Like most every kid in Alabama, Cam Bright had a decision to make.
Alabama or Auburn.
“Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.”
Even now, years later, his allegiance is clear.
“War Eagle,” UW’s transfer linebacker said with a grin Monday, repeating it again for added emphasis.
But when Bright graduated from Park Crossing High School in Montgomery in 2017, that interest wasn’t reciprocated. Despite amassing 131 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and a state-high 16.5 sacks his senior season, the undersized linebacker and three-star recruit’s offer list consisted of Pittsburgh, Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio) and Georgia State.
No Auburn. No “War Eagle.”
No Alabama or Georgia or Florida or Louisiana State or Tennessee. No Southeastern Conference.
Instead, Bright signed with Pittsburgh in 2017, and developed into a team captain and an Atlantic Coast Conference champ. He posted 182 tackles and 20.5 tackles for loss in 51 games — including 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2021. And, when he entered the transfer portal this offseason, Auburn — among many others — expressed interest.
“I was upset coming out of high school that I didn’t get any of those types of (local SEC) offers,” he said. “But when I hit the portal, all those schools hit me up. So it felt good that I got to (fix) a broken part of my past.”
This time, Bright turned Auburn down.
“I wouldn’t have been able to enroll (at Auburn) until the summer,” Bright said, explaining why he didn’t transfer closer to home. “UW was one of the few schools where I could enroll in the spring, get acclimated with the culture and the playbook and learn.”
Bright has had a lot to learn since arriving in Seattle the week before spring practice. But UW’s quarter system — as well as its dearth of linebackers — weren’t the only factors that sealed the deal.
“The relationship with (co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach William) Inge and (head coach Kalen) DeBoer,” he said, when asked why he chose Washington. “They were the most consistent coaches by far, who stayed in contact and were really genuine.”
For both sides, the appeal is apparent. Jackson Sirmon — who led the Huskies with 92 tackles in 2021 — transferred to Cal this winter, while returning starter Edefuan Ulofoshio suffered a significant injury that may also cost him games this fall. That left UW with four remaining scholarship linebackers — sophomores Carson Bruener, Daniel Heimuli and Alphonzo Tuputala, as well as junior Cerritos College transfer Demario King.
UW’s linebacker room lacked production — and leadership.
“The biggest thing was leadership,” Inge said of the decision to recruit Bright. “When you have someone who was elected captain by your team, you know that person has some sweat equity in the program and he’s done the necessary things to be the leader. So that was the No. 1 (plus). Then when you look at film you see he definitely does the jobs that we want from that particular position in our system.”
Added Bright: “I saw that it was a new coaching staff coming in, so I felt I could come in and help them lead the way. Because I take pride in my leadership and holding guys accountable, and guys holding me accountable as well.”
When you look at the film, you see physicality — an undersized frame with an aggressive attitude. Bright said Monday that “I try to hit the biggest dude on the field, so they know I might be small, but I ain’t small.
“I love contact. I like being physical. That’s how I got into the linebacker position. It was always linebacker and running back, but I like to hit more than I like to receive a hit.”
Even at practice, Bright has used those hits to announce his presence — and earn teammates’ respect.
“We do what we call ‘shout-outs’ at the end of every Friday,” DeBoer said last week. “Cam Bright got some shout-outs from his teammates today, talking about how physical he’s been and how hard he plays and how he’s learning the defense very quickly — considering he didn’t have the time in the winter to learn it and have the in-person time you want.
“So he’s been doing a great job. I really think he’s adding and bringing a lot to our program.”
He may need to bring a lot, considering Washington’s dreadful run defense last fall. In a season that started with a No. 20 national ranking and ended with a 4-8 record and a pair of in-season coaching firings, UW finished 10th in the Pac-12 in opponent yards per carry (4.76) and 11th in rushing defense (194 yards allowed per game). Defensive backs Trent McDuffie, Kyler Gordon and Brendan Radley-Hiles led one of the nation’s premier pass defenses … which was negated by a front seven that couldn’t consistently stop the run.
Alongside Bruener and (hopefully) Ulofoshio, Bright will be asked to lower the boom at a fairly unfamiliar position. The sixth-year senior — who primarily played outside linebacker at Pitt — said UW’s defense is “a lot different — from the coverages, to the run fits, to scheme. It’s a lot different, but I like it. I like being in the box and being more physical. It just means more recovery after practice. I’m a little more banged up.”
Time will tell whether the 6-foot, 219-pound Bright can withstand a more taxing workload … as well as the fickle Washington weather.
While a light rain fell inside Husky Stadium, the Alabama transplant joked Monday: “Man, it’s cold. I thought it was warm — what you see on TV. In my head I was seeing California and L.A.” He had never been to Seattle before an unseasonably warm weekend this winter, and added: “The weather tricked me on my visit.”
It’s not Auburn or Alabama.
But Bright, again, is betting on himself.
“It was good (to win an ACC title at Pitt last fall), because I didn’t win a state championship in high school,” he said. “So to get one of those, not everybody can say they did that in their athletic career. I just feel like I can bring a piece of that championship culture over here and introduce it to the guys.”
- Linebacker Carson Bruener, husky Dominique Hampton and cornerback Elijah Jackson returned to practice Monday after sitting out Friday’s scrimmage with what DeBoer called “little tweaks.” Running back Caleb Berry also participated for the first time this spring. Cornerback Jordan Perryman and safety Vince Nunley sat out a second consecutive practice.
- DeBoer announced Friday that the Spring Preview on April 30 will not be a full scrimmage, due to UW’s lack of available depth at both linebacker and running back. “But I want it to be an awesome atmosphere,” he said. “This place loves its ball, and we’re looking forward to two weeks from now, continuing to get better to put a great product on the field and have some fun.”
- Former UW offensive coordinator John Donovan, who was fired on Nov. 7 after 13 games, was hired Monday as a senior analyst by the Green Bay Packers.