Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bears Hope Pisa Tinoisamoa Bounces Back in '09

The biggest moves the Bears made on defense -- or at least the ones getting the most attention -- were the changes on the coaching staff. Rod Marinelli was hired to coach the defensive line, and Lovie Smith will call the plays instead of defensive coordinator Bob Babich.

But I discussed the two biggest personnel changes on defense -- the acquisition of linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa and the loss of safety Mike Brown -- with Bill Barnwell, the managing editor of Football Outsiders. Its mean projection gives the Bears a 49 percent chance to have 11 or more victories -- the highest figure for any NFC club.

First, I asked Barnwell about Tinoisamoa, who's projected to be the starter on the strong side after signing a one-year contract. The St. Louis Rams cut him loose after they failed to trade him. He became the first rookie in franchise history to lead the defense in tackles when he played for Smith and Babich in 2003.

''It really depends on Tinoisamoa and how he fits into their scheme and how quickly he catches up on things,'' Barnwell said. ''I understand he's had experience in the system.''

Football Outsiders looks at a stat it calls the ''stop rate,'' the average yards for running plays when the linebacker makes the tackle. It's not a perfect system, but it has other stats, one of which is called ''defeats,'' defined as the number of times the defense makes a play behind the line of scrimmage, creates turnovers or stops the offense from gaining first downs on third or fourth down.

Tinoisamoa, who played weak side for the Rams last season, was credited with 48 stops, 32 fewer than Lance Briggs. Tinoisamoa ranked 93rd out of 99 linebackers against the run. But as Barnwell pointed out, these statistics can change depending on the team and the system.

''The Rams didn't have a great defense,'' Barnwell said. ''You look at his run numbers, and they were atrocious. He made a lot of tackles, but they were seven or eight yards from the line of scrimmage. You have to put the scheme in context. He could be better this season.''

Tinoisamoa will have more talent around him this season, and it's reasonable to expect he'll be a different player. Of course, the Bears expected the same with Adam Archuleta in 2007.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Former BYU Signee Headed to Utes

Utah has landed a Class of 2010 pledge from Star Lotulelei, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive lineman from Bingham (South Jordan, Utah / Snow CC, Utah.) Lotulelei originally signed with BYU as a prep.

Lotulelei has good power in his lower body and can be very disruptive. He has good initial burst and quickness and relies on brute strength to overpower blockers. He will normally pick a side when he plays on the nose and is extremely effective when going to his right. He gets good push when working inside verses guards and tackles. He shows good use of hands, grabs cloth and throws blockers out of the way. He works well down the line and is a physical tackler. He demonstrates the ability to get penetration and influence plays behind the line of scrimmage. He keeps his feet moving to the quarterback and has decent closing speed. The problem with Lotulelei is that he plays to high. He has a squatty stance that causes him to stand up at the snap. He likes to pop up and peak into the backfield instead of staying down behind his pads and having faith in his key. He has been able to overwhelm players at the high school level with his power and quickness but will have to learn to play with leverage in college. You would like to see him be more consistent with his pursuit angles. He must develop the conditioning level to be an every down player whos motor runs hot. Overall, Lotulelei has good upside because of his raw strength and power. He has the frame to add bulk but he must be taught to play with leverage and react to blocking schemes.

Fresh face: Notre Dame

Preseason camp begins in just a few weeks, and freshmen are already reporting to campus all over the country. Which new players could make an immediate impact at Notre Dame? Here is a look at one incoming freshmen to keep an eye on when practice begins:

Manti Te'o, LB: Pick an accolade, any accolade. Te'o was USA Today's defensive player of the year, The Sporting News 2008 high school athlete of the year, the inaugural winner of the high school Butkus Award and the No. 2 overall player on the ESPNU150. Simply put, the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder from Hawaii is a can't-miss prospect and the crown jewel of this recruiting class. He could be the kind of dominating, athletic linebacker that the Irish have lacked. And given Notre Dame's defensive lapses, it wouldn't be a surprise at all if he works his way into a starting role immediately.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fui Gets Top Spot

A veteran and a rookie were the two semi surprises on head coach Marvin Lewis' depth chart when it was revealed Tuesday morning at the Bengals' training camp media luncheon at Paul Brown Stadium.

Even though they had about the same number of snaps during the spring workouts, five-time Pro Bowler Roy Williams is listed as the starting strong safety ahead of last year's incumbent Chinedum Ndukwe. Seventh-rounder Fui Vakapuna is the starting fullback and the unknown status of former starter Jeremi Johnson is underlined by his third-team position behind J.D. Runnels.

Incumbent Antonio Chatman is the punt returner and wide receiver Andre Caldwell is the kick returner with sixth-rounder Bernard Scott listed at third for both.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Heart of the Matter

He was the boy who had to sit down while the other kids got to play.

A heart condition, caused by a rheumatic fever infection when he was a 5-year-old in American Samoa, made little Jesse Sapolu stick out as an elementary school kid in Kalihi.

"I was old enough to be embarrassed, not speaking English, but not here long enough to know the territory," Sapolu says. "I couldn't play P.E. all the way to seventh grade, not even kickball. Whenever I got to play, I said I'm never going to complain."

That's why, on the night of Dec. 1, 1979, it could've been easy for Sapolu to call it a career night. Not only had he become a stellar athlete at Farrington High School, Sapolu was an anchor for Hawaii in a 29-17 upset win over nationally-ranked Arizona State.

Sapolu was a true freshman who had played brilliantly on the offensive and defensive lines. Then-UH coach Dick Tomey hasn't forgotten.

"He was very willing to play both ways," Tomey said. "We'd complete a series, I'd wave my hand. Stay in there and play. He was willing to do whatever it took to help."

On the sideline, Tomey chatted in the final minutes with an exhausted Sapolu. They looked across the field at the stunned Sun Devils.

"The game was winding down and I said, 'You could've been over there,'" Tomey recalled. "He said, 'I'm so glad I'm over here.'"

Just months earlier, Sapolu was set to become a Sun Devil before Tomey talked him into staying home. That gave UH an O-line that also featured future pros Kani Kauahi, Jim Mills and Bernard Carvalho, clearing the way for super back Gary Allen.

The season-ending win gave UH a 6-5 winning mark in its first campaign as a Western Athletic Conference member. It was especially sweet because ASU had dumped the WAC the year before to join the Pac-10.

"The first time I met Jesse, we were talking about him going to Arizona State," said Kauahi, who had been at ASU but transferred to UH. "Jesse was a tiger, man. He was an animal."

Hawaii went 8-3 and 9-2 in the next two seasons and earned the respect of pollsters nationwide. Jim Donovan, now UH's athletic director, was a backup on the O-line during that ride.

"Jesse was one helluva offensive lineman, maybe the best ever from Hawaii," Donovan said. "Certainly the best guard-center combination."

Keith Ah Yuen was a reserve tackle-guard when Sapolu arrived as a freshman.

"He came to his first meeting on crutches with a sprained ankle," Ah Yuen said. "Years later, he's back for his second Pro Bowl and he asks me how he's doing. I said, 'You're playing in the Pro Bowl.' But he says, 'I'm asking you because when I came in as a freshman, you were thinking this guy's not going to amount to anything. That's the look you had. I was going to prove you wrong.'"

Sapolu and Ah Yuen were among the few who regularly took on defensive tackle Tom Tuinei at practice.

"Jesse came in and he was cultured, could speak well, but all the Kalihi guys had that competitive, 'hood mentality on the field," Ah Yuen says. "People would be scared to go up against Tom. Jesse wanted to go up against the best. He always tried to line up against Tom."

How did Sapolu choose UH over Arizona State? His mother, Lila, wanted to see her son stay close to home -- no surprise considering the family had already come a long way.

The Sapolus moved to Hawaii from American Samoa after Jesse became ill. By his senior year in high school, though, he had overcome his heart condition and became one of the state's top prospects.

Tomey hit the pavement of Kalihi hard during that recruiting season.

"Dick Tomey came to our home," Sapolu remembers. "Ross (Hannemann), Mufi's brother, had told him, 'You sit on the floor because that's the ultimate sign of respect.' My mom was so shocked, they got out of their seats and sat him on the couch."

On another occasion, Tomey paid a visit on a Sunday morning. Jesse's father, Pa'apa'a, was preaching at Samoan Congregational Christian Church of Honolulu, but Jesse was out of sight.

"It was a good thing and a bad thing," Jesse said. "I'd snuck out to go watch NFL games on TV. My dad was told by my sister that Tomey was there and they called me back into church."

Tomey stuck around, though, for a long time.

"Jesse wasn't in church, but I went to listen to his dad," Tomey said. "It seemed like the service lasted a long time and I'm not understanding what's going on. I'm sitting there in the pew for a half-hour and his sister comes back, motions to me, 'Coach, Coach, we can go in the house now. This is the financial report.' I'm listening there like it's the sermon."

They can laugh about it now, but underneath the misunderstanding was Tomey's diligent approach to recruiting.

"I'm this dumb haole, just trying to be respectful to his family and his dad's church," he said, noting that Sapolu was cautious and patient through the recruiting process.

"He deliberated for a long time. I never take anything for granted," Tomey says. "I just felt recruiting's the lifeblood of football. If you're not out there working, in every single home as many times as you're allowed and making contact, you're not doing everything you can do. That was my feeling. I have so much respect for Jesse and his family."

Players like Blane Gaison, who arrived on campus a few years before Sapolu, had opted to stay and give Tomey a try rather than leave. Among local high school recruits, Tomey puts Sapolu in a category of his own.

"He was the first terrific player to stay home," Tomey said.

Sapolu said it was simply great effort on his coach's part.

"Dick Tomey's a helluva recruiter," he said.

Sapolu did his part, of course. All-WAC honors preceded four Super Bowl rings during the San Francisco 49ers dynasty of the 1980s and '90s.

Even with a monumental pro career, he's quick to rattle off his favorite wins in a UH uniform. The Arizona State win was big, but so was the victory over Colorado State, another game that called for his defensive play.

He remembers the loss to Nebraska. Hawaii led 16-7 in the fourth quarter before falling, 37-16. Wins over South Carolina and West Virginia -- the latter saved on a blocked field goal by Niko Noga -- also stand out.

"We were 9-2," he says of the '81 season. "Ranked 17th in the UPI, 16th in the AP."

Shortly after losing to Hawaii, Arizona State was placed on two-year probation by the NCAA for 30 rules violations. Sapolu seemed to have a knack for picking the right path, even if the road was bumpy early on.

Damien Memorial School offered Sapolu an opportunity coming into high school.

"I went there on scholarship after begging my doctors to relent," Sapolu said.

But the school later learned about his heart condition and wouldn't allow him to play. Then he went to McKinley, but came back to his district school, Farrington, and flourished under head coach Al Espinda, Harry Pacarro and line coach Gordon Miyashiro.

These days, Sapolu is busy with his duties as the 49ers alumni coordinator, and his four children. His only daughter, Lila, played volleyball at Chaminade. Son London recently committed to play football at UH and another son, Roman, plays for Edison High in Huntington Beach, Calif.

"The thing that makes me happy is my kids can understand the impact, to make a name for themselves," Sapolu says. "What people remember is how you treated them off the field. I make time, and if I don't, I make an effort to explain. Without the fans, none of us exist."

EVEN WITH ALL the injuries -- three during his first three pro seasons -- and the constant checkups on his heart condition, Sapolu became an elite athlete in the trenches. At 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, he was a highly mobile offensive lineman who was an easy fit in the 49ers' West Coast offense.

"Bob McKittrick was their line coach and he liked players that could really move," Tomey says of his former coaching associate, who died in 2000. Tomey and McKittrick hailed from UCLA, and both were ultimate believers in the Crowther, a sled that is still the basis for O-line fundamental technique at many programs.

"Jesse understood that progression and could execute it perfectly," says Tomey, who first came across the unique sled while at Kansas. By the time Sapolu was with the 49ers, he was ready.

"That was something they felt was unique with Jesse. Most college players had not been taught that progression. It takes a long time to learn. Jesse's mastery of it made a difference," Tomey says. "There's a videotape out there someplace of Jesse with the fundamental use of the Crowther that's perfect."

That ability to stay ahead of the pack wasn't new. Sapolu was drilled and disciplined by the time he arrived at UH thanks to Farrington's coaching staff.

"UH was pleasantly surprised at how far along I came," Sapolu says.

Gordon Miyashiro, now at Word of Life, was the O-line coach, and they still keep in touch.

"Last year, the first thing out of his mouth is, 'Jesse, I have a kid 6-4, 6-5, who might be better than you,'" Sapolu recalls. "I said, 'You've said that 14, 15 times.'"

Sapolu, 48, hasn't resided in the islands since his UH glory days, but remains a fixture with serious Q Rating appeal. His appearances in Times Supermarket TV commercials continue. This year, Sapolu, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jack Thompson formed the Samoa 'Ioe (Yes) Foundation, aiming to build fields and bring equipment to the island.

ONE ROSS -- Hannemann -- played a key role in Sapolu's decision to stay home and play for UH. Another Ross also became important in his life. In 1997, Sapolu became prominent in medical journals as the first U.S. patient to undergo the Ross procedure, which repaired his damaged left aortic valve and prolonged his NFL career for one final season.

"The doctor said, 'Your heart is like one in an old man,'" said Sapolu, who could've just retired.

Instead, he opted in favor of surgery. His right aortic valve had done virtually all the work and his left valve had enlarged.

The procedure required two delicate steps: replacing the faulty valve with his own pulmonary valve and proximal pulmonary artery; then, replacing the pulmonary valve with a human cadaver aortic valve and proximal aorta.

All medical mumbo-jumbo aside, Sapolu had no doubt.

"It's crazy if you look at it from the outside, but I didn't want kids with the same condition to suffer like I did. You can do the procedure, go back and chase your dream," he said.

Four days after the surgery, Sapolu left the hospital. After one week, his enlarged valve had shrunk. After three weeks, he was running again. Eight months later, each valve was basically normal-sized again, and he was cleared to play a final season.

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Greer's Samoan Smack Down Defense

Adam (Atamu) Tagaloa Ah Ching class of (2012) is the first Samoan to play for the Greer High Yellow Jackets. He recently received his first D-1 football offer from BYU, Coach Bronco Mendenhall after his performances in June at the All-Poly Camp and BYU Camp in competition with some of the top Junior and Senior football players from across the country. Adam is only a 15 year old sophomore linebacker/fullback but was able to show his athletic abilities to over 100 coaches representing all major football conferences. He has a 4.6- 40yd.time, 300lbs.-bench press, 500lbs.-squat.

He is the first from the class of 2012 in the state of South Carolina to receive a D-1 offer. Adam recalls, "Coach Mendenhall was real friendly and direct in offering me a scholarship. He counseled me to remain humble and continue to improve. I felt very honored to be offered from BYU because of their tradition. I'm also LDS and plan on serving a church mission." "At the camps I got to meet up with a lot of cousins and family. Being part Samoan/Polynesian heritage a lot of people in South Carolina aren't aware of our cultural customs and traditions. But if you mention names like: Troy Polumalu -Steelers, Haloti Ngata-Ravens, Lofa Tatupu-Seahawks, Rey Maualuga-Bengals, Pisa Tinoisamoa-Bears, Travis Laboy, Deuce Letui-Cardinals, Isaako Sopoaga- 49ers, Kevin Maevae-Titans, Kawika Mitchell-Bills etc…not to mention former NFL stars like Junior Seau-Chargers, Patriots, Mark Tuinei-Cowboys, Jesse Sapolu-49ers, Itula Mili-Seahawks. Yes, even the "Rock" Duane Johnson is half Samoan. These were my athletic role models and cousins but my real-life role models are my mom, dad, grandparents, sisters, and family.

Many more football offers will be forthcoming,shortly and Ah Ching still has three more years to commit but for now, Ah Ching looks only to the '09 upcoming season. We have a good chance to go all the way to state 3-A championship. Coach Wil Young (HC) and Coach Travis Perry (DC) are preparing us now, "to believe, we will achieve." If given the chance, Ah Ching would like to teach his Greer football team the "Haka" traditional (Maori) Polynesian war dance done before each game done out West and in Texas where there are large communities of Polynesians. "It really gets you fired up and focused with a warrior spirit. I always play with a lot of emotion and love to hit." Clearly, Adam (Atamu) Tagaloa Ah Ching is anxious for the '09 football season. Go Greer Jackets!!!

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Siavii happy Dallas Cowboys Gave him a Nose Job

Over the last two seasons, Jay Ratliff has developed into one of the better nose tackles in the NFL.

While not prototypical size for the position at 302 pounds, Ratliff relies more on speed, quickness and leverage to beat bigger offensive linemen. He was so good in 2008 – credited with 83 tackles and 7.5 sacks by the coaches – that he was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

Ratliff's value to the Cowboys is even higher because of who is behind him on the depth chart.

The Cowboys knew they would not retain last year's backup, Tank Johnson. They addressed the depth issue by signing Junior Siavii, one of their final cuts in 2008, and Tim Anderson, who was also out of football last year and missed all of the organized team activities and mini-camp because of toe surgery.

The club didn't make a high-profile foray into free agency. It didn't use a draft pick on a potential nose tackle either.

Yet on the list of concerns as the Cowboys enter training camp next week in San Antonio, backup nose tackle is not very high.


The Cowboys never really wanted to let Siavii go in the first place. And they contemplated bringing him back last season. On Jan. 12, the Cowboys signed Siavii (pronounced SEE-ah-vee).

"I know he has the talent to play in this league," defensive line coach Todd Grantham said.

Siavii just hasn't played much.

Siavii's journey to the Cowboys began in America Samoa before coming to the United States in 1997. A year later, he was noticed playing in a Salt Lake City men's league, and that led him to two junior colleges and a two-year stint at Oregon, where he played 25 games.

At 6-5, 320 pounds, Kansas City was seduced by his size and strength and picked him in the second round of the 2004 draft, one selection after San Diego took his college and now current teammate Igor Olshansky.

In 26 games with the Chiefs, Siavii made 27 tackles. He has not made a tackle in a regular-season game since Jan. 1, 2006 against Cincinnati. He hasn't seen the field since.

"I miss being out there," said Siavii, who had three tackles in the 2008 preseason. "I just want to play football. That's all I want to do."

After Siavii, who turns 31 in November, was cut by the Cowboys, he said he had nine tryouts but none of the visits ended with a contract. He said he had other options before rejoining the Cowboys.

"I already knew the team, the camaraderie, the coaches," Siavii said. "If I went to a new team, I'd have to try and learn everybody, who's who, what kind of coach, what I've got to prove. Over here, it's the same as last year. I came back for a reason, because I feel comfortable here."

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Is there pressure being Jack Thompson's son?

McCumber never asked me what I thought of the nickname before giving it to me, which was probably a good thing because I would have told him it sounded pretty stupid. But it somehow stuck and I’ve been sheepishly hauling it around ever since.

As nicknames go, it’s a weak one, nothing compared to a really good one such as Throwin’ Samoan. We all know who that is. Jack Thompson is a Cougar quarterbacking legend, and I had the privilege of watching him all the time because we went to WSU at the same time, 1974-78.

At any rate, the person on the phone happened to be Tony Thompson, Jack’s son. During our 10 minutes together I had to ask him what it’s like being the Throwin’ Samoan’s kid, wondering whether it comes with advantages or disadvantages.

Can you imagine how often Thompson has been asked that question? I’ve never asked him before, but I’m sure everyone he’s crossed paths with has. It seems like it could be a burden because of the endless comparisons, plus there are the questions of why he’s not as good as his dad. But here’s the deal, who is?

Jack Thompson is one of only two Cougar football players to have his number retired, the other being Mel Hein and his No. 7. In what rates as one of the coolest stories of the summer, the Throwin’ Samoan has agreed to unretire his No. 14 so that Tony -- No. 43 the last couple years, No. 46 before that -- can wear it this year. It’s an honor for the Cougar tight end who clearly has a special relationship with his famous father.

“If there’s a burden, it comes from other people,” Tony Thompson said. “They’ll talk to me about him and say, ‘Can you throw the ball like your dad?’ It’s stuff like that.

“There’s no pressure from my dad. It’s more of a blessing than a burden because I’ve grown up with solid advice for so long. It’s awesome for me to have a dad who’s been where I want to be and tell me about every step along the way.”

During his sophomore year at Ballard, Thompson thought it was a far-fetched idea to think that he would play college football someday, let alone as a Coug.

“In high school, my dad was always pushing me to keep at it, to keep working hard, that it would pay off,” said Thompson, who wore No. 14 for the Beavers. “It was hard for me to see that.”

Thompson got no offers to play college football. Even small schools spurned him. So he decided to walk on at Washington State, figuring he might as well walk on at the highest possible level.

For the longest time, he was football’s equivalent of a grunt, doing the little things, showing up early for practice, playing on the scout teams and special teams, working his way up, first as a long-snapper.

He earned his scholarship in January 2007 and will never forget that. What his dad told him did pay off.

“When I got the scholarship, I know he’s very proud of that,” Thompson said of his dad. “The route I took, it’s really cool to hear him talk about it.”

Now Thompson’s a 6-2, 241-pound senior and a starting tight end. He arrived in Pullman in January 2005 and will depart with a degree in social sciences in December, nearly five years later. What blows him away is to think that incoming freshmen were seventh graders when he was a senior at Ballard. “Wow!” Thompson thinks to himself. “I’ve been here for awhile.”

He sees a different attitude and a stronger commitment from his teammates. No one wants to go through another 2-11 season like last year. “The stuff we’re doing in the weight room, I can see that guys are getting physically transformed,” Thompson said. “There’s a better attitude. I just feel different about this team.”

Things are bound to improve. And when they do, count on Tony Thompson to be one of the leaders in the bounce-back season.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

McKenzie on the Mend

Timpview’s Bryson McKenzie is highly sought after by BYU, so much so that the coaches offered him a scholarship based on his performance as a sophomore. McKenzie is an up-and-comer, but we heard nary a mention of how he was doing at camps this summer and what waves he was making on the recruiting front. TBS caught up with him to learn why he hasn’t served notice at summer camps and combines.

“I’ve been hurt," informed McKenzie as to why he hasn’t been present at many camps and combines this summer. “I hurt my leg and as soon as it got better I went to BYU’s padded camp the first day and was knocked down by someone doing some drills early in the day and I broke my collarbone, so with that, I was done.”

Bryson McKenzie is a 6-foot, 215-pound running back prospect from Timpview High School and has received a BYU offer very early on during the recruiting process, as Cougar coaches were impressed enough with his prospects as a sophomore. McKenzie will star at running back for the Thunderbirds this coming season and hopes to emulate the sort of output that former Thunderbird Harvey Unga put forth while he was at Timpview.

“Harvey Unga is the man," expressed McKenzie when asked if he looked up to Unga. “He’s the guy I want to be like. I want to be that sort of runner and hopefully this year and next I can come close to what he did while at Timpview.”

Due to being injured, McKenzie wasn’t able to ride the wave of his initial offer from BYU while showing his wares at the various camps and combines where most juniors-to-be make names for themselves. McKenzie is obviously disappointed with his inability to show at camps this summer, but realizes he has plenty of opportunities to prove his worth before signing a letter of intent in February of 2011.

“I have a lot of time," stated McKenzie. “BYU wants me and I love BYU, I always have, so that may be the school I pick, but I definitely want to get my name out there and get some more offers. It’s nice to have options and I plan to work as hard as I can, have a good year and then show what I got at camps next summer. I have time.”

McKenzie’s workouts have focused on his speed. He claims a 4.6 forty currently, but is working hard to get that time under 4.6.

“I’m not happy with my forty time,” said McKenzie. “I need to get faster. I know that’s the best thing I can do to get better and I’m working hard at it. This past month because of my collarbone injury I’ve pretty much only been able to work on my legs and my speed, you know?”

McKenzie works out with Anthony Heimuli, who signed a letter of intent with BYU this past February. McKenzie has been seen at many practices with Heimuli and they have become fast friends.

“We’re real tight," related McKenzie. “I just started working out with him and we do a lot of stuff together. He’s a cool guy and he’s going to do real well at BYU. I’d love to play with Anthony at BYU, along with a lot of my former teammates at BYU [such as] Bronson Kaufusi. I have a lot of friends going to BYU or are at BYU right now.”

McKenzie has mission plans and isn’t in any hurry to commit as he waits for his options to come in. TBS will keep tabs on McKenzie throughout the recruiting process.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Tivao Not Making It In is reporting what we reported here last week was a strong possibility --- DL Johnny Tivao of Cerritos College will not make it in to school.

Tivao was one of six JC players UW signed last February and gained some attention for his size --- UW officially listed him at 5-10, 349. That size naturally excited fans, but I'm not sure it was a slam dunk he was going to make a huge immediate impact on the team --- it had sounded as if he might need some significant conditioning to get into a regular playing mode.

However, any loss is a loss in depth, especially on the defensive line --- and coaches have held out the option of possibly switching another DL to the OL, as they did last spring with Senio Kelemete. The loss of Tivao could be a factor in their ultimate decision on that.

Tivao's loss leaves UW with seven players listed as defensive tackles --- Tyrone Duncan, Cameron Elisara, Craig Noble, Alameda Ta'amu, Nick Wood, Semisi Tokolahi and Chris Robinson, the latter two being true freshmen.

Of what I know of the other five JCs, three --- Dorson Boyce, Dominique Gaisie and Will Mahan --- are either in or expected to make it in with little trouble (Boyce is already in); and two --- S David Batts and OL Daniel Mafoe --- still have some work to do but still have a chance to get in.

The recent losses of Tivao and RBs Brandon Johnson and David Freeman leave the Huskies with 83 scholarship players, assuming I've counted everyone correnctly. Here's the last scholarship tracker I compiled.

Other than continuing to watch the rest of UW's JC situation, however, the remainer of UW's roster is expected to be stable heading into fall camp with all 13 incoming freshmen having gained admittance and no more attrition of the current roster expected before fall camp.

Going strictly by these numbers, UW would have 14 open scholarshiops for the Class of 2010. But conventional wisdom is that the Huskies will sign quite a ffew more than that, expecting some other attrition before the 2010 season (and one scholarship could also open if Jake Locker signs a baseball contract making him a football walk-on, as is expected to happen before mid-August). It wouldn't really take much out of the ordinary to turn 15 open spots now to 20 or so by a year from now.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga checks in with Dan Patrick.

Tauiliili Out to Prove Doubters Wrong

Mike Tauiliili
was suspended for the first game of the season in 2007, and had 13.0 tackles for loss this past season with four sacks and three interceptions. A big-time recruit at Duke under his former name, Mike Brown, he changed his name to Tauiliili because of his maternal great, great, great grandfather, a Samoan high chief. He was a first-team freshman All-America, a three-year starter, and while his size (5-feet-11, 235 pounds) isn’t prototypical NFL, it perhaps not coincidentally is exactly the size of Brackett, who went undrafted from Rutgers in 2003. He was the Defensive Most Valuable Player of the East-West Shrine game. Outlook: Although the Colts have depth at linebacker, Tauliili was too productive in college to be overlooked in training camp.

An Eagles Rookie You May Not Know

Defensive end Paul Kruger has had some football experiences that he will never forget. Such fond memories include being named a Freshman All-American at Utah, as well as being selected by the Baltimore Ravens as the 57th overall player in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

However, the 2nd round draft selection does have a few football related remembrances in which he truly never wants to re-live again. Take for particular play when his Utah Utes took on the visiting Weber State Wildcats on September 27, 2008. Before the play, Kruger did his usual thing, aligning his 6'4, 263 lbs on the flank of the defensive line. During the play, the Weber State Tight End, who was aligned on Kruger's inside shade, performed a down block to try to seal the interior defensive lineman. This would leave the 57th overall pick one on one against the Weber State Wildcat Fullback. Kruger hesitated, but that mistake shouldn't matter, right? I mean, he is a future day one pick, and we're talking about a full back from Weber State here! Wrong. The Wildcat Fullback clashes with Kruger, turns him around, and forces him to the ground.

So who was the brute player that put the 2nd rounder on his back?
That talent was Weber State Fullback, and undrafted rookie free agent Marcus Mailei.

Marcus Mailei signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in late April. Fans of the Eagles will come to love Marcus Mailei, as he is a hard-nosed football player who will lay a shoulder into anyone. What is interesting to note about Mailei is that he wasn't used primarily for running while at Weber State, but for receiving, making 58 catches over the past three collegiate seasons. Andy Reid loves a pass catching back as much as he loves Geno's Steaks.

Marcus Mailei will join Eagles' fullbacks Leonard Weaver and Kyle Eckel upon entering training camp.

Full Article

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Louis Murphy Switches Agents

In what has become a familiar trend, agent Drew Rosenhaus has signed a new client.

Rosenhaus has landed Oakland Raiders fourth-round wide receiver Louis Murphy.

"We are happy to announce that we have signed Louis Murphy as a new client," Rosenhaus wrote on his Twitter account. "Louis has a great opportunity to contribute to the Raiders receiving core this season. He has been very impressive in the offseason workouts and camps."

Murphy was previously represented by DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment.

Murphy is a 6'2," 203-pounder from the University of Florida with 4.43 speed in the 40-yard dash.

He caught 38 passes for 655 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

For his career, he registered a total of 77 receptions for 1,245 yards and a dozen touchdowns.

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Teofilo Providing Leadership on Cal's O-Line

Chet Teofilo enters the 2009 season with plenty of experience. Recruited as a defensive linemen, the transition took three years from 2004-2006 (he saw no action in 2006 while making the adjustment). In 2007 he played in five games and made one start at left tackle, and in 2008 he was used at both left and right tackle before being lost for the season with an ankle injury.

Coaches believe that a move to the inside of the line will give Teofilo a better chance to show of his explosiveness. Like Tepper, Teofilo will provide leadership as another guy who has been in the locker room for quite a while.

Molesi Commits to Oregon State

Defensive tackle Thomas Molesi became the fifth member of the 2009 Oceanside High football team to commit to a four-year college after giving an oral commitment to Oregon State on Tuesday.

The 6-foot, 240-pound Molesi joins wide receiver/defensive back Jerry Whittaker, who is headed to Arizona, and linebacker Jake Fely, defensive back Rene Siluano and receiver King Holder, who all committed to San Diego State.

Oceanside coach John Carroll said the Pirates may have as many as three other future NCAA Division I players ---- receiver Devon Taverna, defensive tackle Kenny Galea'i and defensive end Markus Tokoi.

"This is great for our school," Molesi said. "The five guys who have committed, we all grew up together."

Oregon State, coached by former Chargers coach Mike Riley, was 9-4 last season and beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl.

The Beavers play a 3-4 defense, something different from Oceanside's 4-4, Molesi said.

"So I'm not sure if I'll be a defensive end or a linebacker," he said. "I'll do whatever it takes to be a Beaver. The Pac-10 is a great conference, one of the best in the country, and Oregon State was one of my dream schools. I've watched them on TV and I like their discipline, the chemistry."

Molesi said San Diego State, which offered the chance to play with his friends, was his second choice.

"I've been in California my whole life," he said. "I really want to experience something different. I'm so thankful for this opportunity. It shows that I stood out in high school and was good in the classroom."

"None of us, though, will rest. The Pirates are good because we work harder than other teams. We know the past doesn't mean a thing. How hard you work, the time an effort you put in, determines who wins championships."

Oceanside has won the last four CIF San Diego Section Division II football championships and five of the last six. The Pirates are 24-1-1 over the last two seasons.

"I'm so happy for these kids," Carroll said. "I'm glad we have some guys staying local, and I'm excited for the others."

Full Article

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Caravelli Looks to Former Football Star Leonard Peters

USA 7s coach Al Caravelli is still looking for that crossover athlete to jump into his team. Many have found it isn’t easy – rugby is a mental game, too. The latest candidate has a little background to help him out – American Samoa-born, rugby trained college football hero Leonard Peters.

Peters played football at Kahuku High School and later the University of Hawaii, but during his formative years also had some rugby experience. Kahuku was coached by the legendary Livai Siuaki, who is now heavily involved in Hawaii rugby.

Peters became a star in hawaii football. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, he was labeled by 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush as one of the toughest defenders he’d ever played against.

The football safety had a stint with the New York Jets and Chicago Bears, but did not make their final NFL rosters. He is 27, 6-1, 215 pounds. After being cut by the Bears he was contacted by Andy Katoa of the Aspen 7s team. Katoa had his own NFL shot in the 1990s and asked Peters if he wanted to return to rugby. Peters was highly enthusiastic.

Suddenly Caravelli has in his pool a hard-hitting defensive player with some basic rugby knowledge and a 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash.

Full Article

Monday, July 13, 2009

ASU's Lauvao a Workout Warrior

Arizona State fans don't need to worry about Sun Devils offensive tackle Shawn Lauvao spending so much of his time this summer mentoring young people. He's not going to fall behind in the weight room for any reason.

Unless you think a 500 pound bench press and 675 pound squat is falling behind.

While Lauvao did work at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes sports camp in Flagstaff, Ariz., and an Athletes in Action camp on the campus of Colorado State, he still made his 6 a.m. workouts with the rest of the Sun Devils offensive line.

That maligned unit, which has struggled the past two seasons, decided that joint early workouts would build camaraderie. He and the rest of the Sun Devils are eager to put a 5-7 campaign in 2008 behind them.

"I want to say last year was a fluke," Lauvao said.

Lauvao, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound senior, is the Sun Devils best blocker, which is why he switched from guard to tackle this spring. He believes a lack of experience and injuries made the line vulnerable last year.

"That's the biggest thing," he said. "We have a lot of ballers but you'd be surprised what injuries do."

The hope is the line will be far deeper and athletic if Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink and Adam Tello all make successful returns from injuries that knocked them out of spring practices.

The other big question for the Sun Devils is how well quarterback Danny Sullivan will play after four up-and-down years with Rudy Carpenter leading the offense.

"He's really stepped it up," Lauvao said. "He realizes his clock is running down and this is his opportunity. He's really taken the reins and been a vocal leader, making guys accountable. He's really elevated his play. He's taken the initiative and handled the situation well."

As for Lauvao off the field, he earned a degree in educational sociology in three and a half years and is now pursuing his master's degree in secondary education. He said he wants to mentor and coach young people when he's done with football, perhaps as a high school teacher.

In other words, he's not just dabbling when he volunteers.

"I kind of wish I did more," he said. "To have that type of positive influence can go a long way, pushing kids in the right directions instead of them believing, 'I don't have any options. I don't have anything to believe in.'"

Hard work and, Lauvao said, strict parenting got him where he is today. He noted that he only weighed 185 pounds as a high school sophomore and didn't play football until his junior year at Farrington High in Honolulu, where he was a two-time Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Now he's a top candidate for All-Conference honors and could play his way into the first day of the NFL draft.

But first he wants to get the bad taste of 2008 out his mouth and be part of an offensive line renaissance in Tempe.

"Last year was unacceptable," he said.

Full Article

Lyle Moevao Resumes Throwing

Let the rivalry begin. Again.

Oregon State's Lyle Moevao, who started 11 games for the Beavers in the 2008 season, was cleared this week to begin throwing again after sitting out spring ball due to rotator cuff surgery.

Moevao's clearance will renew his rivalry with fellow senior Sean Canfield, who started two games after Moevao was injured last season, and is 7-4 overall as a starter. This spring, Canfield seemed to inch ahead in the competition as Moevao watched from the sidelines.

"I'm ready to go," said Moevao, who is 11-4 as a starter in the past two seasons. "I feel close to 100 percent, but my arm strength isn't all the way there."

Canfield said he was surprised to see Moevao out at summer workouts on Wednesday, when quarterbacks practiced routes with receivers. Canfield, who had to deal with shoulder problems of his own last season, said he could empathize with Moevao.

"I told him when this whole process started, 'There's going to be a time when you're not going to be able to do anything,'" Canfield said. "Three months out of my surgery -- around spring ball -- it was killing me to not throw a football, so I know how it feels."

Moevao agreed that sitting out got pretty boring pretty quickly.

"It was hard to sit and watch, especially in the spring when we had all those new guys who are learning our playbook," Moevao said. "But I think it was great for me to take a mental break."

After getting cleared, Moevao sent a text message to OSU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf telling him the news. Langsdorf's advice back was the same as Canfield's: Take it slow.

"I've pretty much been hearing the same thing from everyone," Moevao said.

Moevao and Canfield both said having two healthy quarterbacks by the time Oregon State opens the season on Sept. 5 against Portland State will be crucial to success.

"It gives us more depth at the position," Moevao said. "If you look at a lot of teams in the Pac-10, the starter goes down and the back-up hasn't got a lot of playing time."

Said Canfield: "Having another guy is good, and he just helps our team chemistry."

Moevao, who was praised for his leadership last season, said he hasn't thought too much about his competition with Canfield yet.

"Right now, I'm just taking it day-to-day," Moevao said. "I'm still far away from being able to compete with him physically.

"Being able to take a few snaps (Wednesday) definitely felt good. I'm excited to get started on the program with the athletic trainers here. I've got the green light all the way."

Oregon State opens fall camp on Aug. 10.

Full Article

The 250-Pound Bruiser: Soma Vainuku

Barry Bolton of has another entertaining piece on an Oregon State football recruit, this time 6-0, 250-pound Soma Vainuku of Eureka, Calif. - who just happens to be the cousin of former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga

Vainuku, also coveted by the Huskies, can play on both sides of the ball but is most intriguing as a running back - even though OSU def. coordinator Mark Banker might want him at LB. ... the book on Vainuku is that he moves EXTREMELY well for his size.

Vainuku said USC wants him as a fullback, UCLA as an outside LB.

A note about Lyle Moevao's return ... I would bet my house that OSU trainers are keeping a very watchful eye on QB Lyle Moevao as he begins throwing a football again following rehab from rotator cuff surgery. ... No. 3 is a very intelligent football player and he rates high in every "intangible'' measurement but he's human. There will be a temptation to push hard (same thing happened last fall with Sean Canfield) but there is nothing for Moevao to prove in July and hard as it might be, he has to be patient and take it very slowly or else he will find himself in roughly the same boat as Canfield was in 2008 - physically unable to play in a game until later in the season.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jeremiah Masoli: Shouldering The Load

Jeremiah Masoli is doing what it takes to be Oregon’s leader on and off the field

He has been hard at work since a little after sunrise.

Throwing the football. Lifting weights. Attending classes. Watching game tape. Throwing the football some more. Running. Running. And more running.

It isn’t much of a summer vacation. Jeremiah Masoli’s routine is tedious, and rigorous. And sure, it gets old.

“Your body gets sore real fast,” he says, not too long before sundown.

But he smiles as he says it, and you’d never know he’d finished up with four 80-yard sprints, followed by five 60s and six 30s, plus a few extras because some teammates hadn’t run hard the entire way.

One month from yesterday, Oregon football players report for fall practice. Eight weeks from tomorrow, they open the season on Boise State’s blue turf.

Which is why Monday evening, an interview with the Ducks’ quarterback had to wait until after a long day was over, and an impromptu team meeting had finished. Several players called it — no coaches — and they delivered an emphatic message.

According to Masoli, it went something like this:

“It’s gut-check time. We’ve been working really hard. But now, it’s gut-check time.

“We’re ready to roll.”

Or they will be, if he has anything to do with it.

Plenty has been written and said about Masoli in the last few months. They’re calling him the Pac-10’s best quarterback, even listing him as a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy.

Closer to home — never mind questions about the offensive and defensive lines and uncertainty with a new head coach — fans see Masoli as the key to what could be a special season.

Seems like a lot to hang on a kid who turns 21 next month. Who’s been on campus for a year. Who’s been considered a rising star since late November.

But anyone who watched Masoli play against Arizona, or Oregon State, or Oklahoma State, understands. He’s short and wide, and he doesn’t look the part, maybe. But he’s a nearly perfect fit for Oregon’s spread option attack, the quarterback Chip Kelly would create in a laboratory, if he could.

Also, there’s an old football axiom that a quarterback’s biggest improvement comes between his first and second years as a starter. Considering Masoli’s rapid improvement near the end of last season, you’d think he’s due to make another big leap. Or at least, Oregon fans hope so.

And so the expectations are here, and the hype, too.

Sure, things have changed. And along with it, the quarterback knows, comes more pressure.

“I’ve got a lot of responsibility on my shoulders,” he says.

But if you want to know what else has changed for Masoli, see him run his teammates through seven-on-seven passing drills four days a week, late on beautiful summer afternoons. Hear him encourage guys. Or admonish them.

Somebody runs a route wrong, again. Or drops another pass.

“C’mon,” he’ll say. “You’re better than that.”

Masoli was here this time last year, too, running and lifting weights and throwing passes. But freshly arrived from junior college, he was simply trying to get his bearings.

“I was just running around out there,” he says. “No head on my shoulders, just throwing the ball to whoever was open.

“I was just trying to follow the leader.”

Now, he is the leader. Monday’s team meeting, and the emphatic exhortation to finish strong in summer workouts? Masoli was one of the main messengers.

Summer workouts are, uh, voluntary. But when someone misses a workout, Masoli calls, or goes to find them to “just make sure they’re not just taking a day off — because we can’t afford that.”

He calls his leadership style “proactive.” And you ought to be more encouraged by hearing about it than by recalling any of the highlights he produced late last season.

Because Masoli’s skill set is perfect for the Ducks’ spread option, but quarterback is more than talent. We’ve all seen kids with rocket arms or quick feet, guys who can diagram plays and dissect defenses.

All of that’s necessary, and important for winning football games.

But the quarterback had better have more. Work ethic and determination. Hard-to-define stuff like moxie, grit and fire. Charisma, and a desire to lead.

All of which, it seems, Masoli is showing this summer.

Is he an emerging star, and the right guy to take Oregon to a special season?

We won’t begin to know until September, even though the expectations are already here, and the hype.

But good news: So are the intangibles.

Full Article

Monday, July 6, 2009

2010 Prospect Utupo Picks Notre Dame

Lakewood (Calif.) defensive lineman
Justin Utupo has ended the recruiting process and is headed to South Bend.

"I just committed to Notre Dame," Utupo said. "I've never been there before I've always wanted to go to Notre Dame. That has kind of been my dream school so once they offered, it was really only a matter of time.

"When I was younger, I watched that move Rudy and ever since then, I wanted to go there, even if I couldn't play football there, I just wanted to go to school there. Now to have this opportunity to go and be a part of the program, I'm just really excited about all this."

Utupo said he got the offer from the Irish about two months ago and has been doing research on the school with his parents ever since.

"My dad was especially in to Notre Dame," Utupo said. "He liked them a lot and the more research we did, the better it looked. I know it might be cold but it will be worth it to be at the school and get a great education. I knew they picked up a couple of other defensive ends as well so I didn't want to risk losing my spot there so I thought now was the best time to commit."

"UCLA was right there too and I also liked Washington, Oregon State and Nebraska. Those were the main schools I looked at but Notre Dame just had too many pluses. I called up Coach Polian this morning to commit and he was really excited and that made me feel good. I won't be taking any other visits except to Notre Dame, my commitment is strong and this is a great day for me."

Full Article

Maualuga's Presence Felt

As usual, Rey Maualuga does a little bit of everything.

You want a football story?

How about Maualuga's rampaging versatility, along with Michael Johnson's pure athleticism and Roy Williams' relentless work ethic, being one of the bigger stories on the Bengals defense this spring?

You want an off-the-field-get-to-know-them story?

How about Hurricane Rey already sweeping the community? The last time we glimpsed him during the rookies' visit to the Ronald McDonald House in downtown Cincinnati on Wednesday, Maualuga was autographing the money he lost to the little kids when they caught some of his passes.

Somewhere tonight a third-grader with good hands has a picture of Abraham Lincoln signed "Rey Maualuga."

Whether it is fellow rookies finding his lunch table or a toddler wandering up the stairs to listen to the big man with the flowing hair under the knit cap read a story, all kinds gravitate to him.

And there was also the teenaged girl who approached him for a picture on the stairs.

"Hey," he says. "C'mon. Like we're at the prom."

Or the pictures he takes on the playground from on top of the slide before he went down, a 245-pound All-American wedging himself from the bottom.

Last week at the Carthage Tot Lot when the Bengals rookies showed up to work, Maualuga and fellow linebacker Dan Skuta were the last to leave. Not until the last load of mulch had been shoveled so the playground would be ready to open the next day for the first time since arson destroyed it back in November. They closed the place.

"We were there for a reason and a purpose and I didn't want to leave without finishing what we came to do," Maualuga says. "That's something I've always done. It's something my dad taught me."

Tony Maualuga has been gone nearly three years now after cancer ravaged him at 45, but every day like Wednesday brings him back for Rey. The Ronald McDonald House boards families of seriously ill children while they are at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, so visits like Wednesday's are as much for the siblings, the parents and the staff as they are for the kids.

But don't tell that to six-year-old Alicia Reed. Her hair is beginning to grow back after a bone marrow transplant and her mouth was covered with a surgical mask. But you could have heard her screams of delight all the way back to her hometown of Wichita, Kan., Wednesday when Maualuga reached down and tickled her tiny belly, grunted out a high five, and then kept calling on her to help him read parts of the book he read to the group.

"He's just one of those guys who's a good leader," says rookie punter Kevin Huber. "He's a guy people always kind of watch. He's got a good personality. He always tries to keep it loose."

If his dad taught Maualuga to help, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is reinforcing it. Lewis has mixed the rookies' on-field introduction the past month with community forays and just exactly what good works can do.

Last week it was the Marvin Lewis Community Fund that rebuilt the playground in Carthage, and on Wednesday he gave them a glimpse of one of the causes close to his heart. There were no on-field workouts Wednesday (they resume Thursday), but the rookies got a needed drill during an afternoon tour of the Ronald McDonald House.

One of the stops took place in the spacious sun room that serves as the facility's play room, complete with a flat screen TV on the wall. Stephanie Creech, communications manager of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati, noted it had been donated by Lewis and his wife Peggy.

"Giving back is all a part of getting this opportunity," Lewis has often said.

And as the players walked out of the lounge, Maualuga, carrying the camera for Creech, looked at the pictures of a red-headed eight-year-old girl plastered on the door of a guest room and zoomed in to snap a photo of her healthiest picture.

Tony had colon cancer, a brain tumor, and multiple growths in his chest, and the ordeal will always linger with Rey. His mom once told him if Tony kept going with the chemotherapy instead of stopping after one series, things might have been different.

"My dad was hard-headed about things like that," Rey Maualuga says. "He was a pastor and he left it in God's hands."

Now he was thinking about the little girl whose name is Alicia Reed.

"Coming to events like this makes me think of the things my dad went through," he says. "When he had chemo he lost his hair. He couldn’t walk. You just have to make sure you appreciate life more. You never think it can happen to your family. But it does and it sucks.

"But you move on. I'm able to play football for the Bengals, walking around, living life. She probably has to get treatment for a couple of hours (daily) to be able to lead the life she needs to live."

When Maualuga arrived in the second round in the NFL Draft right off the cover of Sports Illustrated and one of the greatest college defenses of all time at USC, he suddenly gave the Bengals presence. Already he is one of the most recognizable faces in the league and he didn't escape the gaze of 16-year-old Jared Goettemoeller moments after Maualuga bounced into the lobby wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt that clashed with the ever-present knit cap.

Wheelchair-bound since he was three, Jared, a junior two hours away at St. Henry High School in Ohio, doesn't need much help operating it from dad Ken, younger brother Adam, and mom Linda. Jared pressed a button and zipped right to Maualuga with a football to sign and impressive straight line speed. Jared is in town for a few days for the usual slew of doctor appointments, but this spiced it up.

"We know who Rey is," Ken Goettemoeller says as he watches him carry a toddler through the lobby. "I think he's one of those quiet assassins. He's nice to meet here, but I wouldn't want to meet him on the field. I'd say he's probably a lot like (Domata) Peko. Quiet but very friendly. As you can see, he's not afraid to grab a hold (of the kids)."

Maualuga has also not been afraid to grab a hold of the Bengals playbook. If one of the reasons he dropped to the second round is because of that low test score (reportedly a 15 out of 50 on the Wonderlic), both he and linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald scoff.

FitzGerald: "Some people take tests well, others don't. Does that make them stupid? The guy's a football player with instincts. We've put a lot on his plate and he's responded well. We've thrown a lot at him."

Maualuga: "It's football. It's not a mathematical thing you have to learn. I'm a football player. That's what I do."

What the Bengals have him doing is splitting time with starter Rashad Jeanty at SAM linebacker, a spot he has never played during a lifetime in the middle. But he's also taking some snaps in the middle, and he's getting plenty there when the defense is in passing downs and on the goal line.

FitzGerald: "We know he can play middle linebacker. Here's a guy with tremendous skills and we're not going to find out all the things he can do?"

Maualuga: "(SAM) is a little different as far as the defensive scheme I used to play in college, but it's not that different. I just have to get the defense down and get the mental part straight and I'll be all right."

Why did Maualuga fall to the second round? He's passionate, competitive, fiery, and plays with a jagged edge. Like his old USC teammate and current Bengals backer Keith Rivers says, "The same things that make you love him also worry you."

But four-year-old Kaylee Clayon has no worries. She has been at Children's and her parents at the Ronald McDonald House since November (Nov. 4, dad Dave says) while she battles a rare immune system disease. They come from Moundsville, W. Va., and with Dave and Holly no longer working in order to be with Kaylee, the Ronald McDonald House is a gift of incalculable proportions.

Since she had a bone marrow transplant in February, Dave and Holly have tried to keep her isolated as much as possible. But she's such a fireball it was fate that she would eventually hook up with Maualuga. It happens late in the visit with Kaylee sitting in a toy car on the playground wearing her surgical mask being pushed by the most feared defensive player in a nation of colleges.

They are playing a game. Find the guy that beat her up, which, of course, no one did. Maualuga steers her to a suspect and she stares and says, "No." But she gives Huber and Andre Smith a long look before she lets Maualuga continue.

"It's uplifting for me," he says. "Earlier she wouldn't take a picture with me.

"I got her to laugh and giggle. It puts a smile on my face and makes me realize that there's something I can do, take time off to come out here and hang out and it would mean a lot to these kids. ... I want people to know I'm happy to be here."

Creech finally gets her camera back, suitably impressed with Hurricane Rey.

"Very engaging, very empathetic, a lot of fun," she says with an eye to future visits.

Suddenly he is the last to leave again as Johnson and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald wait for him to give them a ride back to Paul Brown Stadium.

"I've got to go. I've got to go. I'm out of money," he says.

But it sounds like an investment has been made on all sides.

Full Article

Highly-Coveted Washington Commit Sione Potoa'e Still Looking Around

ESPNU 150 Watch List defensive tackle Sione Potoa'e gave affiliate Web site an update on the status of his pledge to the Huskies.

"My verbal to Washington is a soft verbal, a soft commitment, but I'm still keeping my options open to other schools."

USC, California and Oregon are Washington's three competitors for Potoa'e who would like to make official visits to all four schools.

Potoa'e also shared what he's looking for, "Honestly the academics are the most important part because academics will take me farther than football will. And a school with great academics will carry into the future with success."

"And I'm also looking at the athletics and the environment. I don't want to go to a school that I'm uncomfortable with because I'm going there for four years, and I don't want to go through four years with uneasiness. Personally, I would like to travel from home, but I also care about my parent's point of view, their outlook, and I'll take that into consideration when I make my decision."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Oregon State's Weight Room Warriors

Some weight room warriors are born. Others are made.

Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea is 298-pound freak of nature. He has only been lifting weights for three or four years -- about as long as the native of Tonga has been playing football. He estimated his max bench press this week was "525 or 530 pounds." He also squats 720 pounds.

Paea might be the nation's strongest college football player.

Beavers offensive guard Gregg Peat observed what most folks around the Pac-10 already know: Paea is about ready for his national close-up.

"He's pretty incredible," Peat said.

As for Peat, he arrived at Oregon State in 2005 as an unheralded recruit, the Beavers the only Pac-10 team to offer him a scholarship. He bench pressed about 225 pounds. According to Peat, "I was a soft 285 pounds."

Peat is now a solid 295 pounds, a team co-captain and is slated to start at guard for the second consecutive season.

Paea was born to lift weights. "He's a freak," Peat said.

Peat used weights to reinvent himself physically. "He's a guy I see working hard," Paea said. "He sets a great example for other players."

Peat now bench presses 350 pounds, squats 450 and -- most impressive -- power cleans 330. He has also dramatically increased his speed, quickness, agility and flexibility.

Oregon State almost never signs a highly rated recruiting class. Nonetheless, it has finished ranked in the top-25 three consecutive seasons.

I wonder if what happens inside the $16 million Sports Performance Center has anything to do with the unheralded Point A transforming into the nationally ranked Point B?

Full Article

Tevaga no Longer With Program

Offensive lineman Sonny Tevaga is no longer with the program. I am told it is an academic issue, and he will not be with the team in the fall.

Here is a release from UCLA about other things (including UCLA's first acknowledgment of E.J. Woods not being with the program any longer):

Safety E.J. Woods and offensive lineman Sonny Tevaga are no longer members of the football team. Woods plans to transfer to a local junior college. Tevaga is exploring his options.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pela on the Fast Track

Joape Pela is a 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound defensive tackle prospect from Foothill Junior College. While growing up Pela was the self-described “Big Man on Campus” and admittedly got a big head, not focusing on what was important throughout his high school years at Mountain View High School in California.

I wasn’t that smart in high school, I just messed around, partied too much and I paid for it," explained Pela. “I thought I was all that and I could do whatever I wanted and I’d be fine, so I graduated late and I wasn’t able to qualify for Division I football, although I was certainly good enough to play wherever I wanted out of high school.

Pela got the usual letters, phone calls and visits from coaches early on during the recruiting process. Schools such as BYU, UCLA, Oregon and Boise State were among those showing interest, but everyone soon backed off of him when it was learned that he’d have no chance to qualify.

“That was a tough thing for me and definitely opened my eyes," said Pela. “All I had to do was graduate and get decent grades and I could have gone wherever I wanted out of high school, but I just screwed around and it didn’t happen.

Like most top-flight non-qualifiers, Pela looked to start up at junior college and hopefully play Division I football afterwards. But unlike most junior college athletes, Pela wasn’t content to spend the normal two years getting his degree and subsequently using up at least two years of his eligibility.

Pela hit the books hard from day one at Foothill Junior College and has not let up. He is now eligible to transfer to a Division I program after just one year of junior college play.

“I’ve taken at least 18 credit hours since I first got here," said Pela. “I had two semesters where I took 20 hours because even though I love Foothill, this isn’t where I want to be. I’m a Division I player and I wanted to get to Division I football as fast as I possibly could.

Mission accomplished, as Pela is set to graduate early and have four years to play three at whatever Division I program he chooses to transfer to. For Pela it’s been a busy year, but one that he’s reaping the benefits from now that he has many offers to choose from upon his graduation.

“It struck me out of high school that this is for real," said Pela. “Screwing around was over. I needed to get going and I wanted to get going as fast as I possibly could. Now I have some good offers and things are going to work out. It’s hectic, but I’m very glad that I’ve made the decisions to put me where I’m at now and make up for all that lost time in high school.”

Pela’s would-be suitors include BYU, Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, Louisville and Houston. He visited BYU this past week and puts BYU on top of his list along with Utah, Oregon and Arizona State.

Pela enjoyed his visit and could definitely see himself transferring to BYU by the end of the month.

“I felt comfortable there," noted Pela about BYU. “I spent a lot of time with their defensive line coach [Steve] Kaufusi and I really liked him. He’s a very down-to-earth type of guy and someone I’d love to learn from. He’d make me a better player, I know that. I could definitely see myself at BYU.”

Pela is LDS and notes that he is certainly drawn to BYU because of that.

I’m not into partying anymore. That’s done, in the past," said Pela. “BYU certainly is a place where I could continue to concentrate on what is important, which is not only growing as a football player, but as a person and getting a good education.”

Pela plans on pursuing a degree in kinesiology, and if his class work at Foothill is any indication, Pela should be earning that degree sooner rather than later.

Pela also was made aware of the openings BYU has at the nose tackle position this coming season, and that was certainly something he liked when learning more about BYU.

“I want to play," said Pela. “Just like anyone else, I want to play. I don’t want to use my redshirt year. It was explained to me that I’d have a chance to compete and start right away at BYU, and that’s what you want.

Pela certainly can play and compete with the best around, which is why so many schools are scrambling for his services at this relatively inopportune time for most schools to allocate a scholarship. So what type of player is Pela?

I just love to hit, I really love to hit guys and dominate them," explained Pela. “I don’t know what else to say. That’s what I love about football and that is what I’m good at.”

A quick view of Pela’s junior college film shows a player that is lightning quick off the line and that can penetrate an offensive line and demand a double-team, which is an essential attribute for any Division I nose guard or defensive tackle.

Pela also made a visit to the Houston Cougars and liked what they had to offer and will certainly factor them into his final decision. For right now, Pela is just trying to make some last-minute visits to the schools that are pursuing him.

Louisville wants me to visit this weekend and I might go there, but Oregon and Arizona State are trying to work something out, so we’ll just see what happens," explained Pela. “I understand that it’s hard fitting me in so fast and I know that if I would have waited a year that I could pretty much play wherever I wanted, but I like my options right now. It’s enough for me and playing right away after a year is more important than having more options.

“It’s been a hectic and trying time for me here of late. My father passed away a couple of weeks ago and that was a very tough thing for me. It’s tough and sometimes I wish I could have a little more time, but I know that I’m on the right track and all this is really going to pay off if I just keep on going. I’m very happy with where I’m at right now.”

Pela noted that he could be making his final decision as early as this weekend, but that it won’t be any later than the end of the month. TBS will certainly keep in touch with Pela and report on any developments as they break.

Update: Kyle Whittingham and staff received a pleasant surprise last week with the late commitment of 2009 recruit Joape Pela. Pela, a 6-foot-2 inch, 300 pound defensive tackle from Foothill College (Los Altos, Calif.) adds to what was already a strong class of defensive linemen for the Utes.

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Lofa Tatupu Chuckled at an Interviewer’s Use of the Term “Offseason”

When asked what an does between the end of the final minicamp and the start of training camp, chuckled at an ’s use of the term “.”

There is no such thing as an ,” he said.

The Seahawks wrapped up a busy spring of training activities on Friday, and they’ll have nothing formally scheduled until camp starts at the end of July.

Much of the practicing since the end of last season has consisted of what they call OTAs (Organized Team Activities). In that vein, they now enter the phase that could be labeled UTAs (Unorganized Team Activities) or ISWs (Individual Self-Motivated ).

But there certainly isn’t as much LAP (Lounging Around the Pool) as there used to be.

It’s only a vacation in the sense that their presence at Seahawks headquarters isn’t required.

“… Coaches go on vacation, the weight room kind of closes down, everybody gets out of town for ,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “That’s the point where you’re on vacation, but that’s when you have got to kind of gear it up physically. That’s when you’ve really got to get in shape.”

Hasselbeck stays in the and often gets together with teammates who conduct their own .

The team activities through the spring have been crucial in learning the new staff’s playbook. Now, the focus for Hasselbeck is getting the arm ready for a long season of firing footballs.

“For me, it’s the most important time,” he said of his upcoming schedule that sometimes includes two a day. “Similar to a pitcher, you get your arm ready for competitive throws. That’s when you really sharpen your skills, and you know you’re coming back to camp (where) there’s a conditioning test, a body-fat percentage test, there’s a weigh-in … all that ’s coming.”

Tatupu said he’s going home to Massachusetts, where he will work out with old friends and be accompanied by another steady companion … his playbook.

“You look it over every other day and jog the memory,” Tatupu said. “When you’re not physically taking the reps out there, you tend to forget assignments or how blitzes are run. In order to hit camp running, you have to be sharp mentally.”

The studying is even more important this summer because the players have to learn a new system, Tatupu said.

That situation led first-year coach Jim Mora to adopt a new approach.

“A lot of times, at the end of camp, you collect their playbooks,” Mora said. “In coaching sometimes, there’s a little paranoia about your information getting out. But we’re asking these guys to keep their books because we want them to study so they come back and it’s fresh in their minds. That’s different than I’ve ever done.”

After a fairly steady stretch of structured team , Tatupu said that this part of the summer can be more playful. He likes to swim and play basketball. “But you can’t go too hard on the basketball court because you don’t want to roll an ankle.”

And when he hits the gym to lift weights, he shapes his schedule around those of his old friends who work out with him. “Hey, you’ve got to have spotters … you don’t want that bar falling on you.”

Training camp is no longer a time for players to work back into shape for the season; anybody taking that approach will be blatantly unprepared.

As Mora pointed out, there’s only 15 days of practice between the July 31 camp opening and the first preseason game. There’s no easing back into it.

It’s apparent that the players aren’t really looking for time off. In fact, that seems like a bad thing in the NFL.

The sad part is that the only time off you really have is when you don’t make the playoffs,” Tatupu said. “Unfortunately, we found that out, and we found out that’s not a fun time off, either. It’s a sad time because you see the other teams having fun on the field and being out there chasing after the ring. That’s not what we want.”

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