a sophomore and a junior (at Redmond), there were other high schools and private schools that wanted him bad. Bad,” DeLay said. “They wanted him to come over and be that MIKE linebacker that they were missing.
“You know what? He stayed at Redmond. He stayed at Redmond, knowing that we’d had four, five, six losing seasons in a row. We weren’t going to make the playoffs. To me, that shows the special person that Carson is. He could have gone somewhere, refused to do that. From day one, he was loyal to Redmond and did everything he could to change the culture, change the environment.”
In 2021, UW suddenly needs a MIKE linebacker bad.
On Monday, head coach Jimmy Lake announced that All-Pac-12 inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio suffered a season-ending arm injury in the 24-17 loss to UCLA on Oct. 16. In last weekend’s 21-16 road win at Arizona, redshirt freshman Daniel Heimuli started in his stead and contributed eight tackles, while Bruener rotated in and made seven tackles of his own.
When assessing Heimuli and Bruener’s play, Lake said that “there were some really good run fits, some really good pass fits. And there were also some ones where we didn’t fit it very well and then all of a sudden there’s a big run play here or there. That’s just going to be part of the growth that we’re going to have to deal with, with some young players now being thrust into starting roles.”
Heimuli, Bruener, M.J. Tafisi and Alphonzo Tuputala will all vie for the aforementioned starting role, alongside sophomore Jackson Sirmon.
More than anything, the winner will have to understand football.
Just turn on the tape.
“It’s going to have to be knowledge of our defense (that separates the starter),” Lake said. “Be where you’re supposed to be, line up in the gap you’re supposed to be in, play the gap in the run, your pass fit. We need those guys to be able to operate.
“And those guys have. They’ve ran this defense for a while here. They just haven’t been the starter. And now, just like anybody on our team, they’re one play away from being a starter and have to carry us the rest of the way. And we had a good practice yesterday, and so we’ve just got to keep building practice after practice after practice. They’ve already had one game without Eddy, and I’m hoping this next game, that group of players that’s replacing Eddy plays a better game this Saturday than they did this last Friday.”
Continual improvement should be required, considering UW ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in both rushing defense (195.14 yards allowed per game) and opponent yards per carry (4.88). And on Saturday, the Huskies will be tasked with slowing a Stanford attack that has averaged 190 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per carry in two consecutive wins over Washington.
Carson Bruener — a 6-foot-2, 230-pound legacy linebacker — certainly has room to improve. But his future looks bright at Washington.
Like father, like son.
In more ways than one.
“Mark (Bruener) is there every Friday night with us,” said DeLay, who added that Mark volunteers as his quality control coach despite his schedule as an NFL scout. “He comes to practice. He picks up the sidelines after the games. He makes sure all the footballs are cleaned up. I think that reciprocates through Carson.
“He does the same thing. He’s very humble. He handles adversity better than anybody that I know. He understands the legacy that his dad has at UW, and he wants his legacy to be filled with the same things as his father — compassion, respect, serving others. That’s a tremendous thing to me.”
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.