In Wayne Taulapapa’s eyes, trust is key.
On Saturday night in Washington’s 40-22 victory over Stanford, the Huskies’ graduate transfer running back from the University of Virginia had the game of his life, with 13 rushes for a career-high 120 yards, with a career-best 34 yard rushing touchdown.
Taulapapa’s previous career-high rushing total was 95 yards, which he ran in a 2020 Virginia game against Duke. But four games into his UW career, Taulapapa raised the bar for himself with the best game of his career — just a week after he was held to just 36 rushing yards on 12 carries by Michigan State.
“I’m super happy,” Taulapapa said after the game. “I’m very grateful for my teammates and everyone that made it possible, and obviously a lot of work went into this, not just from a o-line, quarterbacks, and receivers perspective, but also like the guys that work with our scout team every day. We have a bunch of young guys who come every day and give us great looks, and they really prepared us for the Stanford week.”
“Stanford was a great team, so that was really exciting. I’m just really grateful for the rest of my teammates for making it happen for me.”
Taulapapa came to UW with high expectations after a Virginia career that saw him run for 1,192 career yards and 19 career touchdowns over the past three seasons. His best year with the Cavaliers came as a sophomore, when Taulapapa rushed for 473 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.
His yardage and touchdown totals dropped in each of the next two seasons, and Taulapapa made the decision to join Washington for his final year of eligibility.
With the No. 18 Huskies sporting a 4-0 record and featuring a potential Heisman contender at quarterback in Michael Penix Jr., Taulapapa is happy he made the choice to play on Montlake. When he came for his visit, he knew right away that Washington was where he needed to be.
“It’s cliche to say that, but I fell in love with the program,” Taulapapa said. “Not only the players and the coaches, but also just the community in Seattle. Just to see all those videos and the representations of how much the fans love football, it’s huge. I’m grateful to be here and I want to continue to stack up success.”
The program seems to love him right back, as Taulapapa was named one of the six Husky team captains before the season, a clear sign that his UW coaches and teammates believe in Taulapapa’s ability to perform on the field, while representing the program well off of it.
Taulapapa’s big night marked the first time a UW running back has rushed for more than 100 yards since last year’s Oct. 30 game against Stanford, when Sean McGrew rushed for 114 yards.
“Wayne did a heck of a job,” Penix said. “Another guy that is just hard-nosed, just always wants to work hard, and is always the same guy each and every day in practice. Wayne is great, man. I’m glad we have him here.”
Taulapapa averaged just over six carries per game for Virginia last season. Through four games at UW, he has yet to receive fewer than 11 carries in a game.
“It’s a major difference,” Taulapapa said. “I feel trusted and have the ball in my hands, which is nice. Obviously, we had a great offense at Virginia, but things work out differently. So just to use the skills that I learned and got from there and kind of apply here as well. I’ve got a great coach in (running backs coach Lee) Marks, who has prepared us for moments like this.”
To head coach Kalen DeBoer, the trust that Taulapapa feels from his coaching staff has been a vital part of the program’s success so far this season.
“We definitely trust Wayne,” DeBoer said. “… I think our players really trust back the other way too. I mean, we’re in this fight together. Coaches and players, we’re fighting together. That is what’s fun about this is when something doesn’t go quite right, we’re going to get it corrected. There’s just a great trust, and I think that continues to grow amongst our team.”