Edefuan Ulofoshio has climbed three mountains — and he’s hungry for more.
Which, for this intrinsically motivated Husky, is nothing new. Last summer, while Washington’s organized football workouts were limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ulofoshio went searching for additional exercises outside Seattle.
“We were working out, and one of our strength coaches recommended this hike called ‘Mailbox,’ ” Ulofoshio said Saturday with a gaptoothed grin. “Me personally, I had only done like one hike before, and it was kind of light. (Fellow linebacker Jackson Sirmon) had been on a couple hikes. So we were like, ‘All right, we’re going to go do Mailbox.’
“Immediately, the second we started going, Jack just went off (ahead of me). So I’m basically in the forest by myself, and it’s super steep and super hard.”
Ulofoshio does not exaggerate. The Mailbox Peak trail — located near North Bend — measures 9.4 miles of narrow bridges and creek crossings and steep switchbacks. It features an elevation gain of 4,000 feet, including 960 feet in the final dry-heaving half-mile haul to the summit.
So in other words: it’s not for a novice.
But it might be the perfect place for an epiphany.
“I kind of had a life-changing moment,” Ulofoshio said. “I realized that only I can get myself up this mountain, and if I keep going step by step, I’m going to be able to get to the top.”
Eventually, inevitably, he got to the top — where a weathered mailbox stood at the summit. He confirmed last weekend that “it was all worth it.”
The same can be said of the other two mountains.
Though, fair warning: they’re metaphorical.
The first represents the 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker’s improbably fruitful football career. After being raised in Anchorage, Alaska — the exact antonym of a football mecca — Ulofoshio moved with his family to Las Vegas in 2016. At prep powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School, he produced 100 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in his senior season … only to be effectively ignored as a college recruit.
Ulofoshio — who was ranked by 247Sports as a two-star recruit — received offers from Robert Morris and Northern Arizona but opted to walk on at Washington instead.
In Seattle it took him less than two years to reach the summit — earning a starting position and a scholarship.
Which is when another mountain — in this case, a pandemic — presented itself.
“I would say (the hardest part of the past year) was just trying not to get COVID,” Ulofoshio said. “Because if I went to the grocery store I would just be so paranoid. What if I touch an apple? It’s a constant state. But I have to eat. I have to go get gas. What if that one encounter is going to take me out for two weeks? That was the hardest part, trying to avoid it and trying not to get contact traced.”
Ultimately, Ulofoshio was able to avoid the virus — but the same can’t be said of everyone else. He led the Huskies with 47 tackles — 20 more than Sirmon, who finished second this time — along with four pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a sack. But a COVID-19 outbreak inside the program prematurely ended UW’s 2020 campaign.
Rivalry games against Washington State and Oregon were canceled. The conference’s title game was played without UW, technically the Pac-12 North Division champ.
Meanwhile, Ulofoshio — a biology major with aspirations of becoming a doctor — was bombarded with parallels between what he lived and learned.
“It’s kind of crazy, thinking about it,” he said. “Especially being in public health, what we’re going through right now is basically exactly what we’re learning in class.”
And, though the pandemic isn’t over, Ulofoshio finally finds himself on the other side of the summit. On Saturday at UW’s open practice he played in front of fans for the first time in more than a year. He’s established himself as a leader in the middle of UW’s defense, who earned Honorable Mention All-America honors from Pro Football Focus and Phil Steele a season ago.
On New Year’s Day, after Alabama topped Notre Dame in a College Football Playoff semifinal, Ulofoshio tweeted: “Goal for 2021: play on January 1, 2022”.
Now he’s eyeing another mountain — where a trophy, not a mailbox, awaits at the top.
“He embodies what a Dawg is,” UW coach Jimmy Lake said Wednesday. “He is a big-time person and a big-time football player. He has fought for every rep we’ve given him on special teams and on defense. He fought and clawed to get on scholarship. He fought and clawed to be an all-conference player, and you can see the look in his eyes — the determination. He wants to be a better Eddy this year than he was last year and the year before.
“That’s what we are all about around here, a constant state of growth and development. He leads by example. He’s also leading with his voice now, because he has a ton of respect around the locker room. You can see that he is not resting. He’s competitive as all get-out, and I’m glad he’s a Dawg.”
Lake said after Wednesday’s practice that junior tailback Richard Newton missed two practices last week because of a pair of false-positive COVID-19 tests. The 6-0, 215-pound runner — who dressed but did not play in the final two games last season for an unspecified reason — participated in practices Monday and Wednesday.
“We think we’ve solved the issue, but it just reminds us that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we still have to jump through a lot of hoops to make sure we can get guys to practice every single day,” Lake said. “So we’re glad Rich is back. He’s coming in in phenomenal shape and he’s doing a really good job, and hopefully he won’t miss any more practices here moving forward.”