The sun has finally risen for Edefuan Ulofoshio.
For years, Washington’s walk-on inside linebacker worked diligently in the darkness. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, where you’re more likely to encounter an abominable snowman than an NFL alum. As a child, he once Googled “Alaskan NFL players,” and the computer spat back two results: offensive lineman Mark Schlereth and point guard Mario Chalmers — who played in the NBA, not the NFL. He starred at South High School in his freshman and sophomore seasons, then moved with his family from Alaska to Las Vegas in 2016.
“In Alaska it was definitely tough (to be noticed in football),” Ulofoshio said Tuesday. “I was just thinking, ‘Oh, how the hell am I going to get out of here?’ When I moved I really took it as, ‘OK, this is my chance to get out of here and do something special.’”
Ulofoshio arrived at prep powerhouse Bishop Gorman as an unknown commodity. His teammate, former five-star recruit and current USC linebacker Palaie Gaeteote IV, told The Times that “I just met him and I didn’t know if he was any good, but after the first practice I saw that he could be something really special.” As a starter in his senior season in 2017, the 6-foot, 231-pound Ulofoshio piled up 100 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
And almost no one took note.
“He was overlooked, for sure,” said 247Sports recruiting analyst Blair Angulo. “In Eddy’s case, I just don’t know if he had the length — the physical attributes, the projectables — that people look at, especially these college coaches that have three years now to turn a program around. At times they don’t like to take a risk on a player that might not pan out physically. That affected him a lot.”
Edefuan struggled to make a name for himself — at least, with college recruiters. After Angulo attended a game at Bishop Gorman during Ulofoshio’s senior season, Gaeteote attempted to steer the spotlight toward his fellow standout on the second level.
“Hey, you shouldn’t be talking to me,” Gaeteote said, after Angulo requested an interview. “You need to be talking to him over there.”
He was pointing at Ulofoshio. Angulo knew who he was, but asked for the undersized, relatively anonymous senior’s story.
“I don’t know, man,” Gaeteote told him. “But he’s one of the most underrated, underrecruited players I’ve ever seen.”
Underrated. Underrecruited. Undervalued. Underappreciated. Undersized. Ulofoshio was all of those things, and because of it, the little-known linebacker earned just two total scholarship offers — from Northern Arizona and Robert Morris.
So how did he wind up at Washington?
“Honestly, I just bet on myself,” Ulofoshio said, wearing a purple practice jersey and tape on both hands. “I just thought I could do it. I told my high school coach, ‘Hey, I love these offers. But I really think I want to walk on somewhere.’
“We actually wrote out a list of schools, and I looked at every Pac-12 school. I was like, ‘Oh, OK. Let’s go ask Washington.’ The next day they offered me a (preferred walk-on spot). So I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it.’”
Washington’s redshirt freshman walk-on said that, in Nigerian, Edefuan means, “the sun has risen,” while Ulofoshio translates to, “not afraid of war.”
From Anchorage to Las Vegas to Seattle, Edefuan Ulofoshio has never been afraid. He was not afraid to enroll at an established football factory in Bishop Gorman, rather than a less competitive program. He was not afraid to stiff-arm scholarship offers to walk on at Washington instead. He was not afraid to ask questions — lots of them, but more on that in a minute.
He was not afraid, in the first play of his college career, to force a fumble on a kickoff in a win over Oregon State in 2018.
“I couldn’t even feel anything,” Ulofoshio said of that moment, with a gaptoothed grin. “It was just all adrenaline at that point.”
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, when he received another opportunity, Ulofoshio didn’t flinch. After injuries to Brandon Wellington and M.J. Tafisi left little depth on the second level, Ulofoshio responded by racking up nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in the 19-7 win at Oregon State on Nov. 8.
“Honestly it was just me doing my job and playing with my teammates,” Ulofoshio said. “I didn’t even know how good I did until after the game and everyone was high-fiving me. I was like, ‘Hey, we all won here.’”
Washington’s redshirt freshman walk-on won twice in the same week. He was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts against Oregon State. UW coach Chris Petersen said Monday that “he’s going to play (against Colorado), and he deserves to play more. That’s when you feel good about things. You see a guy like that taking the next step.”
Ulofoshio’s head-turning, sun-rising performance can’t be easily overlooked.
But here’s where things get interesting:
Ulofoshio’s play may be the least impressive thing about him.
• • •
“When I was a kid,” Ulofoshio told a semicircle of reporters Tuesday, “I remember my mom giving me a big, fat medicine book, and I would just read it over and over.”
All these years later, the books have changed, but the subject hasn’t. Ulofoshio is a biology major. He plans to become a doctor, potentially in pediatrics. If all goes to plan, his NFL retirement will be spent in medical school.
“There’s a strong head that sits on those shoulders,” said South High School football coach John Lewis. “Obviously he’s intelligent; he wants to become a doctor. But it’s that compassionate heart that he also has that puts him on a different level.
“I could be 30 to 40 years older than him, but we’re still talking at the same level. His intellectual mind is not just books. That kid sits there and he has something, and I wish I could put a name to it. I wish it was some type of medicine that I could give all my players.”
For one, Ulofoshio has a seemingly insatiable desire to learn. After his freshman team at South finished 1-7, Eddy — who formerly went by a different name, Jeffrey — became a staple at Lewis’ side.
“God, he walked around the hallways and daily would stop in the office. It wasn’t like once a month,” Lewis said with a laugh. “This was like a daily occurrence where he would sit down, pull up in the chair next to me and we would just sit and talk. It wasn’t always football. We would just talk about life.”
Ulofoshio studied film. He asked questions. According to Lewis, “he just had a love and an understanding of the game. And you knew that a kid like that was going to be special.”
There’s that word again: special. In Ulofoshio’s case, it doesn’t apply strictly to athleticism, measurables or on-field results.
“I’m really happy for him, just because he’s such an awesome kid,” Petersen said after the win over Oregon State. “We’ve had him for a year and a half. We loved him last year when he was redshirting. He’s really bright. The questions that he asks in meetings are always really good, the way he thinks. So it’s been awesome to get him in there and see him be productive.”
Ulofoshio didn’t hang out with friends much during high school, Lewis said, because he spent his free time either babysitting or helping his parents in their business caring for the elderly. His priorities are rooted in football, family and biology books.
And, yes, a scholarship would be rewarding — but not for selfish reasons.
“It would just be huge because I’ve got four brothers and nothing’s guaranteed,” Ulofoshio explained. “So if my parents don’t have to pay for one of their tuitions, it would be great. It would be more important for me to tell my parents, than for me overall.
“It’s definitely something that I think about, but at the end of the day I would be upset if getting a scholarship was the whole highlight of my college career. I have bigger goals and bigger aspirations. That’s just a little piece of it.”
Ulofoshio’s first career start — which could come against Colorado on Saturday — would be a piece. A Pac-12 title would be a piece. A College Football Playoff appearance would be a piece. He has three more seasons to put them all together.
But what then? What happens after Ulofoshio’s football career is over?
Some day, the sun will set — and then Edefuan Ulofoshio will do something truly special.
“I’m just so proud of him and what he’s able to do to continue his career,” Lewis said. “But I know at the end of the day that young man is going to be a great doctor and save lives and do just wonderful things.”