Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ngata's Quick Start

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who got the Ravens defense off to a great start with his interception and touchdown return in the first quarter, was pleased that the Ravens' first defensive unit shut out the Jets in the first quarter.

"We weren't planning on that,'' he said at halftime. "I think one of the things we mostly have got to work on is stopping the run. We take a lot of pride in that. We didn't do too well, so we've got to go back and fix that. But it was good that we were still able to have a dominant defense."

Ngata said he was just in the right place at the right time for the big interception.

"I was supposed to have contain on that play,'' he said. "I saw the running back coming out, so I tried to stay in between (the quarterback and the running back). I saw the quarterback looking aat him, and then he threw the ball. I just jumped up, and it hit my stomach. My stomach swallowed it, and I caught the ball."

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Mangini Compliments Maiava’s Work on Special Teams

Cleveland rookie linebacker Kaluka Maiava, a 2005 Baldwin High School graduate, drew praise from Browns coach Eric Mangini during a news conference Tuesday.

Maiava, a fourth-round draft pick who while at Southern California was twice named the Trojans' co-special teams player of the year, had six tackles, including two on kickoff coverage, during the Browns' 27-10 victory over the Detroit Lions in a preseason game Saturday.

''He's gotten better in the last couple weeks in terms of his production on special teams,'' Mangini said Tuesday. ''That was something he was very good at USC, and he also, when he got a chance, was a pretty good defensive player. It took a little time, he had to work into a role and what I'm looking for is kind of the same thing from him as everybody else.

''What are you going to do on teams? And then that gets you to the 53 (-player roster). Are you good enough to get to the 45? If you're on the 45, you're always live, because at any point you could be in the game. So, that's what I'm looking for from him, is to keep carving that out.''

NFL rosters must be cut down to no more than 75 players by Tuesday, and must be at 53 by Sept. 5.

Maiava has eight tackles in two preseason games -- he ranks second on the team, two behind Kamerion Wimbley. All eight of Maiava's tackles are solo stops, best on the Browns and tied for 18th among all NFL linebackers in the preseason.

Cleveland will play at home against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday before finishing its exhibition schedule on the road against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 3.

The Browns will open their regular season at home against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 13.

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Vandals Maintain Positive Outlook

Although Idaho has won just three games since Robb Akey took over the program in 2007, the Vandals' energetic head coach is convinced the momentum is beginning to turn.

A young Idaho team struggled through a 2-10 season last year, going 1-7 in Western Athletic Conference play, and the program hasn't experienced a winning season since 1999. Still, Akey enters the season brimming with enthusiasm for the task ahead.

"I feel like we've gained a tremendous amount in regards to our program," Akey said. "You're going to see a better football team out of the University of Idaho on the field this year."

Akey sees greater depth on this year's team, creating competition at various positions, including quarterback where junior Nathan Enderle is working to hold off transfer Brian Reader.


The Vandals lost three starters off the offensive line, but return 6-foot-6, 330-pound guard Mike Iupati. The senior, who didn't start playing football until high school, when his family moved to California from American Samoa, will try to open holes for running back Deonte' Jackson, Idaho's leading rusher the last two years.

Damien graduate Kama Bailey broke the school's single-season record for kickoff returns with 955 yards.


The Vandals gave up more than 42 points per game last season, ranking last in the conference and 117th in the country. The return of safety Shiloh Keo from a knee injury could help slow the flood of points.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kamana-Matagi Could Become King Kekaulike’s First Scholarship Player in FBS

Elvis Kamana-Matagi can make a little King Kekaulike High School football history.

With offers from Nevada-Las Vegas and Utah State already in hand and one expected from Hawaii soon, Kamana-Matagi is in position to become the first King Kekaulike player to land a football scholarship at a Football Bowl Subdivision school.

Kamana-Matagi, a 6-foot-2, 261-pound defensive end-offensive guard for Na Alii, said he will likely be an interior defensive lineman in college.

''Defensive tackle, mostly just interior D-line,'' Kamana-Matagi said Wednesday at practice. ''I am at 260-something now, so I might have to gain a little weight, to 280 or so. That would probably be good.''

King Kekaulike coach J.W. Kenton talked with UH coaches last week, and Kamana-Matagi said he expects to receive an offer from the Warriors soon.

''It will mean a lot and I am looking forward to it because this is my home,'' Kamana-Matagi said. ''If I can play for UH, that would be great. They would be in my top five right now, for sure, but I haven't really finalized my list yet.''

Kamana-Matagi also hopes to receive an offer from Texas Tech --- close friend Sam Fehoko, a Farrington graduate, is a linebacker with

the Red Raiders. Fehoko's father is Vili ''The Warrior'' Fehoko, who performs during UH games. Vili Fehoko and Elvis Matagi Sr. were childhood friends and Kamana-Matagi said he visits the Fehokos often on Oahu's North Shore.

Other schools on Kamana-Matagi's wish list are Colorado, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and Oregon.

''I am going to wait, see what other offers I get and make my decision then,'' he said. ''If I can, I am going to take all five trips (allowed by NCAA rules).''

With his distinctive first name, Kamana-Matagi could become a fan favorite wherever he ends up.

''My grandma, when she came from Samoa, she loved Elvis Presley so she named my dad Elvis and then they named me Elvis Junior,'' he said.

Kenton said Kamana-Matagi has solid grades and is close to a qualifying score on the SAT.

''If Elvis continues and works he will be the first kid to get a scholarship out of our school for a Division I program,'' Kenton said. ''He is a good kid, he has come a long way. He still has a long way to go, but we just keep working every day.''

Kenton said Kamana-Matagi has been focused on what is possible from the beginning of his stay at the Pukalani campus.

''I have had him since the 9th grade and we put him into this academic system and he really did well as a 9th-grader,'' Kenton said. ''He made, like, a 3.0 (grade-point average) as a 9th-grader.''

Kamana-Matagi stepped in to play offense in addition to his regular spot on defense in last week's 18-8 win at Kealakehe after a 34-7 loss to Kalaheo the week before at home. Kenton said Kamana-Matagi taking on the extra role made a huge difference in the attitude Na Alii displayed on the field.

That kind of leadership is something Kamana-Matagi can leave as a legacy at the Upcountry school.

''We have had a bunch of good players throughout the years,'' Kenton said. ''And certain things didn't match up --- either they didn't get an offer or they didn't qualify. Something was always missing, but he is the real deal. He has got offers already on the table and all he has to do is do his part on the field and do it in the classroom and he will be there.''

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Recruit Doesn't Let His Stature Affect His Play

Freshman Isi Sofele is the shortest player on this year's roster at 5-foot-7, but he is using his speed to find his niche on the field.

Everything about Isi Sofele is big.

His family-three brothers and four sisters.

His style of play-fast, fast and faster. On a team that boasts names like Jahvid Best, coaches and players still speak of Sofele's insane speed.

His numbers in high school are huge too-2,000 yards and 30 rushing touchdowns during his senior year alone.

Everything about Isi Sofele is big. Except for Isi Sofele.

Sofele is the Cal football team's shortest player, listed at 5-foot-7, and in reality he comes in a bit under that. He looks like someone's kid brother in pads, and he plays like he's watched Rudy a hundred times growing up. The image is made more ridiculous by the fact that Sofele spent fall camp working out with the wide receivers. The difference between throwing a ball to Nyan Boateng and Sofele feels like five feet.

After practice, Sofele stays behind to work with the tennis ball machine to get him up to speed with the other receivers. Switching to wideout can't be easy, but he doesn't complain.

"That's just trying to work on my hands a little bit more. It's hard," he says, tilting his head for emphasis, "but I've gotta do it to get better."

No one tries harder than Sofele, but he's always had to do more to prove himself. Sofele was ranked the 34th-best all-purpose back in the country according to, but only Cal, Washington and Washington State recruited him among the Pac-10 schools. Sofele was shocked when the Bears actually called to offer him a scholarship.

But now that he's here, nobody knows quite what to do with him. The indecision shows in his title in the media guide: athlete. Sofele says he'll stick with the wide receivers for now and possibly do spot-duty as a gunner for special teams.

"I've been getting reps at that (and with) kick returns," he says. "Wherever they feel is right for me, that's where I'll be."

Sofele is quiet and serious when he's being interviewed. He cracks a smile only when talking about his youngest brother, who is just starting to play football competitively. He likes to talk about his family, not so much about himself. He doesn't acknowledge how much more work he has to do just because he got the short end of the stick gene-wise.

"It's been really different. I'm not used to catching so many balls," is all he says of the transition to wide receiver. "I'm used to just getting the handoff and taking off. But it's cool. I'm trying to go out and try something different and fit in with the rest of the guys."

Fitting in is unlikely. Few stand out like Sofele.

Because of his stature, sure. But mostly because of his talent.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Vakapuna & Maualuga Highlight 'Hard Knocks' Episode III

During the rookie show I love love loved the Samoan dance and chant led by Fui Vakapuna and Rey Maualuga. I wish the Bengals would do that before every game as they close their warmups to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents, because seeing the crazy eyes of Fui while doing the over-the-top masculine Samoan dance would loosen the bowels of many within his sightline, I imagine.

Rey Maualuga may actually kill someone on the field of play this year. I was very excited to hear the coaches say that Rey has to start somewhere for the betterment of the team. What an exciting player to have on our team. He was described as a "Hammer" last night on the show, and I couldn't think of a better word for him. The man hits like a Mack Truck and is unbelievably quick to the ball. I think if I were Hines Ward I would be getting seriously concerned about any plays that take me across the middle at this point between Rivers and Maualuga being on the field.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Who-Dey Meets Rey

More than a few eyebrows were raised last April when their second-round pick came and the Rams, desperately looking for a stopper in the middle of a run defense that had been gashed for nearly five yards per carry, tapped Ohio State middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.

Still on the board?

"Maybe the defense they had, they weren't looking for the type of guy of guy like me. When they picked James, it's like ... I don't know," said Rey Maualuga, the Bengals rookie who has fit in so well with the team that did take him he is now known as "Who-Dey Rey."

"He's a good player, don’t get me wrong," Maualuga said of Laurinaitis. "And a good guy. He's going to do great things for them."

Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium in a 7:30 p.m. game (11:30 p.m. on Channel 12 in Cincinnati), Maualuga and Laurinaitis come off the board to meet in the third preseason game that is traditionally known around the NFL as the dress rehearsal for Opening Day.

New Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo, Tom Coughlin's defensive coordinator with the Giants, figures to go at it traditionally after playing his starters in the first half of a 20-13 loss to the Falcons. While he's expected to play some of his starters into the second half, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis won't say what he'll do and laughed off the notion this week that the starters need to get a feel for coming out of the locker room.

But the starters on both sides should play long enough to get a feel for some of the more intriguing matchups that start literally in the middle with last season's two best inside backers in the nation.

Laurinaitis gets the start in the middle for a defense reeling from giving up 162 yards on the ground to the Falcons at 5.6 yards a shot. He has shown some physical push and he came up with an interception off a tipped pass last week. Maualuga hopes to play more at backup SAM linebacker after last week's impressive debut in New England the Bengals kept the Patriots out of the end zone in a 7-6 win.

Also on tap is Bengals right tackle Anthony Collins' matchup with James Hall, the Rams' leading sacker from last season and perhaps a dose of Chris Long; Bengals left end Robert Geathers pitted against the second pick in the draft, right tackle Jason Smith; Bengals fleet wideouts Chad Ochocinco and Chris Henry against emerging Rams cornerback Ron Bartell.

A backup quarterback matchup of the Bengals' J.T. O'Sullivan and the Rams' Kyle Boller may not excite the masses. But O'Sullivan has put up two straight triple-digit passer rating games and the seasoned Boller brings 42 NFL starts with the Ravens (20-22) into PBS, where the last time he appeared he threw an end-zone pick off a tipped pass that was collected by defensive tackle Michael Myers in a last-minute goal-line stand that preserved the Bengals Opening Night win in 2007.

But with Carson Palmer (ankle) out for a second straight week, clearly one of the most interesting things Thursday night is Maualuga on the same field with Laurinaitis.

"It's going to be fun. We'll see each other out there on the field (before the game)," Maualuga said. "James is a good friend of mine. We met at the Playboy (preseason) All-American (photo shoot), that's where we first bonded and got to know each other. We got along very well. It wasn’t based on accolades, who had the most. And then it went to our game when we played them. We said, 'Good luck, hope you play well,' because we both play defense and it wasn't like we were playing against each other."

Maualuga fueled USC's win over Laurinaitis' Buckeyes with his running-of-the-bulls interception touchdown last season, but the two kept in touch occasionally via text. In the weeks leading up to the draft they would kid each other, "Let me hold something. You're the one who's going to go in the first round. No you're the one going in the first round."

"We would just kid each other messing around," said Maualuga, and they still text "every now and then."

"We congratulated each other after the draft and then we chatted it up at the rookie symposium," Maualuga said.

Maualuga isn't quite sure what went down in St. Louis. He went there on a pre-draft visit and he thought there was interest even though the Rams had the second overall pick, the one they would use on Jason Smith.

"I knew I wasn't going with the second pick," Maualuga recalled. "There were things talked about. 'If you're still there … .' It's hard to say. Then again, I was waiting for a phone call. The phone didn't ring."

The phone rang four picks later in the second round and it was Lewis from a giddy draft room that had coveted Maualuga's size and physical play for months and never dared dream he'd be available.

There were whispers teams backed off Maualuga for his low score on the NFL scouting combine's mental aptitude test (15), his inability to play in space, and discipline in the scheme. After four months with him, the Bengals haven't seen any of those whispers surface in reality.

"He certainly hasn't had a problem picking up things; he picks up things fast," said linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald. "Believe me, if he didn't, he wouldn't be out there now because we're doing a lot of different things."

The Bengals have enough confidence in Maualuga's smarts and his agility in space that they've got him playing different spots in different packages: SAM in the base, MIKE in the nickel, and all over in his own package. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer didn't blink on Maualuga's first snap from scrimmage and sent him on a blitz.

If there were maturity concerns, the Bengals knew he would have a good support system in place with Samoan defensive players Domata Peko and Jonathan Fanene, as well as former 'SC linebacker mate Keith Rivers. And with his flowing hair, passionate play, and endless hours at training camp signing autographs, Maualuga has become such a fan favorite so quickly that his No. 58 led sales at the Spirit Shop at Georgetown College during camp.

Thursday night is when Who-Dey officially meets Rey.

"Very good," said Lewis of Maualuga's grasp of the classroom. "Rey comes in like most college players and has to learn discipline with his eyes. That's true of any college linebacker you watch. But they had a very diverse defensive system, and so there's a lot of things he learned to do on campus at 'SC that he comes here and he just changes what he called it there compared to what we call it here. So he has an advantage, just like (Michigan cornerback) Leon Hall did when he came here a couple of years ago."

The last time the Bengals took a middle linebacker in the second round, Odell Thurman, they started him as a rookie and Lewis spent a lot of time railing about how he sprinkled big plays with mental lapses. But Lewis seems to even like the way Maualuga makes mistakes.

"He may make a slight error, but he's doing it full speed and when he does it he does it with an impact," Lewis said. "He's doing well."

On Thursday night, Maualuga will shake Laurinaitis' hand and then let it go.

"It will be fun to be out there with him," Maualuga said. "I've got nothing to prove to anybody as far as players. I'm going to let my play speak for itself. I'm just looking forward to playing a little more and running around a little bit."

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Dawgs Hopeful About Te’o-Nesheim’s Front-Four Mates

Over the past two defensively dismal seasons, Washington’s four-man defensive line has too-often seemed like Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and three other guys.

The new Huskies coaching staff wants to change that. And less than two weeks from the season opener, junior tackle Cameron Elisara has emerged as the Dawg most likely to give opposing offenses another lineman to worry about.

“Of course, two is better than one,” Elisara said after Tuesday morning practice. “Hopefully, it’ll be four is better than one. We’re trying to get the whole defensive line going. I think the defensive line as a whole is improved.

“But, let’s say just me: If I started stepping up myself, that’s going to take a lot of pressure off Daniel. He’s going to make a whole lot more plays because then they’re not going to be able to focus solely on one guy, gameplan for one guy. We’ll get a lot more one-on-one opportunities.”

Last season as a junior defensive end, Te’o-Nesheim started all 12 games and was named to the All-Pacific-10 Conference second team. He led Huskies linemen with 65 tackles, ranked sixth in the Pac-10 with 0.67 sacks per game and ninth in the conference with 0.96 tackles for loss per game.

He was enough of a force to draw regular double-teams; however, his teammates seldom made offenses pay for that. The Huskies finished 117th out of 119 Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing defense, 116th in scoring defense, 110th in total defense and 100th in sacks.

Now about to enter his junior year, Elisara believes he’s ready for the breakout season that has been predicted since he graduated from Ferris High School of Spokane, where PrepStar rated him the No. 24 defensive lineman in the nation.

“This is the time when all my work is coming to fruition,” Elisara said. “I finally see myself fitting into the position that I’ve always been working for since I’ve been here. It’s finally starting to become real.

“But once again, I think the biggest thing is I want to keep it going, because camp is just camp. I’ve got to carry it over into the season.”

Elisara won the defensive scout team award as a redshirt in 2006. He moved into the defensive rotation in 2007, playing in 12 of 13 games. Last season, he played in all 12 games and started seven. His 24 tackles ranked 11th on the team.

Now, both he and his new coaches believe he’s ready for the next step.

“I just know that he’s improved immensely,” coach Steve Sarkisian said.

“He’s doing things right and he’s playing with great effort, and we can’t ask for more than that out of him. … Hopefully, that can take some of the heat off of Daniel. If we can get Alameda (Ta’amu) just to stay consistent and be physical, and if we get Darrion Jones going, we’ve got a really good group.”

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Oregon's New Receiver is Becoming a Tall Story

Oregon receiver Lavasier Tuinei heard the question, threw up his increasingly valuable hands and said, "I mean, it's our job to catch balls."

Tuinei, in his first fall camp with the Ducks, didn't see all the dropped balls that came before him. Instead, he is part of a new receiving corps that is changing the personality of the position at Oregon. Instead of receivers who are long on talent but lacking good hands, this group of long-limbed ones takes catching and blocking very seriously.

And leading the way is Tuinei, a junior college transfer who might become one of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's favorite targets.

"I guess, if I was a quarterback, I'd love that, too -- a 6-5 guy against 5-9 corners," said Tuinei when told how comfortable Masoli feels throwing to him.

Said Masoli of Tuinei: "He makes some spectacular catches with his long body. I had a tall receiver in junior college, too. It kind of brings back some memories. You can miss a little more with the tall guys."

No. 16 Oregon
at No. 14 Boise State

When: 7:15 p.m. Sept. 3
Where: Boise

All of the Ducks' receivers except 6-foot Blake Cantu are 6-1 or taller. And Masoli has huge targets in tight ends Ed Dickson (6-5) and Dion Jordan (6-7). Even 6-1 Jeff Maehl has surprisingly long arms and big hands.

If coach Chip Kelly could list his favorite qualities in a receiver, it would probably be something like this: Tough, tall and tireless. And barely tipping the scales at 200 pounds, Tuinei is a surprisingly effective blocker.

"Even though he looks skinny, he's one of our most physical blockers," Kelly said. "It helped immensely he was here for spring practice. I think he's going to play a lot for us this year."

Tuinei is among the few receivers who has played a lot this fall. Maehl missed time early in camp with a sore knee but has looked good of late. Jamere Holland, the fastest of the group, has been slowed by knee and quadriceps injuries.

Newcomers Diante Jackson and Tyrece Gaines also have had knee problems, but they are nearing full strength and the Ducks should have all of them available for the season opener at Boise State on Sept.3 except the sure-handed Rory Cavaille (shoulder).

"I haven't seen enough of any of them," Kelly said last week when asked who is earning playing time among the receivers.

And there are a lot of balls up for grabs.

Maehl is the only returning receiver who caught more than five passes last season. The junior had 39catches in 2008, and although he's not as tall as Tuinei, his relative experience makes him a reliable target.

"If he's my primary, I'll hang onto him a little longer just because he has the cuts and the experience to do what he has to do," Masoli said.

Masoli also spent a good chunk of the summer mentoring Gaines, another junior college transfer who roomed with Masoli when he arrived on campus.

"JC guys always come with a little chip on their shoulder, they think they know everything," Masoli said. "But I showed him the ropes, especially as a former JC guy myself, I kind of showed him the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do."

Kelly said much of the transition from junior college to the Football Bowl Subdivision is the terminology.

"He's got a good football knowledge background," Kelly said of Gaines. "It's a matter of almost sometimes learning a new language, where he may have called it this at Butler (Community College), but we call it this here. But it's the same concept. Maybe they should make a Rosetta stone for football offenses."

Then there's the new terminology of "tazer" for Oregon's offense. That's the hybrid slot position that has added a wrinkle to the Ducks' scheme this fall. It's basically what Dickson played much of last season, but now Kelly is putting running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner there, too.

"I'll play any position," James said. "I'll play tight end if that would get it done."

That's the kind of eagerness that has pleased Kelly through the nagging injuries and uncertainty -- that and the fact that fewer balls are hitting the ground after receivers' hands.

When the receivers are rangy, like Tuinei, the catches just add up.

"LT's smart with it, too," new receivers coach Scott Frost said of Tuinei's frame. "He does a good job of shielding people off, and he's made a lot of tough catches."

Masoli said he is eager to see how his new receivers respond in the nationally televised opener at Bronco Stadium.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Family Tradition

Between the 250 of them, the men and women who gathered at the swanky hotel ballroom in downtown Seattle knew everything about football a kid could ever hope to learn.

How to throw a tight spiral? That was the forte of the man of the moment, former Oakland Raiders quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, whose wedding everyone had shown up to attend that night in January 2008.

How to tackle a quarterback like Tuiasosopo? His cousins Simi Toeaina and Conan Amituana'i did that every fall Saturday as defensive linemen for Oregon and Arizona, respectively.

And how to fend off those would-be tacklers? Tuiasosopo's uncle John Tautolo, a former UCLA and NFL offensive guard, sure knew a thing or two about that.
As soon as the moment presented itself, Tuiasosopo Niusulu (Tui to everyone who knows him) and the rest of the teenage cousins there poured onto the open ballroom floor to show off the one skill that carried the greatest bragging rights at this family reunion.

Their display required plenty of footwork but no pigskin. They were dancing.
Break dances, freestyle hip-hop gyrations, even the Electric Slide, the youngsters busted out every move they could think of.

"Forget football. The macho thing is to be the best dancer, the one who has the endurance to last the night," said Violet Niusulu, mother of Tui, who is now an Idaho State freshman defensive tackle. "They don't go and pick a partner. They just storm the floor and dance. Forget the girls. It's on."

On nights like these, the fearsome collection of football talent that is Tui's extended family is nothing special. It's just family. It rarely registers in anyone's mind what an awe-inspiring melting pot of athletic ability is present.

Saturday and Sunday afternoons during the fall are a different story. Across the West, members of the clan gather in unison around television sets and in football arenas. For three- to four-hour blocks, nothing is more important than their kin on the field, the young men playing not just for the names on the front of their jerseys, but also for the ones on the back.
Niusulu. Tuiasosopo. Tautolo. Those are names that have graced media guides of NFL and NCAA teams for the past two generations.

Early in his teenage years, Tui found his family heritage so hard to live up to that he preferred not to speak of it. But as the years passed, he filled his broad Samoan frame and developed the blend of strength and quickness so many of his relatives also possess. By the end of his career at Lakes High School in Lakewood, Wash., Tui was one of the state's most feared defensive ends. It became apparent to him then: His name was a blessing, not a burden.
"I'm proud of them and everything, but it's me doing my own thing," Tui said. "My mom didn't want me to get caught up in the name and hide behind the name. When I get on the field, I just play hard. I play with emotions, and I'll make my own name for myself."

As a child, Tui couldn't tell a linebacker from a lineman.

Until he was 9, he lived in Germany and Japan, where his father, Solova'a, was stationed with the United States Army. Because Tui towered over his classmates in school (he stood 6 feet tall in eighth grade until a football accident snapped his right leg and permanently stunted his growth), he preferred to man the center position on a basketball court.
The sight of Tui bouncing a basketball couldn't have been more foreign to Violet. And so she tried her hardest to educate Tui about the sport that ran in their blood and their relatives who spilled it on the gridiron.

There were his cousins Marques and Zach, both of whom would end up in the NFL like their dad, Manu. There were his linemen cousins Albert, Matt and Simi Toeaina, the first of whom would star at Tennessee while the other two brothers enrolled in Oregon. And who could forget his uncles Ray, Terry and John Tautolo, who all donned UCLA's blue and gold?

As an 8-year-old, Tui finally got to meet some of them when his family flew to California for his great-uncle's funeral. Violet made sure to introduce Tui to his uncles Mike and Titus Tuiasosopo, who both played at USC, the latter alongside future NFL star Junior Seau.

Tui thought: Junior who?

"I wasn't really at all interested in football," Tui said. "It didn't faze me or click in my mind that, 'Gee, I've got family who's doing great things in football.'"

Tui's attitude toward football shifted slightly once the Niusulus moved back to the United States in 1999. Exposed to organized football for the first time at his middle school in Washington, D.C., Tui realized he could be good at this strange game because his size allowed him to muscle people around easily. Just as importantly, his parents wanted him to give their family sport a try.

"I've got to obey my parents," Tui said.

Tui's interest was piqued further when his friends began peppering him with questions about his unusual name. A strong-armed, fleet-footed quarterback with the same name was electrifying crowds every Saturday at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium. Was Tui related to Marques Tuiasosopo?

Once, twice, he answered that question. Again and again, he said, yes, he shared the same DNA as that Tuiasosopo. Tui finally met his cousin again at their aunt Aima Amituana'i's funeral in 2001. She had died of a heart attack in the exit tunnel of the Rose Bowl, after watching Marques produce a world-class performance in Washington's win over Purdue in the bowl game.

That's when Tui knew: Football was in his genes, and it was some special genes he had.

"I could just tell," Violet said of her son's transformation. "Teenagers at the church were like, 'Hey, your cousin is so-and-so?' He hears his friends at church saying, 'Hey, did you see Marques play? Did you see that throw that he made?' And I told Tui, 'Those are your cousins.'"


Even before Tui showed up for his first football practice at Lakes High, coach Dave Miller had reserved a spot on the Lancers' varsity team for the newcomer.

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Defensive Overhaul Shows Promise @ Rebels Camp

Juniors Malo Taumua and Isaako Aaitui traded places, with Taumua moving to end and Aaitui to tackle.

"I'm still learning it," Aaitui said. "It's kind of difficult coming from big end to inside. (But) I feel really good about it."

To add depth, junior Ramsey Feagai was moved from second-team offensive guard to backup defensive tackle.

In camp, at least, the changes appear to have paid off. The players are bigger, more athletic and have made plays.

When the team broke camp in Ely last year, the coaches had real concerns about the defense, particularly at safety, that turned out to be well-founded.

Not all of the answers have been found, but there don't appear to be as many nagging questions this year.

"Our defense is making it harder on our offense," coach Mike Sanford said. "It's harder to complete passes. It's harder to make first downs. I like how our secondary has played.

"I also like how our defensive front is rushing the passer, and how they're defending the run, too."

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Monday, August 24, 2009

OIA White Football Brims w/ D1 Talent

The O'ahu Interscholastic Association's White Conference is officially classified as "Division II," but this season the nine-team division is not short on Division I talent.

As in, NCAA Division I.

At least eight players — probably more — are considered to be legitimate major college prospects.

Waialua offensive/defensive lineman Graham Rowley is ranked among Hawai'i's top recruits; he has made a verbal commitment to play for Brigham Young. Teammate Micah Hatchie has received recruiting interest from several Pac-10 schools, in addition to Colorado and Louisville.

Pearl City offensive guard David Lefotu has made a verbal commitment to play for the University of Hawai'i, as has Moanalua O-lineman Frank Loyd and linebacker Lasi Eselu. 'Aiea's Lawrence Lagafuaina (OL/DL) and Api Foumai are regarded as DI prospects, and Moanalua tight end Richard Villasenor is receiving strong interest as well.

The OIA White season opens tomorrow, with Kalaheo at Moanalua and Kaiser at Waialua. On Saturday, Kalani plays at 'Aiea.

Here is a closer look at each team:


Coach: Wendell Say.

Players to watch: QB Chucky Ka'aha'anui; RB Otto-Titan Salausa; OL/DL Lawrence Lagafuaina; RB Anae Va'a; DL Api Foumai; WR Kekoa Thompson.

Notable: 'Aiea opened with a 24-3 victory at Roosevelt, but lost starting quarterback Freddy Taliulu in the process when he went down with a right (throwing) shoulder injury. Lagafuaina and Foumai each had two sacks in helping 'Aiea limit the Rough Riders to 58 yards of total offense. Thompson caught five passes for 70 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown throw from Ka'aha'anui early in the second half. Va'a had an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown.


Coach: Kealoha Wengler.

Players to watch: RB/CB Ikaika Gante; RB/LB Kalani Pua'oi; RB/DB Opunui Nahale'a; RB/S Keli'ikoa Aki; RB/CB Kaipo Cullen; RB/DB Kakela Lee; RB/DB Hemakana Yam-Lum.

Notable: Na Koa are thin on numbers again, but have 10 returning starters on defense and eight on offense, so Wengler and his staff are looking for more versatility from each player. "Instead of asking them to learn one position on offense and one on defense, we're having them learn two positions on each side," Wengler said. "It gives us more depth." 'Anuenue opened with a 26-20 victory at Kamehameha-Maui. Gante rushed for 105 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries and Pua'oi added 93 yards and one TD on 11 rushes. Na Koa rushed for 331 yards overall.


Coach: Pat Samsonas.

Players to watch: RB/LB Shogo Inagaki; DB/RB Josh Gonda; QB Teli Latu; RB/DB Jesse Kauhola; OL/DL David Nohara; OL/DL Justin Dietz.

Notable: Samsonas said, "We have a very young team." The Cougars' youth was exposed a bit while falling behind 30-0 in the first half against 'Iolani last week, but they regrouped in the second half and ended up losing, 30-19. Latu completed 16 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown. Kaiwi Ramseyer caught five passes for 55 yards, and Josh Perry-Kruse had three catches for 60 yards.


Coach: Chris Mellor.

Players to watch: QB/DB Phil Tauai; RB/DL Eddie Tauai; OL/DL Edward Atanoa; RB/LB Jesse Carney; OL/LB Elijah Mataele.

Notable: The Mustangs opened with a 34-7 victory over King Kekaulike on Maui, and have big plans for this season. "We expect to make it to the state tournament," Mellor said. "We think that is a reasonable goal." Phil Tauai, a returning starter at quarterback, ran for two touchdowns and threw for another against King Kekaulike. Mellor said Carney is a big threat running the ball.


Coach: Greg Taguchi.

Players to watch: QB Gavin Okada; RB/LB Jun Cho; DB Chancen Schutter.

Notable: The Falcons are thin again, with only 28 players on the roster. Lack of size again will be an obstacle; only one player weighs more than 215 pounds, and 23 of the 28 on the roster weigh less than 185. They opened with a 16-0 loss at Kapa'a.


Coach: Arnold Martinez.

Players to watch: WR Michael Egami; RB Tajhe Canyon; DL/TE Richard Villasenor; DB/WR Xavier Peterson; OL Frank Loyd; LB Lasi Eselu.

Notable: Martinez is comparing this year's team to the one in 2005 that reached the Division II state tournament. Moanalua has 10 returning starters on offense and seven on defense. "We should be more than productive," Martinez said. "If we're going to do it, we should do it now." Martinez said this team's strength goes beyond talent. "They have a great demeanor. They're not 'me guys.' "


Coach: Kai Kamaka.

Players to watch: LG David Lefotu; RB Ray Cooper; SB Jarrick Duvachelle; QB Isaac Shim; MLB Cyrus Coen; LB Hayden Concepcion; CB Christian Aragosa.

Notable: The Chargers got off to a rough start, losing their opener, 37-7, to Castle. They trailed 37-0 after three quarters. Pearl City has seven returning starters on offense and six on defense. Kamaka said the Chargers have quickness at the skill positions.


Coach: Fred Salanoa.

Players to watch: OL/DL Monty Wright; OL/DL Kamu Taulelei; WR Zach Lagier; RB/LB Tama Fiaseu; DB/WR Tevita Baravilala.

Notable: The Rams, defending Division II state runners-up, showed they should be considered a contender again with a strong outing against defending DI state runner-up Leilehua in last week's opener. They lost, 23-20. Lagier caught five passes for 63 yards; the defense intercepted All-State quarterback Andrew Manley twice and held him to 18 completions in 38 attempts.


Coach: Lincoln Barit.

Players to watch: OL/DL Graham Rowley; OL/DL Micah Hatchie; QB/DB William Sacapulo; DB/WR Branden Galapia; RB/WR/DB Kamalei Rosa; DB/WR Tommy Escorzon; DB/WR Destry Lunasco; RB/WR/DB Travis Deuz; LB/RB Kaimana Tayaba-Hatchie; LB/RB Christian Whittaker; LB/OL Rudi Galapia; DL/LB/OL Keanu Kalulu-Keao; OL/DL Chris Acasia; OL/DL Nati Fuatiga; OL/DL Karl Lele; WR/DB Branson Chun.

Notable: The Bulldogs have two major college recruits in Rowley and Hatchie, but several others put in the offseason work and attended combines and camps. For example, 14 Waialua players participated in the Eighth Annual Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance Football Combine.

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Ho-Ching Pushing Alta On & Off the Field

The Alta Hawks are once again loaded with talented players as they attempt to defend another 5A state title. All those talented players look up to their captain, senior linebacker Toloa'i Ho-Ching.

He sets the tone for this powerhouse program on and off the field.

"He flies, dude," says Alta quarterback Jordan Brown. "He gets to the ball so quick. Hits hard, lays the wood on you, he's just tough. Great player, great player."

As a junior, he established himself as one of the top defenders in the state. His intensity and passion on the field has earned him scholarship offers from a number of schools including Wisconsin and BYU. rates him as the fifth best high school player in the Northwest.

I love the game," says Ho-Ching. "People tell you 'football is a lot like life' and a lot of people shrug it off. I take it serious, I really do. I hope I can go far in it and it's taught me a lot. It's taught me how to work hard, set goals for myself, and I can achieve them. I know I can achieve them."

But it's more than just his play that gets the attention of his teammates and coaches.

"What's most impressive about A'i is, obviously, he's a great football player. But it's off the field that impresses me so much about him," says Alta Head Football Coach Les Hamilton. "His work ethic in the classroom, his work ethic in the weight room, his leadership amongst his peers, he's a great kid, hard working, dedicated and one heck of a football player."

For A'i, football is in his blood. His uncle Spencer Reid played at BYU from 1994-97 and spent time in the NFL. His uncle Gabriel Reid played at BYU from 1999-2002 and played in Super Bowl XLI with the Chicago Bears. He has a number of other relatives who have gone on to play football at the next level.

"I've gotta give it up for my family," A'i says. "They've always been there for me. They sacrifice a lot and they spoil me, kind of. I'm like a spoiled brat. I don't know why. I love them a lot."

His family has also stressed education. A'i has a 3.85 grade point average.

"I can't play if I don't get straight A's," he says. "My parents set that rule a long time ago so I've focused on my academics too."

Ho-Ching is surrounded by a ton of talent. Offensive lineman Jordan Black is committed to BYU. Fellow linebacker Parker Hausknecht is headed to Utah State and those are just the players who have division one offers before the season. With a loaded roster, Toloa'i hopes to lead his team to a third consecutive 5A state title.

"It would be great," he says. "It would be fun to play in the championship game again knowing it's your senior year going out with a bang. That's what our goal is now and hopefully we can achieve it."

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Aiono Won't Join Utes Until '10

James Aiono, Snow College's highly touted defensive lineman who signed with the Utes and was expected in camp this week, won't join the team until January due to some remaining academic requirements he must meet, according to Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

Aiono, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound All-American, was expected to contend for a starting role. He'll still have two years of eligibility remaining.

Two other JC transfers, receiver Ray Magee and defensive back Maxwell Lacy, are also finishing academic work and won't be with the team when camp opens Wednesday but are expected to join the team for the 2009 season.

The Utes report Wednesday and hold their first practice on Thursday. Practices are closed to the general public.

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Finau Finally on the Way to Morgantown?

Could the long-rumored, never-spotted defensive line recruit Tevita Finau finally be heading to West Virginia's campus?, an ESPN-affiliated site, says yes. Finau's high school coach in Hawaii tells the site that Finau got the academic credits he'd been waiting for and will join the Mountaineers on Friday.

It's probably wise to take a wait-and-see approach still with the 6-foot-5, 290-pound junior college transfer. Finau has signed three letters of intent with West Virginia in his bizarre recruiting saga, and coach Bill Stewart talked recently about Finau's personal issues, which reportedly included getting married.

If he can live up to his hype, Finau could be an immediate boost to the Mountaineers' defensive line, which could use another big body. But he's also missed a lot of practice time and could be a redshirt candidate. Assuming, that is, he actually shows up.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Under Armour All-American Linebacker V.J. Fehoko Down to Five!

V.J. Fehoko has made the tough decision of trimming his reported 13 scholarship offers down to a top five. He told Sporting News that he chose his schools based on how strongly they recruited him.

UCLA, Texas Tech, Hawaii, Utah and Utah State have made the cut for the Sporting News Top 100 player. He only has one official visit set up right now, with Texas Tech in November.

"I'm kind of happy now," the Farrington (Honolulu) LB/DL told SN. "It has calmed down a lot now. I'm kind of glad to focus on the season, and I wanted to make these decisions before the season started, so I could cut down the recruiting to a minimum."

He said there's a good story behind the choice of each school. UCLA has well-known assistant coach Norm Chow, a native of Hawaii who has recruited the Aloha State with much success. Fehoko's brother plays for Texas Tech, while he grew up attending Hawaii games. As for the two schools in Utah, he said it came down to his faith, as the state is home to the headquarters for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Fehoko said he'll likely take his official visit to Hawaii during his senior season, and Texas Tech will be the weekend of Nov. 20, when the Red Raiders play host to Oklahoma. The rest of his mainland visits will likely come after his senior season is done.

"With each and every one, I found something special," Fehoko (5-11/215) said. "I'm going to take my five visits, and if I feel I have an answer, I'm going to tell everybody. If I don't feel I have an answer, I'll hold it off and signing day will be when I decide."

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Cottonwood's Jordan Afo Announces for Brigham Young

From Cottonwood (Salt Lake City, Utah), defensive tackle Jordan Afo has committed to BYU over Utah State.

The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Afo is not expected to play his senior season after suffering a broken vertebra in his back while attempting a backflip at a party. The injury resulted in surgery, wearing a brace and months of extensive rehab.

Afo is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and plans to go on mission after his freshman season in college.

Evaluation: Afo is a kid who displays the ability to be a disruptive presence in the trenches. He displays good size and the frame to keep adding bulk. He will flash the ability to fire off the ball low, shoot his hands, derive power from his lower body, and just stand a blocker up. You like to see that, but want to see it more consistently as he is capable of causing problems in the heart of the trenches if he can do that regularly. He needs to watch his pad level and not get cute and be more consistent with his hands to protect his legs and not let blockers into his chest. He displays a good get-off and can get to the shoulder and get into the gap. He is a solid wrap-up tackler. When he keeps his pads down he can be tough versus the double team and hold his ground. He plays with a good motor. He is best suited for play between the tackles. He will give effort to pursue to the ball on the perimeter, but runs high and displays adequate speed. As a pass rusher he has the tools to bull rush and collapse the pocket. Afo is a kid who could continue to fill out and be a physical and disruptive player. He shows flashes, but needs to work on consistency and if he does he could be a good college defensive tackle.

Huskies Land, John Timu & Princeton Fuimaono

It has been a good week for Washington because the Huskies picked up three commitments from Southern California. All three prospects are not exactly household names, but are very talented and solid pickups for the rebuilding program.

On Tuesday, the Huskies landed teammates John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono (Long Beach, Calif./Jordan) and on Thursday, they reeled in one of the state's top pass-rushers in Brent Williams (Woodland Hills, Calif./Taft.).

Timu is one of the most versatile and underrated prospects in the West. At the SoCal Nike Camp two years ago, the sophomore worked out with the receivers and outperformed just about every pass catcher at the event, including national names like Shaquelle Evans and Dillon Baxter.

As a junior, Timu played quarterback and safety for the Panthers and earned league MVP honors. When you play on a third place team in the same league as state powers Long Beach Poly and Lakewood and are awarded MVP honors, that's saying something. He'll play safety for the Huskies and Timu committed to UW over offers from Oregon, Hawaii and San Jose State.

Like Timu, Fuimaono had an impressive showing at the Nike Camp two years ago and really stood out this past April. He has grown almost two inches and put on a solid 10 pounds from his junior year. The athlete is a high-motor kid who led the team with 94 tackles and three sacks a year ago, while playing alongside UCLA-signee Taniela Maka. Fuimaono is an athletic player who can hit and cover and projects very well as a future weakside linebacker.

Williams led the Los Angeles city section with 17 sacks as a junior and is a natural pass-rusher. He was dominant at the SoCal Nike Camp last April and no opposing lineman could come close to stopping him one-on-one. At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Williams will start off as an outside linebacker, but could grow in to a defensive end down the line. The Huskies were the first to offer and Williams originally planned to take his time with the recruiting process to see what other schools showed interest. However, the talented pass-rusher had a change of heart and decided to pull the trigger early. He'll likely visit the Huskies September 5 when they host LSU in what will be a huge weekend for the program.

Washington will have close to double digit players in the house that weekend on official visits and the success of the Huskies recruiting class will be impacted tremendously by the success of that first weekend.

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Kahlil Bell Cut by Vikings

Ankle injuries caused Kahlil Bell to miss nine football games during his four-year career at UCLA, and they just might have cost him a place on the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings released the ex-Marin Catholic High running back Sunday, making him available to be acquired by any NFL team. Bell sustained a high ankle sprain on the third day of Vikings camp and did not practice all last week, which didn't help his chances of making the team.

"In order to perform, you have to be healthy," said his father, Mike Bell, who lives in San Anselmo and helps Kahlil train in the offseason. "I honestly believe that Kahlil is an NFL tailback, but it's hard to do it on one leg."

Mike Bell believes his son will need at least a couple more weeks to get back to 100 percent.

Kahlil Bell pushed through the pain to play in the Vikings' exhibition opener, a 13-3 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Friday. The 22 year-old had three carries for 14 yards.

The injury made what was already an uphill battle insurmountable for Bell, as the Vikings are flush with running backs. Not including two-time All-Pro Adrian Peterson and established veteran Chester Taylor - the clear-cut No. 2 - Bell had to contend with a pair of talented rookies in ex-Boise State star Ian Johnson and Albert Young.

"He's disappointed that he wasn't able to perform to a level he liked," Mike Bell said. "(Because of the injury), he wasn't able to be judged based on his ability. If he has two feet under him, he can play."

Bell's agent, Josh Arnold, echoed his client's disappointment but he expects Bell will emerge stronger from the experience.

"He's an NFL talent, and I feel like he adapts well to every situation," Arnold said. "He's going to be fine. He's chalking it up as a learning experience, that he took positive things from."

Now that Bell has been released, the waiting game begins, though it may be a short one. When he originally went undrafted, his agent reported that there were many suitors, and Arnold hopes to get a deal done in the near future.

"There's definitely teams that are interested in him," Arnold said. "We've got to let things play out, but I think a team will pick him up soon, even though they know he is a little dinged up."

And, while it may be Arnold's prerogative to get Bell signed, his father knows that finding the right fit for Kahlil is more important than getting a deal done quickly. His son will return to Marin to get healthy, and his dad expects that Kahlil will bounce back swiftly.

"Other teams are very interested, but we just need to find the organization that is best suited for him," he said. "The most important part of this whole thing is what Kahlil believes in his heart. He knows he can play now. He's been in the locker room, sized up the guys and knows (the NFL) is just football. It's at a higher level, but it's just football."

Kahlil Bell could not be reached for comment.

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Voice of Experience

Sheila Alofaituli uses a strong voice to carry her message of unity, leadership, family and character.

She brought that message to South Albany High School athletes and parents at the school Thursday evening.

The mother of Oregon State quarterback Lyle Moevao, Alofaituli stressed to the athletes (specifically the football players) the importance of sticking up for your teammates and not forgetting football is a team game.

Alofaituli has been the unofficial team mom for the Beavers in her son’s three-plus seasons at Oregon State. She also served in the same role for Lyle’s high school and junior college teams in California.

She calls the players on Lyle’s teams her “boys” or “sons” and saw her involvement as an assignment from God.

“I had to teach my boys they had to love each other as brothers,” she said.

Alofaituli had moved to Portland when Moevao came to Corvallis. But in one short trip to Corvallis she ran into OSU players at three different locations. She knew then she was meant to move to Corvallis and play a bigger role with the team.

You can have good athletes on your team, Alofaituli said, “but if you lack unity within the team ... you have no need to go out on the field because you just whooped your own (butt).”

Oregon State is recognized by some media as having the most family oriented football program in the country, and she takes pride in that.

Bringing to light her Samoan heritage, Alofaituli recalled the Beavers’ September home game against Hawaii last season. She boarded the team buses before the players headed to a hotel the night before the game.

There, she stressed “no fear” against what she expected to be a united team in Hawaii. Oregon State won the game, and “no fear” became a theme of the season.

Alofaituli used the story of David and Goliath to describe her son overcoming the belief that he was too short to play Division I football. Being strong means standing your ground when everything happening around you tells you to “pack up your bags and go home.“

She talked about the spring of Moevao’s senior year of high school. Alofaituli strongly encouraged her son to spend the spring practicing with the players who would be his junior college teammates in the fall. He took over the starting job early in the next season and went on to earn a scholarship at Oregon State.

“You can’t beat Goliath if you’re playing video games in the spring,” she said.

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3 Years Gone, Siavii Takes Last Shot

In microfracture knee surgery, the doctor essentially creates a break himself, using a drill to make tiny holes in the underlying bone, hoping to spur the growth of new cartilage.

It's a fairly newish technique, and a rather serious one. But when arthroscopic surgery reveals there is no cartilage at all, bone rubbing against bone, it's the next step for an orthopedic surgeon. It takes three months after surgery before any weight can be put on the knee, and there's really no way to predict exactly how long a complete recovery will take. It's a big deal, particularly if your livelihood depends on the outcome.

Junior Siavii had his microfracture done after training camp in 2006 season, his third as a pro and his last with the Kansas City Chiefs, who released him Sept. 2 of that year. Pain from a high right ankle sprain crept northward, and morphed into trouble with his knee, the complete deterioration of the cartilage. It takes roughly three months for those tiny holes to fill, athletic trainers say, and by that time physical decline sets in. Different people take different periods of time to heal.

It took Siavii a little longer than others, causing him to miss two seasons in what should have been his prime.

"After rehab it wasn't the same," Siavii said. "I wasn't the same athlete I was before surgery. I thought I was going to come out of it quicker than I did. It took a while."

Siavii finally signed with the Cowboys as a street free agent in 2008. Though he entered camp with little chance to make the team behind nose tackles Jay Ratliff and Tank Johnson, it was an invitation for him to at least give it a shot, and the first good news on the professional front in nearly three years for Siavii, who went to high school in Pago Pago, American Samoa, then played college ball at Oregon before being picked No. 36 overall by the Chiefs in 2004.

It is that draft status Siavii has been trying to live up to ever since. Upon the retirement of coach Dick Vermeil, who drafted Siavii, Kansas City handed the job to Herm Edwards, who had no connection to the 6-5, 318-pounder. Next came the knee injury, and then the label of "draft bust," which Siavii isn't afraid to utter himself.

Bust or not, someone somewhere along the way thought Siavii could play. The Cowboys scouting department saw enough of it once upon a time to give him a shot years later. Even after what Siavii admits was a tough camp for him last summer, the Cowboys were tempted. Roster numbers and their financial obligation to Johnson forced the team to part ways with him, however.

"We really thought about keeping him," Wade Phillips said. "I was wrong, but I felt like somebody would pick him up, cause he played so well last year in training camp. We were glad to get him back."

In January the Cowboys signed Siavii to another futures contract. With Johnson moving on to Cincinnati, he now has an even better chance to make the team despite being a year older (Siavii's 30 now), and yet another year removed from his last football game of consequence. Throughout OTAs, mini-camp and training camp Siavii has worked as the first backup to Ratliff.

And to think, he almost retired after being cut last year.

"I took it like a bullet in the heart," Siavii said. "I told myself that if I came in and didn't get the job I'd retire. Last year was going to be my last tryout. But I came in and did my thing, and I don't think I got beat out. That was the whole thing - if the guys in front of me let me know I didn't belong, that was going to set me toward retirement.

"But the only thing that killed me was me. I tried to use only my ability that I already had and tried to get through it, but there's more to it than that. So this year I said 'OK, let's make another run.'"

This training camp Siavii attempted to set his instincts and physical gifts aside, instead taking full advantage of line coach Todd Grantham and the experience of the players around him, his comfort with them among the main reasons he decided to return to the Cowboys, spurning offers from three other teams.

After practice at the Alamodome it was normal to see Siavii and his fellow linemen remain on the field to go over techniques and schemes with one another. He says Ratliff and Grantham together have made him a better player.

"Junior's going to be a great player for us," Ratliff said. "He's a strong, strong guy. A heck of a lot stronger than I am. He's got a big frame and I think he's going to do some good things there. As long as he's here he's got my support; I'm definitely here for him."

Grantham says Siavii or whoever makes the team as the backup nose tackle can expect to be on the field just as much as Johnson was last year, probably 20-25 snaps a game to keep Ratliff fresh for the fourth quarter and pass rushing situations. Siavii is well suited to play the run because of his size and strength, something that Ratliff has to overcome since a nose tackle's job often involves holding up a double team so linebackers can get to the football.

Usually Ratliff does it with quickness. Siavii's got a little of that, too. Phillips was impressed by the way he got downfield to make a tackle on a screen pass in the preseason opener against the Raiders. While the past knee problems would suggest Siavii is somewhat stationary, that's not the case. The time out of football has had its obvious downside, but three years away from the game has avoided Siavii 48 Sundays' worth of cut blocks.

"He's athletic, he can run," Grantham said. "Plus he's still a relatively young guy. He hasn't played, which is good in one way, the wear and tear, but you also don't get the recognition and the pace of the game. It'll be real important during this training camp and the preseason games that he gets his timing down."

Siavii says he's starting to pick up the speed of the game. At the moment he seems to have a clear edge at winning a job over former Giants lineman Jonas Seawright, who was also out of football last year. But Siavii must impress coaches and scouts enough over these next few weeks to keep the Cowboys from bringing in someone else at the position, perhaps a player let go by another team on final cuts.

A few question marks went up when the Cowboys didn't address the middle of their 3-4 in the draft, but they said all along they liked the talent they already had, namely Siavii. Do they still like him enough to not bring in someone who has played recently? Or is this Siavii's year to get back on the field, at long last?

"Hopefully so," he said. "But at the same time I'm still fighting and I can't have that in my head. I'm the guy that's still trying to get a job. I'm not going to say that I'm sitting here comfortable about it, so I'm going to keep fighting."

The opinions of the coaching staff and the decisions reached by the front office when the Cowboys trim their roster to 53 on Sept. 5 are out of Siavii's control. His recent past has taught him there isn't much he can control, anyway. He said when he came into the league he thought he was Superman, that he could never be hurt. But he was hurt, and he did miss three years. And he was called a bust.

This is Siavii's shot at redemption. He says it's the last one he'll take.

"Tomorrow's another day to make up for all the other stuff," Siavii said. "If I don't make the team I'll walk away with my head up. I've done everything I can do. If they cut me and I have to wait until next year again, no, I'm not doing it. This is it. The final draw, the final bullet.

"This is it."

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Afalava Impressing Those Who Count

While he may have a last name that's a bit difficult to pronounce, that's not keeping Al Afalava's name from being on a lot of people's lips these days.

A sixth-round draft choice and seventh selection overall by the Bears, the former Oregon State standout has had an outstanding training camp thus far.

Most importantly, he's impressed the guys who make the decisions about who plays and stays, and who gets cut and goes home: the Bears' coaching staff.

"He's making plays," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "A lot of times when rookies come in, especially in the secondary, they're quiet. But he has a little bit of confidence, he talks because he knows what's going on, has good skills, good size, good quickness, good raw speed and his strong suit is hitting."

Afalava showed just how much he likes to hit by recording six tackles in the Bears' preseason opener Saturday at Buffalo, one of the few Bears' highlights in an otherwise disappointing 27-20 loss.

A Hawaiian native, Afalava is currently listed as the Bears' No. 2 strong safety, behind Kevin Payne and in front of fellow rookie and undrafted free agent Dahna Deleston.

But with free safety Danieal Manning still bothered by a lingering hamstring issue, Afalava's stock has gone up considerably, mainly due to his versatility. While he is primarily a strong safety, he can also play free safety with equal aplomb.

That means Afalava can not only fill in for Payne, but could take over as No. 1 strong safety if Manning's hamstring problems continue. Some published reports have Afalava ready to be promoted to starting strong safety, with Payne likely being shifted to No. 1 free safety to at least temporarily take Manning's position.

But on the flip side, the quick and speedy Afalava could also switch from strong to free safety, if needed. That gives the Bears greater versatility and depth in the secondary and plays to one of Afalava's strengths, that of being a roamer who has a knack to be drawn to plays.

Not bad for a sixth-round pick who could wind up being one of the biggest steals of the draft if he continues to improve and becomes a fixture of the secondary.

"We really like our depth and getting a player like Al Afalava to come around," Smith said.

Saturday's display by Afalava against Buffalo wasn't a total surprise. He's shined during training camp practices and has shown he's not intimidated by opposing quarterbacks, even the likes of Pro Bowl teammate Jay Cutler.

"[Cutler] looks at me when I try to disguise [coverage], and says 'ah, he's nuts,'" Afalava said with a laugh. "But I just have to execute. It's knowing his reads and stuff, just studying him and what he does. It's really a privilege."

With comments like that, you can quickly tell that Afalava is somewhat of a soft-spoken type. He's not boisterous like Tommie Harris or a bull like Brian Urlacher. Rather, he's the studious type who lets his actions -- rather than his words -- speak for himself on the field of play.

"It's all about thinking," Afalava said. "I've just got to go out there, bear down and play."

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Maiava Debuts in Preseason Opener

Cleveland rookie linebacker Kaluka Maiava had two tackles Saturday as the Browns lost 17-0 to the Green Bay Packers in both teams' preseason opener.

Maiava, a 2005 Baldwin High School graduate taken by the Browns in the fourth round of April's draft out of Southern California, played on special teams throughout the game, and began rotating into defensive plays in the second quarter.

''I had to get those butterflies out of the way, and they were out of the way after the first hit,'' Maiava said.

Maiava had both of his tackles in the second half, on carries by Kregg Lumpkin each time. Maiava tackled Lumpkin on a 7-yard gain in the third quarter, and on an 8-yard gain in the fourth.

''Obviously, we wanted the game to go a different way, but that's the NFL. They get paid to play football, too,'' Maiava said.

Maiava said he took a moment to take in the fact that he was playing at Lambeau Field.

''You've definitely got to soak it in,'' he said. ''You've got to cherish the moment.''

He also noted, however, that the real focus was on the game.

''The veterans reminded us that you can't be in awe of playing against people you grew up watching,'' he said.

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'Fili'ng The Gap

Colts Second-Round Pick Hopes To Be In The Middle Of Team’s Success

Three years ago, the Colts traded their second-round draft pick for a big, athletic defensive tackle (Booger McFarland) that shored up the team’s rushing defense and ultimately helped them win the Super Bowl.

This past April, the Colts used their second-round pick to draft a big, athletic defensive tackle they are hoping will do the same.

Fili Moala, a 6’4” 300-pound tackle from the University of Southern California, established himself as one of the premier defensive tackles in college football last year and was named First Team All-Pac 10.

Now, the California native is trying to make just as big an impact with the Colts.

Only three days into training camp, it is too early to predict if Moala can repeat McFarland’s success, but the rookie has coaches excited about his potential.

“It is pretty early, but we can see some good things from him,” Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. “He moves well, he has good quickness, obviously he has size, and he’s coming along.”

Moala fits the mold of what Colts President Bill Polian said he was looking for this offseason in a defensive tackle: a player big enough to clog up the middle, but also athletic enough to run and change direction.

“Three thirty-five without athleticism is not what we’re after, to set the record straight,” Polian said.

Moala, a cousin of Baltimore Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata, spent the offseason in California making sure he did not come into training camp out of shape. So he trained at USC’s complex and took part in their offseason weight program.

Moala’s hard work paid off, and the rookie came into camp “a little light” at about 296 pounds.

“I wanted to come in at a healthy, solid 300,” he said. “I was training and running everyday (this summer) and making sure I got my wind so if I had to I could run.”

In his slimmed-down state, Moala said he thinks he will fit in “really well” with the team’s new defense.

“I move laterally, I can run, I’ve got speed, I’ve got strength, I’m powerful – all of those are good things that can kind of mesh into this defense,” he said. “Now it’s just about fine-tuning, talking to my coaches…and applying it to my game.”

Coach Caldwell said Defensive Line Coach John Teerlinck has been working hand-in-hand with Moala to get him “entrenched in what we do and how we do things.”

More than anything, Moala said his coaches are looking for “reliability and productivity” out of the team’s defensive tackles.

“They want to be able to trust us and know we’ll do our job, first and foremost, and do it at a high level and be productive as well,” he said. “Once you get a combination of those two things, (the coaches) are comfortable with you and trust you to be in there and take care of business.”

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Maualuga Debuts w/ 3 Sacks!

Last week, the Bengals’ defense was able to get pressure on the quarterback but didn’t get a sack. Thursday night at New England, the Bengals put Tom Brady on the ground a couple times.

In two series, the Bengals got a sack, a knockdown and two pressures on Brady, who is coming back after suffering a season-ending knee injury in New England’s opener last year.

“I think we did good,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “The front dominated the line of scrimmage.”

Second-round draft pick Rey Maualuga, saw his first game action and finished with a quarterback pressure and three sacks.

Maulauga sat out last week’s game because of a hamstring injury that caused him to miss a week of training camp.

“I just had to get those first couple of plays out of the way and get those jitterbugs out of the way,” he said.

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