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Originally published November 24, 2010 at 6:47 PM | Page modified November 25, 2010 at 12:02 PM

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Mason Foster: One of Huskies' greatest defenders?

Linebacker Mason Foster could go down in history as one of the Huskies' greatest defenders, but he was under the radar as a recruit.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

UW @ California, 12:30 p.m., FSN

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There was a time Washington senior linebacker Mason Foster might have reveled in coming home to show everyone what he has become.

When Foster and the Huskies play at California on Saturday afternoon, he'll be greeted by about 160 friends, family and former teammates and coaches from Seaside, Calif., about 90 minutes from Berkeley.

They'll gather to cheer on a player that is the leading tackler in the Pac-10 with 128, already the most by any Husky since 1989 and second in the nation.

A player that most of the Pac-10 passed on when he was coming out of Seaside High, including his beloved Cal Bears.

"I grew up watching Cal," says Foster, who admits that for a while that would have been his dream school.

But where it once bothered him that the Bears "never really recruited me" it no longer does.

"I used to hold it against them, but now I just go out and play," Foster said.

So the homecoming this weekend is about seeing friends and family and the game and not settling old scores.

"He's always focused more on the moment," said his mother, Margarette. "He'll just go out and play the game. He's been like that since he was 8."

Besides, the Bears were hardly alone in not being sure what they might have had in Foster.

In what has become the centerpiece in any story on Foster, then-Washington assistant Tim Lappano — an offensive coordinator whose recruiting responsibilities included the Bay Area — offered him a scholarship before anyone else.

Foster committed shortly after, in December of 2006.

It's not quite accurate to say, however, that no one else knew anything about Foster.

"The night the story broke that he had verbally committed, his phone rang 25 times," his mother said this week. "It rang so much that he finally said to us he wanted to turn it off. He had a lot of people coming at him once they found out he had actually committed. They were just waiting to see."

Their hesitation proved to be UW's gain, however, as Foster stuck to his word and signed with Washington, turning out to be one of the best signings of the Tyrone Willingham era. He became a regular reserve and sometime starter as a true freshman in 2007 and has started ever since. His 343 career tackles have him just off the school's all-time top-10 list — Dave Pear is 10th with 348 from 1972-74.

All of the other players on the list graduated by 1987 or earlier, meaning Foster will have left UW making more tackles than any Husky in at least the last 23 years.

"You make as many tackles as he has and you are obviously an outstanding football player and one of the better linebackers in the country," said Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson. "You try to control him a little bit, but where he plays he just makes a lot of plays. He's the heart and soul of their defense."

Foster began playing football at the earliest age he could in Seaside — 9 years old — following in the footsteps of his father, William, who played through the community-college level. Longtime NFL coach Herm Edwards is also a native of Seaside and held camps in the areas for years that Foster attended.

Foster also played baseball and basketball, and for one year played roller hockey when he wasn't yet of age to play football, wanting something where he could run into people legally.

"I couldn't really stop (with the skates) or anything like that, but it was kind of fun," he said.

But football, his mother said, was always No. 1. "He's always been so passionate about that sport," she said.

He also played quarterback among other positions at Seaside, and that knowledge of the game has served him well at UW as the Huskies coaches have been able to use Foster just about everywhere at linebacker during his career.

He played primarily weakside linebacker in 2008 when he led the Pac-10 in tackles with 105. He was moved to strongside linebacker in 2009, a spot that plays closer to the line, and his tackles dropped to 85. He was moved back to the weakside spot this year (which in UW's system generally plays more in the middle of the field) but also has been used all over the place, sometimes lining up as essentially a defensive end.

"The biggest improvement he has made this year is his ability to play multiple positions," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian. "We have moved him around quite a bit, and to his credit he has handled it extremely well. He has done great things rushing the passer and coming off the edge and in the middle."

And his NFL draft stock is soaring as a result.

ESPN.com's Mel Kiper Jr. listed Foster among his rising seniors this week, saying that "he'll be making a living as a professional football player in the very near future."

Says Foster: "It's a good feeling to know I'll have a chance to show that I can play."

Which, he says, is all he's ever asked.

Notes

• Nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu returned to practice Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday and should play against Cal. Guard Ryan Tolar (knee) remains questionable. Freshman Erik Kohler would be his replacement.

Jake Locker has practiced all week, and Sarkisian said he will play.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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