The news that everyone had been dreading came out today as Jimmy Lake announced that star pass rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon last week and will be out 6-10 months. Lake generally refrains from announcing injuries during the season but clearly felt withholding the information from the general public wasn’t going to give the team a competitive advantage given the timeline.
Last season ZTF was one of the breakout stars of college football as he stepped in as a first time starter and had 7 sacks in 4 games. Had he been fully healthy there’s no doubt that ZTF would have been preseason 1st team all-conference this summer and also garnered heavy consideration for preseason All-American teams.
The 6-10 month time period given by Coach Lake means that theoretically ZTF could return by the very end of the 2021 season. The idea that he could return within 6 months seems difficult to imagine but 7 months would put him back for the Apple Cup, hopefully a Pac-12 title game, and a bowl game.
However it seems the safest bet is that they won’t rush ZTF back and simply allow him to get fully healthy for the 2022 season. With anything close to the season we saw from him in the short 4-game sample it was likely that ZTF would be headed to the NFL draft next spring. Now coming off an Achilles injury it becomes an almost certainty that he returns for 2022.
The injury to ZTF became even more devastating after the news at the beginning of spring that OLB Laiatu Latu suffered a neck injury in the fall that required him to retire from the sport. Prior to those injuries it looked like outside linebacker was perhaps the most stacked position on the team. Fortunately the Huskies had depth but they can ill afford anymore setbacks after Latu and ZTF were removed from the 2-deeps.
With ZTF unavailable for at least the beginning of the season it adds intrigue for how the rotation will shake out. Senior Ryan Bowman came back with his extra year of eligibility and is guaranteed to occupy one of the starting spots. It’s likely to be a 3-way battle opposite him between Texas A&M transfer Jeremiah Martin, 5-star (still thanks to the eligibility rules) true freshman Sav’ell Smalls, and suddenly the veteran Bralen Trice. The last of those names seemed a likely transfer possibility when both Latu and ZTF were ahead of him on the depth chart but hes’ gotten praise from the coaching staff this spring and obviously a much clearer path to playing time.
Washington usually goes with 2 starters and 2 backups at the position so it’s likely that all 4 end up seeing plenty of the field. There’s also a chance that Cooper McDonald could break into the rotation after getting some playing time last fall at OLB when Latu and Bowman were unavailable.
Best of luck to Zion in his recovery as all of Husky nation is behind him.