The Huskies needed some reinforcements along the defensive line, and they didn’t have to look too far to find a player who could help fill a hole.

Enter senior Benning Potoa’e, the highly recruited Lakes High School star who has started 23 games the past two seasons at linebacker, who is now a defensive lineman. He added 20 pounds, up to 290, on his 6-foot-3 frame, and he is ready to do whatever the Huskies need in his final season at UW.

“I am liking it a lot, a lot of freedom, cause a lot of havoc and a lot less thinking,” he said. “I like it a lot more. I know it sounds crazy, but I feel a lot better than when I was 270. I felt like I got more explosive, quicker and faster. I put on good weight, and lost the bad.”

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Potoa’e said he was approached after last season about making the move, and he brings both experience and talent to a position that suffered big losses. Morris Trophy winner Greg Gaines, and two other stalwarts, Jaylen Johnson and Shane Bowman, all finished their eligibility. Potoa’e was open to the move from the start, and it was a plus he went from trying to lose weight as a linebacker to trying to gain some.

“I spent three years constantly trying to lose weight and it wasn’t working in my favor,” said Potoa’e, who got his name from Fort Benning, where his father, who is still in the Army, was serving before Benning was born. “My diet has doubled in terms of servings.”

It’s not the first time Potoa’e has changed spots. In 2017, he moved from Buck linebacker (a hybrid defensive end/linebacker) to SAM (outside) linebacker.


“It was much easier to make this change than the last change,” he said. “I love outside linebacker, but there are a lot of drops (into pass coverage) and a whole lot of thinking. A lot more thinking as opposed to defensive line where you go down, have fun and go crazy.”

Potoa’e had a career-high 41 tackles last season, including 6 1/2 for loss, and one sack. He has 87 career tackles and four career sacks.

It has been a solid career, but Potoa’e is looking for something more special in his senior season, his fifth year in the program.

“I definitely want to leave this place with a big season,” said Potoa’e, whose older brother Sione was a defensive lineman for UW (2010-13). “I want to take all that I’ve learned from games and practice and put it all into this last year. I feel like it’s all mental. I spent all this time to learn how to use my tools and my ability and now I am starting to believe in what I am capable of. This year, I plan on going out there and laying it all out.”

That could be at number of spots, and at Sunday’s practice, he played some at nose guard, defensive tackle and defensive end, but he enjoys playing inside the most.

Defensive-line coach Ikaika Malloe¬†said Potoa’e has done a great job in his new role, and is expecting him to have a breakout season — the kind most predicted when in 2015, Potoa’e was ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the state by and the No. 18 defensive end in the country.


But having an older brother playing for UW, he knew success at the next level is not immediate.

Potoa’e redshirted his first season, started once as a freshman, 10 times as a sophomore and 13 times last year.

He seems primed for a breakout season, wherever the Huskies need him.

“Just want to have fun and cause havoc,” he said.