Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Toughness of Olin Kreutz

Olin Kreutz's name has come up a few times in recent months, and typically always in the same context: team leader, enforcer, tough guy. Kreutz has been the anchor of the Chicago Bears line for more than a decade, and his presence always precedes him.

We have discussed whether to bring in a wide receiver with a sketchy past... Kreutz would put him in his place. We talked about Cutler's antics in Denver... that's okay, Kreutz will whip him into shape in Chicago.

And today, we saw Kreutz featured on ESPN's All-Decade Offense. All of this talk reminded me of a "situation" that occurred in 2005 between Kreutz and Fred Miller. Here is an excerpt from an article I found:

Kreutz and Miller were having some fun in November 2005, shooting at an FBI firing range, when the fun took a bad turn. After the shooting, they had some drinks and barbeque. What kind of FBI firing range allows men to drink and eat on the property? Good question. Ask someone else. Me, I'm still trying to figure out how Olin Kreutz beat the crap out of Fred Miller, and did it so thoroughly that it was Miller who ended up apologizing afterward.
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Alama-Francis Starts Anew With a Clean Slate

Ikaika Alama-Francis' first two years with the Lions were a little intense, to say the least. The defensive end was the first defensive lineman drafted by coach Rod Marinelli, a defensive-line specialist.

Sure enough, the easygoing Hawaiian soon became a pet project of Marinelli's.

The excruciating details Marinelli preached to Alama-Francis in private sessions during practice and for extended periods after practice were enough to practically make him feel like the coach's son on a Little League team.

"Oh, definitely there's a lot of pressure when a coach is always on you," Alama-Francis said. "You always have to be on your toes. Sometimes it got to a point where it was like, 'Whoa.' Every time I was really thinking about things, what to do, what not to do and getting all that attention.

"It was good because he's one of the best D-line coaches out there. I was very blessed to be coached by him and (former defensive line coach) Joe Cullen. But things are different now. Everybody's trying to learn these things, and it's all squared up with teaching."

Now, Alama-Francis has started with a clean slate with the new coaching staff. With a new "get bigger and get stronger" edict for the team, Alama-Francis has gone from 275 pounds to 290 pounds and even joked that he's getting taller.

"Well, I'm wearing thicker cleats this year," he said. "I've gained about half an inch."

Alama-Francis has been lining up inside at times during practice, but he said there is no permanent role determination. It's just part of the process coaches go through to see where every player fits best.

"Everybody's coming along real well," he said. "They wanted a bigger defense, they wanted bigger guys, and we're trying to do that. We're coming together as a defense. I think we're doing really well. We're learning what the coaches are teaching us. I know it's a little bit different from last year, but it's the same thing: Get up the field, penetrate as a D-line and then the rest just falls into place."

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Canada Shuts Out New Zealand 55-0 in JWC Game

Maxime Boutin ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries to help the No. 1-seeded Canadians advance in front of about 1,000 fans at Fawcett Stadium.

Steven Lumbala also ran for 62 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Canada outgained New Zealand, 515-53.

“We’ve been practicing since June 17, and for us it was the first time with a lot of physical contact,” Team Canada head coach Glen Constantin said. “It was very important to play to our level and take some of the rust out.”

Canada scored on its first five drives in building a 34-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Quarterbacks Jéremie Doyon-Roch and Brandon Bridge combined to go 13-of-16 for the game for 168 yards and two TDs.

New Zealand’s highlights included a 43-yard pass from Matino Meredith to Josiah O’Connell and a fourth-quarter goal-line stand inside its own 5-yard line.

“My hat’s off to Canada. They deserve their No. 1 ranking,” said New Zealand head coach Michael Mau’u. “There’s a lot of fight in New Zealand. We’re not going to give up.”

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Families to New Zealanders: Just Make Us Proud at JWC

The capital of New Zealand is Wellington. Incorrect information originally appeared in this story.

As Team New Zealand prepared to board an airplane for the start of a 37-hour trek to the IFAF Junior World Championship, parents pulled their sons aside.

They used different words but had the same simple message.

“I was standing near three families all saying the same thing, though in three different languages,” New Zealand head coach Michael Mau’u said Wednesday after his team’s first practice at Walsh University. “They told them, ‘You are going to represent your country and your family. Make us proud.’ ”

So began the long journey for one of the world’s youngest football programs.

Organized football began just 12 years ago in New Zealand, a country whose capital, Wellington, is 8,459 miles from Canton. Football there is so new that Mau’u had to go to Australia to play in his younger days, and played against his home country during the early stages of New Zealand’s international competition.

“The first time Australia played New Zealand, there’s my family in green and gold (Australia’s colors) surrounded by New Zealand’s black jerseys but cheering right along,” Mau’u said. Eventually, he donned New Zealand black as well.

“I tried to explain to the kids what this is all about, what it’s like to play for your country,” he said. “But until they walked in here, I don’t think they really believed me.”

New Zealand and Canada open the eight-nation tournament Saturday at Fawcett Stadium. Quarterback Sloan MacAskill hopes the temperature is cool for the 10 a.m. kickoff. It’s winter in New Zealand, and frost covered the ground the day the team departed.

“It’s hot here. I can tell you that,” MacAskill said when asked about his first impressions of the United States. “It doesn’t feel like half a world away, though.”

MacAskill and his teammates flew first to San Francisco, then waited out a nine-hour layover for a flight to Chicago. A bus ride to Canton gave them a clear view of the American Midwest.

Wednesday was the team’s first chance to stretch their legs on a U.S. practice field. Running back Dan Tavaga impressed onlookers with his speed and maneuverability.

The 5-foot-5, 157-pound slasher took a variety of pitches as the team drilled.

“I like running against the big guys,” Tavaga said. “I sometimes even like getting tackled. It psychs me up.”

Tavaga ran for both touchdowns in his team’s 12-7 win over Australia to clinch a spot at Fawcett. That they come in as the No. 8 seed and heavy underdogs does not faze this group.

Team members had to finance their way here, paying about $2,800 each in American dollars. Because of that, only 37 players made the trip. The ones that did are not taking lightly the sacrifice their families made.

“Our team is very Polynesian influenced, very family influenced,” Mau’u said. “When we played Australia, all the kids had their own rooms but there was a central kitchen area and they all drug their mattresses there to sleep together. Team unity is not something we work at. It’s something they expect and come by naturally.”

Whether that results in wins remains to be seen.

“National honor means everything to us,” Mau’u said. “I told the team to play with no regrets. You can’t leave something in the tank and think what could have been after it’s done. That doesn’t mean we’re just happy to be here. We’ll take our shot at victory if it’s there.”

They’ve come too far not to.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Amosa Amosa Has Always Effected Change

In early 1984, Dick Tomey lured an 18-year-old lineman from Campbell High School into the memorabilia room of his house. Amosa Amosa, attending a recruiting barbecue held by the University of Hawaii's coach at the time, looked in awe at the gleaming trophies, signed footballs and yellowed newspaper clippings.

When Tomey plucked a jersey from a shelf and held it up -- Jesse Sapolu's old No. 76 -- the kid from Campbell was sold.

"You come here, this is your number," Amosa was told by Tomey, who clearly did his homework more than 25 years ago.

See, you leave Western Samoa at age 12 and your athletic hero isn't Joe Montana or Walter Payton. It's someone who looked like you, a future Pro Bowler of Samoan ancestry, who would block for Montana and Steve Young and win Super Bowls for Bill Walsh's 49ers.

"Jesse Sapolu was my idol, I was almost shaking," Amosa recalled. "I called home that night and said, 'Dad, I think I'm going Hawaii already.' "

Condolences were quickly sent to BYU, Utah, Washington and Portland State, which, now it can be told, was never in the running.

"As a senior at Campbell, I didn't even know where Portland was," Amosa said. "I was like, 'Portland, is that a state?' "

We laughed over the phone, catching up for the first time in more than two decades. Once my teammate on an inglorious Campbell football team in 1982, Amosa, two years behind me, would succeed me as the Sabers' starting center on the basketball court and become the school's most accomplished student-athlete of his era.

While I crisscrossed the mainland to finish school and start a journalism career, Amosa stayed home -- becoming one of the 100 greatest players in the annals of UH football, an accolade that has genuinely humbled him.

"All those great players, I just didn't know if they would put me on that incredible list," he said. "I am so honored, I can't even tell you."

His football accomplishments -- first-team All-Western Athletic Conference, named twice to the prestigious Warrior Club and to the 1988 Hula Bowl, member of the first all-Polynesian line in NCAA history -- cemented his credentials for UH's top 100. If he wasn't snapping the football and then nimbly using his 6-foot-2, 285-pound frame to pull his blocks in a triple-option offense -- if he didn't play on a UH team that knocked off No. 9 Iowa his senior season and was probably the best 9-3 squad never to go to a bowl game -- Amosa doesn't join honorees ranging from Larry Price to Colt Brennan, from Tommy Kaulukukui to Jason Elam.

But the numbers and victories do little to paint the portrait of Amosa, who fittingly came home last year as head football coach at Campbell, back to where a bamboo-shoot thin freshman could barely bench-press the 45-pound bar that held the weights.

Remember the old TV series starring Gabe Kaplan and John Travolta, where the former student returns to teach all the knuckleheads at his dilapidated Brooklyn public school? Amosa coming back to work with kids in Ewa Beach was essentially "Welcome Back, Kotter" -- Hawaiian-style.

Quick story: A Campbell teacher approached me after a Hawaii Pacific College-Chaminade game in 1983 (I rode the bench for a year at HPC), and he kept gushing over how Amosa had affected the student body in ways I never could.

"It's one thing when you used to walk across campus with your books under your arms," he said. "But they still see you as haole. With Amosa, it's different. The kids, they relate to him. They watch and follow. Some have even stopped holding up D-building with their feet. Now they go to class."

The words partially stung then, but I know now what he meant -- how a hulking Samoan kid, who deigned to carry his bulky algebra books under his arm and held his head high and proud like the honor student he became, well, a young man like that could effect real change at Campbell.

Then and now.

In the hour or so we spoke this past week, Amosa never mentioned the Sabers going 11-3 last year in his inaugural season as head coach. Instead, he talked about the pride he felt when parents came up to him after a preseason game and said they got chills -- "like chicken skin," Amosa said -- when they heard their kids singing the alma mater. That it occurred a year after the band didn't show up at Farrington and none of the kids knew the words brought chills to Amosa.

When he boasted about the kids he coached at Campbell and Aiea, where he was the offensive coordinator for nine years, Amosa didn't talk about the MVPs; he talked about the ones who overcame adversity -- physical disabilities, attitude, the ones who resisted peer pressure to hold up D-building and rub their belly after double lunch.

"Da buggah get one heart as big as anybody," he said about Lalo Respicio, his Campbell quarterback this season. "Talk about great character. 3.6 GPA. Humble. Works hard. So coachable. Always picking up people.

"The wins are nice. But to have good character, to have pride in your community, that's the vision and philosophy."

Good Amosa trivia: As a Campbell assistant, Amosa Amosa once coached Kaleopa Kaleopa. (The oldest boy in a Samoan family often is bestowed a double name). His roommate at UH: volleyball star Allen Allen.

He once showed up in a muddy downpour at Leilehua in bare feet, ready to assist then-Campbell coach Darren Hernandez.

"You had to see him. His pants were rolled up and he said his shoes were soaked," said Hernandez, now the patriarch of Kapolei's program and our friend and teammate on the legendary 0-7-1 Sabers of '82. "I finally told him, 'Amosa, you can't coach in bare feet. Put your shoes on.'"

Hernandez added, "So unassuming, so humble, you would never know Amosa accomplished what he did as an athlete or a coach."

Most revealing Amosa story: A certain OIA school, hard off Nimitz, was about to hire him as its next head coach several seasons ago when a concern arose at the last minute -- it was suggested the braided ponytail that ended in the middle of his back might have to be lopped off for the sake of school image.

Amosa politely told the principal that his long, flowing black hair was important to him, because it represented the bond between him and his wife of almost 15 years now, Akenese, who would braid it every morning.

"Because so much time was spent on coaching, I see it as a time to tell her I love her every morning, thank her for our six children, a chance to say our goodbyes for the day," Amosa said.

When the word "image" kept coming up, Amosa finally said, "I feel the character of a person is way more important than image," and he happily went back to Aiea, without the job.

Little regret remains over the experience, just as little regret remains over going undrafted, not even afforded an NFL tryout after his standout senior season. (Amosa figured playing in Paul Johnson's triple-option scheme soured scouts on his ability to pass protect, that 285 pounds was thought to be too small for a center.)

No, if Amosa went pro or got another head-coaching job, who would come back to Ewa Beach and influence kids the way he used to as a student 25 years ago? How could the man his Samoan brethren call "Fata" -- the high-talking chief of the family among his 10 siblings -- return to make a difference?

To motivate us during our Campbell basketball careers, the late Bob Nakagawa -- the Bobby Knight of the OIA West -- used to call Amosa and me, "Big for nothing." Talk about irony.

Wherever Coach Nakagawa is today, he knows: Amosa was big for something.

His family. The teammates and classmates he touched at Campbell and UH. And the multitude of kids who learned there was no shame in carrying your books across the grass on your way to class.

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On a Mission to Samoa

Samson Satele could have kicked back in his limited down time prior to reporting to his first training camp with the Oakland Raiders.

Instead, the former Hawaii offensive lineman is taking some time to help teach the game to youths in American Samoa.

"This is my week break right here," Satele said. "There's nothing better than going down to Samoa and helping the kids out a little."

Satele is part of the contingent that departed yesterday bound for Pago Pago as part of the American Samoa Football Academy and Medical Mission headed by former Hawaii and current SMU head coach June Jones.

The June Jones Foundation established the mission last year. Along with Jones, current Warriors coach Greg McMackin and former UH players Jesse Sapolu and Ma'a Tanuvasa are returning for the second year.

"Those kids are so receptive and so respectful, it's an awesome feeling to go out there and see so many Samoan brothers out there," Tanuvasa said. "They just soak everything in.

"They're catching up to us, but a lot of the kids are coming in slippers and bare feet and still kind of grasping the game. The coaches out there have done a great job; they already know a lot of the basics."

Satele, UH assistants Craig Stutzmann and Tony Tuioti, former UH lineman Ta'ase Faumui also made the trip. Jack Thompson, known as the "Throwin' Samoan" during his days at Washington State and with the Cincinnati Bengals, will also be part of the clinics.

It's a homecoming of sorts for Tuioti, who was born in Samoa before his family moved to California when he was nine months old.

"The kids are passionate about their football. They work as hard as our kids here, they just don't have the resources and facilities," Tuioti said. "It really is humbling to see the love people have (for Samoa) and see the spirit and I'm really excited."

Close to 1,000 high school athletes -- up from 500 last year -- are expected to participate in the free clinics today and tomorrow at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Pago Pago.

The mission will also provide nearly $400,000 in medical supplies and services, $50,000 in football equipment, five $2,000 scholarships and several hundred pairs of football shoes.

Ellie Taft-Reinebold, the wife of SMU assistant Jeff Reinebold, is leading the medical mission along with a group of certified nurses and doctors.

Jones established the mission last year after visiting American Samoa on recruiting trips starting in 1999.

"I went down there and I had a vision that we needed to help," Jones said. "They didn't even have footballs, playing barefoot."

He saw even more pressing issues away from the field.

"Normally a ratio is one (nurse) to every four to five patients," Jones said. "In Samoa it's one nurse to 80 patients. They have a tremendous need."

McMackin noted the connections made with the athletes and coaches in Samoa can benefit recruiting, but "I really believe it's more than football," he said.

"It's getting to know the people, it's getting to bring the people together."

Sapolu also announced the formation of the Samoa 'Ioe Foundation. The organization will be led by Sapolu, Thompson and Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who proclaimed yesterday "Samoa 'Ioe Foundation Day."

Among the foundation's goals will be to build football fields and provide equipment. Sapolu said Jones has been in contact with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL owners in trying to raise support for the foundation's efforts.

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Ngata is Quickly Becoming a Veteran Presence for Ravens

In the three years since Baltimore drafted Haloti Ngata, several spots on the Ravens' defense have been weakened.

Their secondary has taken the biggest hit. Corners Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister were aces in 2005, the year before Ngata arrived.

Baltimore signed Rolle in free agency when Tennessee couldn't afford to retain him, and McAlister had just been re-signed to a seven-year, $55 million deal.

The tandem had three All-Pro selections combined, and seemed set to key Baltimore's pass defense going forward.

Rolle suffered seizures caused by epilepsy though, missing significant time in 2007. A knee injury that same year took a heavy toll on McAlister's speed. After leading the league's sixth-best pass defense in 2006, neither was what the Ravens had expected.

Baltimore's linebacking corps has also taken its lumps. Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, and Adalius Thomas were arguably the league's best foursome in 2006. But Thomas left as a free agent in 2007, resulting in a down year for Suggs against increased attention from opposing blocking schemes.

Lewis, still one of the league's fiercest competitors, has become more of a leader and physical presence over the past few years—as opposed to the sideline-to-sideline dominance that won him two Defensive Player of the Year awards.

And Scott, a steady performer inside next to Lewis, left as a free agent this past spring to join Ryan in New York.

Even the Ravens' defensive line, though steadier than their other two lines of defense, hasn't been free of problems.

Underrated nose tackle Kelly Gregg, an important cog in Baltimore's defensive machine since becoming a full-time starter in 2002, missed all of 2008 after undergoing surgery on his knee. In the six seasons before his injury, Gregg had played in 93 of the Ravens' 96 games, including 92 starts.

Yet, despite these substantial chinks in its armor, Baltimore's defense has pressed on. The Ravens have finished no worse than sixth in the league in total defense—and no lower than third in terms of rush yards allowed—in each of the past three seasons.

Part of the credit goes to Ryan's genius for replacement. Stand-ins such as safety Jim Leonhard and lineman Justin Bannan were NFL cast-offs before landing in Baltimore and turning into productive starters.

Increasingly, though, credit is being given where it has been due: to the hard-to-miss 6'4", 340-pound man in the middle.

"[Ngata] has been a huge part of our success," Ryan told ESPN's Jeffri Chadiha last season. "He's started from day one, and he's only gotten better and better."

Through his first three NFL seasons, Ngata has started all 52 of the Ravens' games, including four starts in the postseason. He has amassed 164 tackles—111 of them solo—in addition to six sacks and seven passes defensed, but his numbers hardly tell the full story.

Praise from his teammates and coaches comes closer.

"No one man can block Haloti," Suggs said in an interview before last season's game against Washington. "He's a physical man-child. He's a beast out there."

In addition to being one of the strongest players on the football field at any given time, Ngata has proven smart enough to be utilized in several different roles by the Ravens' coaching staff.

With Gregg performing well at nose tackle, Ryan shifted Ngata out to end in Baltimore's three-man fronts in 2007. There, he clashed with opposing tackles, locking them down to give Suggs good pass-rushing looks, and funnel running plays back inside into traffic.

Stouter, and just as quick as the linemen opposing him, Ngata would shoot the "B" gap (between the tackle and guard) to rush the passer, and some of the Ravens' blitzes had him dropping back in short zone coverage.

When Gregg went down this past season, Ngata transitioned seamlessly back into the nose tackle role, still able to play at end in some looks.

Looking to get full use out of Ngata, the Ravens have experimented with using him at tight end in goal-line packages—and not just as a blocker, though he has done well in that role.

A few plays in Baltimore's offensive playbook have him running routes. In time, he's likely to add a touchdown reception or two to his career stats line.

But Ngata, despite his stellar play, the Ravens' many uses for him, and his selection to last year's Associated Press All-Pro team, has yet to be voted to the Pro Bowl.

"Some guys that are voting on [the Pro Bowl] don't get to go up against him," Ryan ventured in an interview at the end of last season.

"I'm pretty sure when you look at all the votes that Haloti received, it's guys that he's played against. Those are the guys who will vote him into the Pro Bowl—and next year, if we play a different conference, I'm sure those guys will vote him as well."

Recognition seems to be just a matter of exposure for Baltimore's multifunctional rising star, who has left a fittingly massive impression on anyone who's seen him play.

Asked to value Ngata at the end of last season, Ryan was adamant:

"I know there are some great defensive tackles in the league, but I wouldn't trade this guy for anybody."

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Peko in a Rush

The Bengals' Domata Peko plays in a division known more for its nose tackles than its nose for the end zone, but he is quietly building a resume to pit against the Casey Hamptons, Haloti Ngatas and Shaun Rogers of the world.

Of the NFL's defensive tackles in 2008, Cleveland's Rogers, with 76, was the only one who had more tackles than Peko and his 67 in numbers that were compiled by press-box stats. After the Bengals coaches looked at film, they had Peko for 108 tackles.

"You don't hear a lot about him, but he's a quiet assassin," says Kyle Cook, the Bengals center. "He may not be those guys, but he's Domata Peko and he's a unique guy. He's athletic enough that he can get you leaning one way and then get past you the other way and he's still strong enough to be stout against the run."

Cook should know. Stretching back to their days at Michigan State, this is their fifth season going head-to-head, although they can't bang helmets officially this year until training camp starts. But the 6-3, 320-pound Peko has banged enough heads that people are starting to notice.

Even Rogers.

"He came up to me after one of the games, telling me I'm doing a good job and to keep it going," Peko says. "That gives me encouragement. I'd liked to get mentioned like those guys. I'm not looking for it, but if I keep working hard and show up on film, guys will know."

'09 NFL DEFENSIVE TACKLE LEADERS: Shaun Rogers, Browns 76; Domata Peko, Bengals 67; Vince Wilfork, Patriots 66; Kevin Williams, Vikings 60; Jamal Williams, Chargers 56.

Peko is the strong, silent type. He doesn't say much and then all of a sudden you look up and he's battling former teammate Justin Smith for the league's defensive line tackle title. (Smith, with 73, ended up third behind Rogers and leader Trent Cole of the Eagles among ends and tackles.)

The cry is for leadership, and suddenly Peko's home has become a spot to hit for people on the team, whether it's a center like Cook or a wide receiver like Chris Henry.

"The guy is more than an effective player; he's good," says Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes. "Things go right and we win some games, then people are going to be talking about him and that should be getting to just about now."

Peko is already crunching numbers. Not only would he like to pass Rogers this year and lead the league in tackles, but he'd like to get at least five sacks. A big number, considering he only had 0.5 last year and 4.5 in his three-year career.

But he knows where the bread is buttered. Albert Haynesworth and Kevin Williams led all defensive tackles with 8.5 sacks. And Peko feels like after an offseason Hayes and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer unveiled new pass-rush drills and a little bit more freedom to go for it, he figures the time is now. A player that doesn't turn 25 until November, Peko is still growing into the pro game.

The idea, Hayes says, is "to get him to understand how he can increase his pass rush. Just to know what he needs to do to be effective when the opportunity comes. Don't be down the middle. Get an edge on his man."

Because he works primarily on first and second downs, Peko is emphasizing sniffing out play-action passes.

"A lot of times last year we didn't even know it was a pass; we thought it was a run," he said. "But this year (Zimmer) told me if I ever think it's a pass on first and second down, I can have the freedom to just swim past the center real quick and get upfield. That's something he just told me to do whenever I want. It feels like there is (more freedom on the line). He's just telling us to get after it, man. Get after the quarterback. We want to get some sacks. That's where we struggled last year. We can't do that. We have to get after the quarterback. That's how you win games."

And if the Bengals win games, Peko knows what's next.

"I'm not looking for attention, but one of my goals is to go to a Pro Bowl," he says. "Whether it's in Hawaii, Florida, wherever. But you don't do that winning four games and we've got a good team here this year."

His instinct, though, is not to jazz it up. He's the son of a minister and the lessons have been constant. A year ago this week Peko reached one of the earliest extensions in Bengals history (right there with Chad Ochocinco and Andrew Whitworth in their third seasons) when he signed a five-year extension that can give him as much as $30 million with escalators in a top 10 deal at his position. On that day his mother invoked the rule again.

"He has kept the faith and he's never forsaken it," Sua Peko said. "Growing up in he church I think is 100 percent why things have happened for him the way they have. He always has to keep this in mind."

He's been true to the word and continues to be active in his Florence, Ky., church, Seven Hills Christian. A couple of weeks ago the members fanned out into the poorer sections of Cincinnati and Covington, Ky., with free clothes, toys and bibles, and offered food under tents.

"I tell them whatever they need, I'll help them do," he says.

Which is the way it's sounding on the pass rush these days.


Last year's starters: Domata Peko (fourth year), Pat Sims (2). Key free agent: Tank Johnson (6). Inexperienced vet: Jason Shirley (2). Rookies: Seventh-rounder Clinton McDonald (Memphis), free agent Pernell Phillips (Central State). Ends that can be tackles: Frostee Rucker, Jonathan Fanene.

Johnson is thought to be a leading candidate to be a passing-down tackle, a derby in which Hayes doesn't eliminate Peko.

"Has yet to be decided," he says. "The best rushers will be on the field."

Traditionally the Bengals have kept four tackles, which means it is a free-for-all after Peko, Sims and Johnson. Consider if they keep nine defensive linemen, they'd like No. 9 to be a swing end/linebacker.

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Hope in Cincinnati

Training sessions and fitness training camp prior to the final of the Bengals have brought together two of the young supporters who have created more expectations in recent years: Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga.

Injuries, their enemies.

Both have been recruited in the past two Drafts after being stellar players on the defensive from the University of Souther California. Rivers was the first selection of the "Bengali" in 2008, but suffered a broken jaw in his rookie season in which a blocked him from Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward on October 19.

Maualuga, meanwhile, who was one of the prospects for 2009 to be recruited in the first round, finally fell to number 38 to be taken in the second round by Cincinnati.

Both players were very consistent as to miss school only 11 games between them with the Trojans (Maualuga 6, Rivers 5) and now they are both part of the resurrection of the dreadful Bengals, who have had only one winning season in the last 18 years .

After his injury in 2008, Rivers lost 20 pounds when his jaw had to be traded. Already recovered in health and weight and now asked to be moved inside to outside supportive.

For its part, the first Samoan Maualuga has a season to adapt, but his trainer is confident that the process is complete.

"We're still very excited about the King," said coach Marvin Lewis. "I think he will go on special teams and everything. Find a way to search assignments for a King on the pitch as long as possible. "

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

UCLA's Norm Chow Talks Offense

If you just want to cut to the chase, he's the best offensive coordinator in the history of college football.

In 33 seasons at the collegiate level, Norm Chow has been part of three national championships, guided three Heisman Trophy winners, coached eight of the NCAA's top 30 in career passing efficiency and produced six first-round NFL draft picks at quarterback.

But UCLA's offense stunk last year.

It ranked 116th in the nation in rushing, 111th in total offense, 109th in scoring, 109th in passing efficiency and 110th in sacks allowed.

Bad. Very bad.

The good news for Bruins fans, however, is that it seems almost impossible to imagine things not getting better. A lot better, in fact.

It's hard to bet against Chow, 63. His head coach, Rick Neuheisel, also owns a highly respected offensive mind -- though it often appeared that mind was about to explode as TV cameras zeroed in on his reactions to the offensive foibles last fall.

The question is: What are realistic expectations in 2009?

Improving from bad to merely below average might get the Bruins enough juice to win six games, particularly with a defense that should be very good.

But going from bad to average might boost UCLA back into the top half of the Pac-10.

So we thought nothing of calling Chow during his annual Hawaiian get-away to see what he's thinking this off-season.

Taking a quick look backwards: Is there anything you'd change about how you guys ran the offense last year?

Norm Chow: No. I think we were obviously all disappointed. I'm not so sure there was much else we could have done as far as personnel went. We were down to our third quarterback. We started 10 different combinations on the offensive line. Obviously, we were disappointed we didn't do better with just what we were doing. I don't think we could have made dramatic changes. That wasn't our style. We just didn't play well enough and coach well enough.

Considering how successful you've been running offenses, how tough was it for you watching your players struggle to get much of anything going?

NC: It was hard. But it's not about me. It's about our players and their willingness to work, which they did. They played as hard as they could and they did everything we asked them to do. It just didn't work out. It's not their fault. We as coaches have to take the major part of the blame because we didn't get it done. The guys are working hard now and we're looking forward to everything. We've been together for a year now. Prior to us getting there, the quarterbacks told me that we were their fourth different offensive style of ball in four years. What we called 12, [former coach] Karl Dorrell called 92. You go through that four times and it's hard on young guys. Perhaps we should have gone a little slower. We just didn't do what we should have done.

Obviously Rick Neuheisel, a former UCLA quarterback, is an offensive guy. And he's a hands-on head coach. Did you guys ever butt heads during the season?

NC: Not at all. We have respect for each other. We're both trying to get the same things done. We have very similar ideas about offense. No, it was a joy. This past year, of all the years I've ever coached, was the first time I worked with an offensive coach, an offensive-minded head coach. I've always worked with defensive-minded head coaches, both in college and the NFL. They kind of have a tendency to leave you alone. But Rick was very good about suggestions and thoughts. All you're trying to do is get better. We got along very well. In fact, it was fun. He was a joy to work with. He's a nice guy. He's a fun guy. He's an intense guy. He's perfect for the head coaching position at UCLA.

This spring you guys tapped redshirt freshman Kevin Price the starting quarterback fairly quickly: What about him impressed you?

NC: He's bright. He's strong. He's got a nice arm. He understands the game. He hasn't played for two years. He was hurt [his senior year of high school] and was already committed to the University of Washington when we got here, but we talked him into staying down here. He lives 10 minutes from UCLA and always wanted to go there, but I guess the previous staff didn't really recruit him or whatever. So he's a guy who wants to be there. He wants to be a good player. If we made a mistake, we probably should have played him a little bit last year, but the way the season was going and mid-way through the season when we'd have to make that decision about a redshirt and so forth we decided as a staff it would be best to hold him out. So the negative is he hasn't played for two years. The positive is that he understands the offense after being a part of it for a year and he's ready to explode, I hope.

Prince didn't play well in the scrimmages: Why do you think that was and does that concern you?

NC: No, not at all. Scrimmages are scrimmages -- we don't game plan; we just call plays. The defensive guys are trying to get their work done and you're trying to get your work done, so oftentimes it doesn't match, if you will. But I thought he performed well. He managed the offense. Maybe the numbers weren't like they were supposed to be but I thought he did well in the spring.

Fair to say improved offensive line play is really the key to everything in 2009?

NC: That's always the key. An offensive line is always the key. And not that they didn't perform last year -- it was hard on them. We went through a bunch of injuries and we didn't have any continuity on the offensive line. We had to play young guys at various positions because they were the only guys we had, health-wise and everything else. We did what we had to do and I think those guys worked as hard as they could to help us.

Who do you think is going to step up this fall?

NC: Kevin Prince, first. We had a running back who was academically ineligible [in the spring], Christian Ramirez, and we're expecting big things out of him. We had a tight end that broke his foot on the third play of the very first game [vs. Tennessee] who's got a sixth year going, Logan Paulsen. Our receivers are a year older -- Terrence Austin played well; Taylor Embree played well. We're expecting big years out of them. We had a center who transferred from the University of Colorado, started as a true freshman there and we redshirted him last year, Kai Maiava, so we expect him to take over at center. So we have -- how many did I mention -- five or six guys who didn't play last year who we are expecting to [this year]. That and I hope we have some continuity on the offensive line -- we've brought in a couple of new young freshmen and junior college players who we are counting on. Will the team be different? We hope so. They're a year older, a year wiser. The style will be the same; the calls will be the same. So hopefully there will be some continuity there. We just need to get better.

What's the pecking order at running back? How many guys do you like to use?

NC: The order as we go into the fall will be Christian Ramirez, as I just mentioned, and Derrick Coleman, who had a nice freshman year for us. And then we have another young freshman who we held out, Johnathan Franklin, a redshirt who we are expecting big things of. I would guess two of 'em would get a lot of the carries, but I think they each bring something to the table. Johnathan has a nice career in front of him, a nice future. He's a quick, hard-hitting guy. I think if we get a lot of work out of two, and then the third one, if we need him, if injuries take over or whatever.

In your coaching career, can you recall a year when you had really dramatic improvement from one year to the next -- is there a potential parallel to your situation as to how it might go next year?

NC: Well, the first year at USC [2001] we went 6-6 and got blown up in a bowl game -- Utah blew us up [in the Las Vegas Bowl]. Then the next year -- and the years after that -- USC enjoyed great success. We're hoping history will repeat itself like that. People don't realize that Pete Carroll's first year, with [quarterback] Carson Palmer as a junior, we were 6-6.

[In 2001, USC ranked 94th in the nation in total yards (329 per game) and 61st in scoring offense (26.55 points per game). In 2002, it ranked eighth in total yards (449) and ninth in scoring (35.77).]

Do you expect dramatic improvement on offense this fall?

NC: [Laughs] It's a hard call. I think we're going to hopefully be better. Whether that's good enough, we'll just have to wait and see.

Full Article

Blocker Manu Mulitalo Set For Brigham Young

A 6-foot-3, 310-pound offensive guard / center prospect, Manu Mulitalo of Granger (West Valley City, Utah) has agreed to sign with BYU's Class of 2010.

He chose the Cougars over offers from Washington State and Navy.

Mulitalo presently plays offensive tackle but lacks the height for the position that we like to see at the major level of competition. A move to guard better suits his physical and athletic abilities. Flashes good explosion and playing strength but must become a more consistent every down player. His lower body flexibility, foot quickness and balance look good; displays explosion and initial quickness coming out of his stance. At times his pad level is too high but shows good playing strength when down blocking or getting to 2nd level defenders; demonstrates he can pull and handle movement in space while playing on his feet. Flashes quick set ability; can slide and play flat footed, will play too tall at times. Possesses strong initial punch but hand placement and extension will need work. As a guard his playing strength and athleticism will serve him well vs. quick power moves. This is a player who must learn to consistently use all the tools available to him; does not play to his full potential, if this happens he could become a more dominant player. Mulitalo will not be an early starter of impact player at the BCS level of competition. A red shirt year will be necessary to develop his full playing potential.

Utes Add Big Body to Class of 2009

Utah has added a Class of 2009 pledge from Joape Pela, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle from Mountain View, Calif. / Foothill CC, Calif., over BYU.

Pela will have four years to play three when he arrives in Salt Lake City this Fall after finishing courses at Foothill.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Zealand Football Team Arrives in Ohio

With a 12-7 win against Australia, New Zealand claimed the seventh spot at this summer's Junior World Championship in Canton, Ohio.

It took them 37 hours to arrive, but about 3.7 seconds to get excited.

When they did clamber off their bus from Chicago shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, a bleary-eyed and travel-lagged New Zealand football team received a special welcome.

Chuck Kyle — the first coach of the first U.S. Junior National Football team — stopped practice and led the charge to the Kiwis.

''Welcome to the United States,'' Kyle said as his players followed and exchanged an international greeting with the Iron Blacks.

New Zealand's trip to the Junior World Championship of American Football would have made John Candy proud: Plane flight from New Zealand to San Francisco, a 12-hour layover in San Francisco (though a bus ride through the city was arranged), a flight to Chicago and a bus to Canton.

''The epic journey,'' Kyle said. ''Unbelievable.''

In several ways.

Consider the reality. A team from New Zealand is playing American Football in Canton in a championship run by IFAF, the International Federation of American Football, which is based in France (think the FIFA of football).

Then consider that New Zealand wages a continuous and spirited rivalry with Australia, a rivalry coach Michael Mau'u calls ''big brother, little brother.''

And that the Kiwis beat the Aussies in Canberra, Australia, 12-7 to qualify for this championship to be played at Fawcett Stadium.

Asked what it meant for the little brother to win in the big brother's national capital, Mau'u shook his head, said ''whew'' and walked away.


''Oh, we want to win it all,'' said tight end Cody Hall, from Auckland.

They'll find out early how they stack up. New Zealand's opening game is 10 a.m. Saturday against Canada, the top seed.

Clearly, the odds do not seem to favor the Kiwis.

But know one thing about New Zealand: It competes with vigor, and sportsmanship. And Kiwis could be the most polite and friendly of any international competitors.

When the America's Cup yacht races (yachting also is big in New Zealand) were held in San Diego, New Zealand competed but did not win. When the team left, residents of the town where they stayed lined the streets to wave goodbye, so charmed were they with the Kiwi ways.

One ritual the football team brings is ''The Haka,'' a pregame dance with roots in the island's Maori heritage.

The nation's rugby team — the All Blacks — do ''The Haka'' before every game. It involves Maori chants and aggressive and angry gestures and steps. The opposing team is supposed to face the New Zealand players during the dance.

In the USA, it might be taunting.

In New Zealand, it's part of the sense of competition that is part of the culture.

''We lay down a challenge,'' Mau'u said, ''and our expectation of how other teams receive it would be that they would stand there, take the challenge on and in some respects bring the best of what they've got on the field.

''That's why we do it at the start of our games. We want to bring the best out, and we want to tell anyone else that we want to bring the best out.''

Internet videos show opposing teams doing a dance in response (Tonga) or lined up shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, to receive the challenge (Australia).

''Each area of New Zealand has their own Haka,'' Mau'u said. ''Ours was written for our own team.

''You'll feel the energy come through.''

It's this element that makes this tournament. Teams will compete from Canada, the USA, Mexico, Japan, Germany, Sweden, France and New Zealand.

All will be housed in Walsh University dorms, where practices are held.

All will have a chance to meet and greet players from other countries.

''That was something I didn't think of,'' said USA linebacker Storm Klein of Newark, a future Ohio State Buckeye. ''We're all networking, exchanging e-mail addresses and all that.''

''They're playing pool, ping-pong,'' Kyle said. ''It's a good thing. I think we're learning what international really means.''

American football has been played in New Zealand for more than 20 years, but Mau'u conceded it's a minor sport, especially compared to rugby.

There, American football is known as ''Gridiron.'' So New Zealand adopted the name for their team with their country's color — the Iron Blacks.

''Hard as iron, dressed in black,'' Mau'u said.

Mau'u said his players are encyclopedias about the NFL.

''But we don't really get recognized because we're down at the bottom of the world,'' Hall said.

From the bottom of the world to the top — in a day-and-a-half. In 37 hours, the New Zealand team changed continents, hemispheres and seasons.

But when the bus pulled up to Walsh and saw the U.S. team practicing, the players perked up.

''You could just see their energy pick up,'' Mau'u said.

Less than three hours later, they were on the field, getting ready to compete.

Full Article

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

BYU Snares Lone Peak Linebacker

Sae Tautu, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound outside linebacker from Lone Peak (Highland, Utah), has agreed to sign with the Cougars' recruiting Class of 2010.

He also has an offer from Wyoming.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pola Has Inspiring Story

RB Coach Seized Opportunity

His birth date is etched in American history. Kennedy Pola’s father heard the news, felt the heartache and instantly new what to name his newborn son.

“The nurse came in and said President Kennedy had just been killed,” Pola said of the story of his entrance into the world, on Nov. 22, 1963, in American Samoa.

Pola hopes his Jaguars running backs will author an exciting story this coming season, but the story of how Pola got from there to here is a fascinating read. It begins with an arrangement by Pola’s parents to move Kennedy and his younger brother, Aoatoa, to Los Angeles when Kennedy was a mere 14-year-old.

“My parents thought there was an opportunity for me and my younger brother. We lived with guardians that were friends of the family,” Kennedy said.

He spoke almost no English, which caused him to be shy.

“It was the hardest language to learn and I’m still learning. The hardest parts of the language are the tenses and the plurals. I feel for a lot of those young men,” he says of young players who lack verbal skills. “Some of that shyness is embarrassment.”

Broken English didn’t hold Pola back. His father shortened his son’s name from Polamalu when he sent him to California, an obvious attempt to Americanize his son’s identity. Kennedy did the rest.

“I was blessed enough to be good in sports. My guardian said there’s this really good program at Mater Dei High School. I played there; played basketball and football, became a student body president,” Pola, one of 10 children, said.

Pola accepted a scholarship to play football at USC, where he met Jack Del Rio and formed the bond that brought him to Jacksonville to serve as Del Rio’s running backs coach the past four seasons.

“I took my recruiting trips to Penn State, Notre Dame, Alabama, USC and Washington. Jack was a top recruit. Everywhere I went they said you’ll never play at USC. It was one of those, ‘I could play there.’ I ended up playing as a true freshman at linebacker,” Pola said.

He was moved to fullback for the final four games of freshman year and stayed there through the end of his college career. Pola’s father passed away when he was a sophomore at USC.

Kennedy’s brother, Aoatoa, carved out his own niche in college football. He was the nose tackle on the 1986 Penn State team that defeated Miami to win the national title.

An older brother, Faasasalu Polamalu, was a fire dancer at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu. Faasasalu now lives in Oregon and provided a stable upbringing for his and Kennedy’s nephew, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, the son of the oldest of Kennedy’s four sisters. Her husband abandoned the family when Troy was four years old and eventually Troy moved in with Faasasalu’s family in Oregon.

Between college and the start of his coaching career, Kennedy was a home builder in Los Angeles, where he also did mentoring work with gang members

“I was building next to a HUD complex that had a lot of gangs. I ended up building programs, tutoring and mentoring. It’s great when one of those kids writes to you and says you saved my life,” Pola said.

Since then, he has carved out a considerable coaching career that includes a national championship stint at USC.

My goal has always been to lead a program; be a coordinator, be a head coach,” Pola said.

The Jaguars running backs he coaches will help Pola achieve recognition. Maurice Jones-Drew is on the cusp of stardom, Greg Jones is considered to be one of the top fullbacks in the game, and seventh-round pick Rashad Jennings is a mouth-watering prospect Pola ranked the fifth-best running back in the draft.

“I want the goal this season for my group to be to make every practice and play in every game. That means come to practice every day. When you’re not available, the game-planning, everything hurts. I used to say to Fred (Taylor), you may not get a rep, but the team sees you’re out there,” Pola said.

“They’re so talented that if we get them in that mindset, the stats will show up. Maurice Drew hasn’t missed a game. They’re going to be bruised, they’re going to be sore, but I’ve got to get them to the game,” he added. “I love them. They’re good guys. They’re good people and you can do a lot when you have good people.”

Full Article

Kalani, Harding & Tomey Enshrined

This comes from Kevin Kaplan, director of the June Jones Foundation:
“We are doing our second annual American Samoa Football Academy & Medical Mission, June 26 and 27 in Pago Pago, sponsored by the June Jones Foundation. Jesse Sapolu, Jack Thompson, Samson Satele, Ta’ase Faumui and Ma’a Tanuvasa will accompany Coach Jones and McMackin as well as 10 doctors, nurses and other medical personnel on the trip. In all, we will be bringing $250,000 of donated medical supplies to the people of American Samoa.


I really enjoyed today’s story by Kalani Simpson on Matt Harding and his impact on UH football. Few can write narrative-type pieces like Kalani, and few could turn the tide of a football game like Harding … all 5-feet-8 and 145 pounds of him.

The 45-day Centurions series will feature many more stories from guest writers, including several from Kalani, our former columnist who now lives in Nebraska with his wife and two young boys (the youngest is just a few months old).

We were very pleased Kalani agreed to participate in the project — not just for his writing abilities, but also because of his credibility of actually having played college football. His voting and comments proved invaluable.


This from the DePauw University web site, and relayed to me by the Star-Bulletin’s Craig Gima:
“Former UH head coach Dick Tomey is a member of the inaugural induction class of the Michigan City High School Football Hall of Fame. Tomey and four other graduates from the Indiana city will be honored July 20. The other inductees include former Chicago Bears head coach Abe Gibron, who will be inducted posthumously.”

Corey Lau on Board With Hawaii's Class of 2010

The Warriors have gained a Class of 2010 commitment from Kailua, Hawaii wide receiver Corey Lau.

Kahuku's Hauoli Jamora Set For BYU

Hauoli Jamora, a defensive end from Kahuku, Hawaii, has become the 17th commitment for BYU in the Class of 2010.
Wyoming had also offered the 6-foot-2, 230-pound prospect.

Warriors Gain Fifth 2010 Pledge

has received a Class of 2010 commitment from receiver Christian Poueu-Luna of Great Oak (Temecula, Calif.).

Poueu-Luna (6-foot, 175 pounds) played quarterback, receiver and safety for the Wildcats, but expects to compete at slotback when he joins the Warriors.

"I really liked the staff, and when you play for Hawaii it's like you're playing for the whole state," said Poueu-Luna, who has relatives in Hawaii.

Poueu-Luna attended UH's Skills Camp last week and trains with Troy Lau (a Nanakuli product) of Prodigy Athletes.

The Warriors now have five pledges.

Full Article

Fehoko Follows His Siblings' Lead

BOUNTIFUL, Utah -- Under Armour All-American linebacker V.J. Fehoko (Kahuku, Hawaii/Kahuku) was already familiar with the recruiting process before it even began for him.

Fehoko's older brother, Sam, signed with Texas Tech in the Class of 2007. Another brother, Whitley, signed with San Diego State in the Class of 2006.

"When you see the process unfold as a spectator, it's exciting," V.J. Fehoko said. "But when it happens to you, it's sort of a reality check."

Hawaii, Nebraska, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Utah, Texas Tech, Washington, California, UCLA, Colorado and other schools in the Mountain West and WAC have offered Fehoko a scholarship. Southern California is seriously evaluating the hard-hitting linebacker, as well.

"I have no favorites," he said. "I am giving every school a chance to recruit me."

Fehoko was in Lubbock, Texas, during the spring to watch his brother's spring game and he got an up-close look at the Red Raiders. This caused some speculation that he too would be casting his lot with Mike Leach's program.

"The only reason I was there was to see my brother's spring game," he said. "If he had not been playing for Texas Tech, chances are I would not have been at Texas Tech visiting for that long."

Still, that certainly doesn't mean the Red Raiders aren't under heavy consideration. One of the things that Fehoko is looking at is atmosphere. He says he wants to go to a place where on gameday, the "town stands still" and says that the atmosphere in Lubbock is like that.

"When they beat Texas this past year, they rushed the field like three times," he said.

Most of the Hawaiian prospects that talked recruiting at All-Poly expressed a strong desire to head to the mainland to play college football. V.J. has a lot of teams from the mainland in the mix for his services, but has not ruled out the University of Hawaii, where his father Vili is the unofficial mascot for Warriors football games.

"I am going to give Hawaii a chance," V.J. Fehoko said. "I like Hawaii. Growing up with my dad there, I was always watching the games from the sidelines and I still feel that is home to me when I watch."

Fehoko talked about the things he would be looking for in a program.

"The crucial factor for me is my position coach," he said. "That's key because I will be building a relationship with him and he will be the one developing me for the next 4-5 years. I also would like to have a good relationship with the head coach for that same reason. I want to be in a good environment, too. Not some place where I can get in trouble and I can just focus on football and academics."

Quick hitters

• Class of 2011 defensive lineman Tani Tupou (Everett, Wash./Archbishop Murphy) could be one of the top prospects in the Northwest for his class. Recruiting is in its early stages, but Tupou says that Washington, BYU and Oregon are three schools showing him attention. A key in his recruitment is going to be a school's willingness to let him go on a two-year mission as he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"It would be good to stay close to home so my family and friends can come see me play and I do like U Dub [Washington]," he said. "I also think they will let me take my mission. I was supposed to visit Oregon last week, but I had a death in the family, but I think they will let me take my mission, as well."

The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder was dominant at times during the camp and should end up with scholarship offers from most schools that recruit the Pacific Northwest.

• Oregon State is the team to beat for linebacker Shaydon Akua (Kapolei, Hawaii/Kapolei). He said during the week that he hopes to visit Corvallis soon and that the Beavers are showing him the most attention. Other schools showing him attention include UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Washington State, Wyoming and Hawaii.

• BYU offered offensive lineman Manu Mulitalo (West Valley City, Utah/Granger) this past week. Mulitalo said he has always pulled for the Cougars growing up and was excited about the offer. BYU also got a commitment earlier in the week from Class of 2011 linebacker Baker Pritchard (Bingham, Utah./Bingham), whose brother Iona Pritchard plays for the Cougars.

BYU has had an offer on table for another Bingham star, running back Harven Langi, since Langi was a freshman. Langi had a 7-on-7 tournament to attend in Provo, Utah, on Saturday, so he was unable to scrimmage, but he was probably the best running back prospect at the three-day event.

• Defensive back Jeremy Ioane (Punahou, Hawaii/Punahou) claims offers from Washington State and Stanford and says that Utah and Washington appear to be close. The 6-2, 180-pounder is tall, fast and athletic and had two interceptions during the scrimmages on Saturday. • Idaho is showing interest in center Kody Afusia (Huntington Beach, Calif./Ocean View). Afusia improved as the camp went on and had several good moments during the scrimmages on Saturday.

• Wyoming has offered offensive lineman/defensive lineman Bill Vavau (Salt Lake City, Utah/Jordan). Utah, Utah State and Oregon also have been showing attention and it would not be a surprise to see the Utes and Aggies jump in with an offer for the 6-3, 275-pounder soon.

• Utah, Wyoming, Oregon and Hawaii all are showing interest in defensive end Niko Uti (Kapolei, Hawaii/Kapolei). The 6-2, 230-pounder performed well during the event.

• Hawaii and Washington State are the two schools showing the most interest in center Jase Toomalatai (Kahuku, Hawaii/Kahuku).

Full Article

Afeaki Shows Off Playmaking Ability

BOUNTIFUL, Utah -- The final session of the 2009 All-Poly Football Camp at Bountiful High featured live, full-contact scrimmaging and there were several prospects that stood out.

Perhaps none more so on offense than local running back/receiver Tana Afeaki (Salt Lake City, Utah/West), who had a total of four touchdowns and showed outstanding quickness, acceleration and speed with the ball in his hands. He's a slot back-type of player who should be able to help a college team in a variety of ways (out of the backfield, in the slot, in the return game, etc.). Afeaki is not the biggest player on the field, but certainly proved on Saturday he can be downright electric with the ball in his hands.

"I felt I did really well today," Afeaki said with a smile on his face. "I showed what I could do."

Fans around Salt Lake City know all about him. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards for his high school team last season.

Afeaki was one of three running backs honored as a camp all-star by the All-Poly coaching staff, which included multiple college coaches from all divisions. Class of 2010 scat back Silver Vaifanua (Long Beach, Calif./Milliken) and Class of 2011 running back Jeremiah Laufasa (Kirkland, Wash./Juanita) also took home honors.

Deep on the offensive line

There were five offensive linemen who earned all-star honors. Cash Knight (Park City, Utah) and James Atoe (The Dalles, Ore./The Dalles) caught everyone's attention all week and were featured by ESPN's Bill Conley after Friday's sessions. Both expect to gain increased attention from colleges heading into their senior seasons. Both Knight and Atoe performed well in the scrimmages. Knight was especially impressive as a run-blocker.

Billy Vavau (Salt Lake City, Utah/Jordan) also earned all-star honors as an offensive lineman, though he played a good bit of defensive line as well. After seeing him clear out defenders during the scrimmage, it looks like he has more of a future on the offensive side of the ball than defense. But he still could be considered a two-way lineman. Jase Toomalatai (Kahuku, Hawaii/Kahuku) and Paul Bedford (Kapolei, Hawaii/Kapolei) rounded out the five O-linemen who were honored.


Dalton Leilua (Las Vegas, Nev./Desert Pines) is raw, but has a strong arm and good size. He turned in a solid performance and took home all-star honors. Leilua threw for 1,800 yards and 12 touchdowns last season for his high school team, and is getting looks from UNLV and others. Crosby Jensen (Salt Lake City, Utah/Cottonwood) was the other quarterback honored. He threw a touchdown pass in the Saturday scrimmage.

Wide receiver/tight end

Among the receivers and tight ends who were honored as all stars were receivers London Amorin (Honolulu, Hawaii/Island Pacific) and Elijah Mitchell (Las Vegas, Nev./Desert Oasis), and tight end Karl Folland (Bountiful, Utah/Bountiful).


Under Armour All-American V.J. Fehoko (Kahuku, Hawaii/Kahuku), Shaydon Akuna (Kapolei, Hawaii) and Sae Tautu (American Fork, Utah/American Fork) were among the five linebackers honored as all-stars. They were probably the three most impressive prospects at the position.

Fehoko was the best senior at the camp. He has a warrior's mentality, good speed and strength. You can tell he loves football and contact, which is important. He's fun to watch.

Akuna performed admirably during the week with a tweaked hamstring. He made his share of plays in the scrimmage. Once he finds a permanent position to master, he will be a major contributor.

Tautu's showing on Saturday was impressive. He was all over the place and appeared to finally get comfortable with the linebacker position (he was a quarterback and defensive back for his high school team). Tautu is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, so once he gets coached up more in college and adds strength, he has a chance to be excellent.

"I think I did fine once I settled in at my position," he said. "The coaching I got here was excellent."

Other linebackers honored were Matt Tanuvasa (Beaverton, Ore./South Ridge) and Class of 2011 prospect Cody McCarthy (Boise, Idaho/Bishop Kelly).

Defensive line

Class of 2011 standout Tani Tupou (Kirkland, Wash./Archbishop Murphy) was the best defensive lineman at the event and had a big sack during the scrimmage sessions. He has no offers yet, but multiple schools are showing interest.

Kalafitoni Pole (Union City, Calif./Logan) really helped his stock during the camp. The 6-2, 250-pounder is now getting serious interest from Wyoming and Utah after his showing. He was named an all-star by the coaching staff.

Octavious Dixon (Layton, Utah/Layton) and Class of 2011 standout Viliseni Fauonuku (Bingham, Utah/Bingham) also were named all-stars by the coaches.

Defensive backs

Jeremy Ioane (Punahou, Hawaii/Punahou) was honored as an all-star and was perhaps the best defensive back there. The Class of 2010 prospect had two interceptions during the scrimmages and played for the entire week with a broken arm he suffered at a camp last week. The 6-2, 180-pounder showed good speed and ball skills throughout the sessions. He claims offers from Washington State and Stanford and is getting looks from Utah and Washington, among others.

Cole Graves (Kirkland, Wash./Juanita) also was honored as a camp all-star.

Quick hitters

• The All-Poly Camp will head to American Samoa for the second annual camp there. Last year, more than 400 players showed up for the first camp ever in American Samoa. The following week, the first-ever All-Poly Camp in Hawaii will take place.

• Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the players following the scrimmages and talked about being fully committed as a football player. Whittingham led the Utes to a 13-0 record last season, including a Sugar Bowl win against Alabama.

• On Friday, Under Armour All-American Bronson Kaufusi showed up at the camp to observe. V.J. Fehoko's older brother, Texas Tech's Sam Fehoko, was there for all three sessions with his family supporting his younger brother.

Full Article

Thursday, June 18, 2009

PIAA Football Combine a Valuable Event

Had a good time learning about the Eighth Annual PIAA Combine Saturday at Saint Louis, watching 277 football players get measured in various tests of strength, speed, agility.

What I liked best about it was the challenge and opportunity it presents for the kids. If you want to post good results, you cannot just show up to this event the day of, without any training or preparation in the weeks or months prior.

So that means most of these kids showed up in great shape, despite the season still being three months away. That's always good.

It also gives them a good indicator of where they are at, what they need to work on over the summer. Kahuku's newest transfer, VJ Fehoko, for example, was off the charts in the bench press (37 reps of 225 pounds), but I'm sure he would like to improve on his 40-yard dash time of 4.94.

Kailua receiver Corey Lau ran an astounding 4.44, but he weighed in at only 139.5 pounds (he's 5-8 1/2), so he probably wants to add at least five or 10 pounds of muscle to fill out his frame a little.

Doris Sullivan and her staff and Darnell Arceneaux and Eddie Klaneski and the other volunteers did an outstanding job making things run smoothly.

And at $10 per kid for registration, this was something any family could afford.

Especially when you consider the potential reward — a college scholarship offer.

But even for those who don't get offers, I'm sure just being in that atmosphere and participating will reap benefits over the summer and throughout next season.

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Chicago Bears Getting Used to a Little Island Flavor

Center Olin Kreutz has been a staple in the Chicago Bears organization since the team drafted him out of Washington St. 12 years ago. Kreutz, a leader both on the field and in the locker room, leads by example through hard work and determination. He keeps players in line and commands respect from not only his teammates, but opposing players as well.

Kreutz was raised and played high school football in Hawaii for St. Louis High, a team consistently playing for the island title, where he was all-state in both football and wrestling. Hawaii was his kickoff point for a prosperous and productive NFL career.

And Kreutz isn't the only one to bring the island madness to the team.

The Bears selected safety Al Afalava in the sixth round of the 2009 draft. Afalava grew up in Laie, located on the north shore of Oahu, and played high school for the Kahuku Red Raiders, a perennial powerhouse, before moving on to Oregon St.

If you look closely, there are quite a few connections to the pacific islands throughout the Bears roster:

Undrafted free agents Will Ta'ufo'ou (FB from Cal) and Johan Asiata (OG from UNLV) are both in contention for roster spots. Asiata, originally from New Zealand, actually grew up in Hawaii.

Reserve defensive tackle Matt Toeaina played high school football on the tiny island of American Samoa, which is located east of Fiji and North of Tonga before he moved on to play college ball at the University of Oregon.

Newly acquired linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa played for the University of Hawaii for four years. He made first team all WAC his senior year and was drafted in the second round of the 2003 NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams.

The Bears even have had a couple Hawaii players represented on the practice squad and in training camp. Safety Leonard Peters, also a Kahuku graduate, was on the Bears practice squad for the 2007 season. And former UH standout wide receiver Ryan Grice-Mullens was added to the Bears roster last season in training camp to add some depth, but failed to make the final cut.

And it doesn't end there, lets kick it back a little further.

Anyone remember tight end Gabe Reid? He played four years for the Bears from 2003 through 2006 and recorded a total of seven receptions—okay, not exactly stellar numbers but Reid was also a product of American Samoa and was a competent third stringer for the team.

And if you want to go old-school, how about Lakei Heimuli? Heimuli was a running back out of BYU who grew up in Tonga and played one season for the 1987 Chicago Bears. He only made it into three games that year, but to be fair, his numbers weren't terrible: 34 carries for 128 yards (for a 3.8 average), and five receptions for 51 yards and one lone touchdown.

So really, this island theme from the Bears is not a new one. And judging from recent trends, look for more and more of these Polynesian products to follow in the footsteps of Kreutz, Pisa, Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu, and Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.

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