Bralen Trice and Laiatu Latu are together again.

On the leaderboard, but not the line.

Through four weeks this fall, UW’s 2019 pass-rush signees lead the Pac-12 in sacks:

  1. UCLA LB Laiatu Latu: 5 sacks, 10 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles
  2. UW edge Bralen Trice: 4 sacks, 14 tackles, 7 tackles for loss

Trice and Latu will finally share a field on Friday night — an improbably prolific pair.

Latu — a 6-foot-4, 265-pound redshirt junior — signed with Washington as a four-star recruit out of Sacramento, Calif., in 2019, and produced 16 tackles in 12 games as a true freshman. He sustained a neck injury in the 2020 preseason that forced him to medically retire the following spring.

That retirement was temporary.

A Los Angeles Times story this month stated that the numbness in Latu’s neck “never went away, worrying doctors.” But though UW’s doctors declined to clear Latu, he hoped a change of scenery would provide a second chance.

So the former Jesuit High School standout transferred to UCLA this offseason, following former UW outside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe. And though he was never promised an opportunity to play, Latu was officially cleared in late April. Doctors prescribed exercises to strengthen his neck, while coaches encouraged him to tackle without his head, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s up to the institutions,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said Monday, when asked how Latu (who entered the transfer portal before DeBoer was hired) could be cleared at UCLA. “Physicians have a job to do, and they have to deem what’s right for that person in their mind. Different places have different doctors, and different doctors will have different feelings on that limit. I’ve been at other places where the same thing has happened both ways.

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“I didn’t even really realize what was going on until once we started the season, or very close to it, that he was a player that had played here and moved on. On the field, he’s certainly a guy that’s making a lot of plays and one we’ve got to be very aware of.”

At Washington, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. leads the nation with 1,388 passing yards — and has yet to be sacked in his first four games.

Will Latu, of all improbable opponents, snap that streak?

“He’s got length. He can beat you with speed around the edge. He can go right down the middle at you. He’s a special player,” said UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb. “So he’ll be a guy we definitely have to have our attention on. Our tackles will have to be ready to go.”

The same can be said about Trice, Latu’s former classmate, who redshirted in 2019 and opted out in 2020 due to COVID concerns. But the 6-4, 269-pounder has exploded back onto the scene, with a near unblockable blend of size and speed.

“He is relentless,” said UW co-defensive coordinator Chuck Morrell. “It’s who he is as a person. It’s how he operates on a day-to-day basis. You think about anyone right now who’s being ultra-productive for us; it’s because of all the million little things that you as a fan or anyone outside the program don’t see. It’s daily, consistent effort. It’s slamming your head against the wall over and over and over again to try to get better. I think he’s got that approach, where man, it’s hard to outwork him.”

Outrunning him isn’t easier. Ask Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee, who was sacked eight times last weekend (and twice by Trice). Through four games, UW leads the Pac-12 with 15 sacks.

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But the Huskies have struggled to consistently corral dual threat quarterbacks … and UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson is “as good as anybody in the country at eluding the pass-rush,” Morrell said Monday.

“We counted up, he’s been pressured 37 times this year. They’ve only been sacked three times,” Morrell added. “So he’s certainly a handful. Once he gets out of the pocket, he’s dangerous. He can still put the ball downfield (with his arm), and he’s easily one of the fastest quarterbacks we’ll face all season.”

A year ago, “DTR” completed 21 of 26 passes (80.8%) and threw for 183 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 87 rushing yards and another score, in a 24-17 win at Washington.

But this isn’t the same team.

And it’s not the same Trice.

“I feel like personally I had a lot of speed coming (into college at 220 pounds in 2019),” said Trice, a Phoenix product who posted five tackles for loss and two sacks in 2021. “Getting in the weight room and getting stronger with (strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery) this past offseason was great for me because it allowed me to play the run game and play with power a lot better. You guys have seen that. I make it a focus to be more physical every day and be better at being physical, because speed comes naturally for me.”

And yet, Trice’s improvement is far from a natural progression. It was chiseled through force of will.  

“I’ve always been like that,” he said. “Coming into this role and getting older and getting bigger, (the work ethic) shows more and people see it more, because I have more of a platform to show it. As a young guy you have your head in the dirt, grinding, for that time and that opportunity.”

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For both Trice and Latu, Friday’s opportunity did not come easily.

And yet, someone’s going to lead the Pac-12 in sacks by Saturday. Who’s it going to be?

“Latu’s my brother, you know? He came in the same class as me. We got a lot of work in together,” Trice said Tuesday. “I’m just glad he’s getting his chance to play somewhere, because he wasn’t able to play here. Great guy. Great teammate. I wish the world for him.

“But we’re going to come in there this week and do our job, turn up on defense, get sacks, get tackles, and show them who’s really been working harder this offseason.”