Washington Huskies

For Husky linebacker Ariel Ngata, spring practice is a balancing act

Washington linebacker Ariel Ngata (52) before the game. The University of Washington played North Dakota in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018.
Washington linebacker Ariel Ngata (52) before the game. The University of Washington played North Dakota in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

Sometimes Ariel Ngata just wants to go home and rest — but he doesn’t.

Instead, the Washington linebacker will head to Husky Stadium to study film. If he goes there to eat, he’ll move upstairs and watch with one of the coaches. Even when he’s working on homework for a few hours, he always sets aside 15 to 20 minute breaks to go over a call or two.

Ngata has worked with both the inside and outside linebackers during spring practice, spending two days a week at one position before switching to the other. While the redshirt sophomore described the balancing act as easy, he admitted there is sacrifice that goes along with playing two positions.

Most of that sacrifice is time.

“If I’m in a different room on one day, I’ll miss the install for that other position,” Ngata said after practice on Wednesday. “So it’s really more of finding my own time to watch film, finding the coach and have him explain it to me, taking notes, just everything.

“I’d say that’s the hardest part but that’s just something I got to do. I’ve got to step up and take responsibility and be accountable to make that time.”

Ngata was an outside linebacker last season, playing in 12 of the Huskies’ 14 games. He finished the year with 11 tackles, seven solo, and a forced fumble.

Inside linebackers coach Bob Gregory said UW’s outside linebackers tend to have a thicker build, like the 6-foot-5, 266-pound Joe Tryon. Ngata, who is 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, has the height and pass-rushing ability of an outside linebacker but is on the thinner side. Because of that, the coaches wanted to see what he could do inside.

“He has been doing the extra work,” Gregory said. “It’s not easy playing two positions but I think Ariel has caught on pretty good. He certainly has taken ownership of it.”

Gregory and outside linebackers coach Pete Kwiatkowski have made the transition easy, Ngata said. And because he spends equal time at each position, Ngata hasn’t fallen behind.

“Some of it is also me just finding extra time to come in and watch film for both of them,” Ngata said, “so I just know them both like the back of my hand.”

When considering asking a player to balance two positions, Gregory said the first and biggest concern is whether he can handle it mentally. That’s something Ngata has been able to do.

“And then it’s spring football,” Gregory said. “We’re not playing a game so it’s OK if kids make a mistake and all that. We’re trying different things out and (Ngata’s) been good so far.”

Gregory said Ngata has put in more effort and watched more film this offseason than he has in any other year with the program. Because of that work, Ngata has impressed with how well he’s picked up the second position.

“I don’t know if I could overstate it enough: Watching film, that’s our greatest teaching tool, especially a guy like him that’s playing two positions,” Gregory said. “(He’s) watching film on his own, he’ll come in and watch film with me, watch film with Coach (Kwiatkowski). The whole deal.”

For Ngata, the biggest challenge has just been adjusting to a different point of view on the field.

“I got to get my reaction time up,” he said. “That’s definitely a big part of it. So far it’s just been smooth. The coaches, they really help it be smooth. Also (Brandon Wellington) and Kyler (Manu), I ask them a question and they’re helping me out. It’s been smooth. Nothing but easy so far.”

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