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Right tackle Ben Riva grew up a Husky fan and hopes to help the UW return to football glory.

Photo by Sang Cho

Ben Riva is not too keen on smiling for photos. The soon-to-be junior gets down on a knee and rests his battered gold helmet on the green turf in Dempsey Indoor. His face is still flushed from another fast-paced practice that featured a heavy load of the UW’s new up-tempo offense. He wants to be helpful so he attempts to smile, but he ends up grimacing with a mix of embarrassment and pain.

He’s a football player on a mission, and the mission doesn’t involve looking friendly.

“I want people to fear this Husky team,” he said. “I want to bring back the Husky memories that I’ve had when I was a kid.”

There are too many memories to count. Riva stares off into the distance as he tries to remember some of his favorite moments. The Seattle native squints his light-brown eyes and sees nothing but purple and gold.

Riva, a 6-foot-6 offensive lineman whose size stands out even on the football field, grew up steeped in purple and gold tradition. Neither of his parents went to the UW, but that didn’t stop them from bringing him to games when he was still in elementary school. He watched the Huskies win the Rose Bowl in 2001 and dressed up for “Husky Day” at school. He celebrated when former UW cornerback turned Husky basketball star Nate Robinson’s clutch interception in 2002 helped deny then-No. 3 Washington State of a Rose Bowl berth in a triple-overtime heart stopper of an Apple Cup.

Riva fell in love with the Huskies. They were a national powerhouse: one of the most feared teams on the West Coast.

When he signed with his hometown school, the O’Dea High School alumnus saw his childhood dream come true. He calls the moment “surreal.” But it wasn’t quite what he pictured.

He wanted to play for the Huskies who were playing in big-time bowl games every year, dominating the Pac-10, and making a splash on the national scene. He ended up signing with a program stuck in an eight-year bowl drought and just one year removed from the infamous 0-12 season.

Now he embarks with the Huskies on their quest for a fourth-straight bowl game, but he’s still reaching into the time machine to recapture the memories of his youth.

The person in many of those memories is Marques Tuiasosopo. The former UW quarterback led the Huskies to one of their most memorable seasons in school history as he capped off the 2000 campaign with a Rose Bowl win over Purdue and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. He was a tough-as-nails, dual-threat quarterback who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

He was Husky football.

“Being a Husky is being tough, being willing to go,” said Tuiasosopo, who is currently the UW quarterbacks coach. “It’s easy when you start out because it’s fun, but the one thing I know about Huskies is that when it gets tough, we’re the first to raise our hands and say ‘I’m going to go out there to battle.’”

Tuiasosopo wasn’t the only Husky that Riva looked up to. There was Benji Olson, an offensive lineman from the Jim Lambright era who, like both Riva and Tuiasosopo, was a local product. Of course, he remembers Steve Emtman,the relentless unanimous All-American defensive tackle who anchored the UW’s national-championship winning-defense in 1991.

When it came time for Riva to jump in to the Husky lineage with his first start, he couldn’t help but feel the weight of decades of Husky tradition on his shoulder pads. He still feels it now.

“I know there are guys watching me,” he said. “And I don’t want to let them down.”

His first moment to shine came against San Diego State in the UW’s season opener last year. It was “the most fun [he’d] ever had.” That is, until he broke his arm.

Riva broke the top bone in his left forearm right before halftime of his first start in the purple and gold and missed the next five games before finishing out the season’s final six games. He got a metal plate put in and boasts a clean white scar that stretches about five inches on the top of his arm now. It doesn’t bother him anymore, and he insists that he’s ready to go for this upcoming season.

Of course he’s ready to go: He’s a Husky.

Riva’s trying to hold up the tradition by not only holding down his own spot in line, but others too. In addition to his normal position of right tackle, he’s seen time at left tackle during spring practice. His long arms can seal off the edge for his quarterback and his foot work and motor skills set him apart from any other offensive linemen his size, said offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto.

Another thing Cozzetto thinks makes Riva special: his toughness, which may explain his aversion to smiling in photos.

But he’s not constantly wearing a scowl that strikes fear into the hearts of the opposing defense. He smiles all the time, because he’s thinking about Husky football all the time.

“It’s my whole life,” he said. “It’s what I think about when I wake up from when I go to bed. It’s a really huge dream come true.”

Reach Sports Editor Thuc Nhi Nguyen at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @thucnhi21

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