Monday, September 28, 2009

Harvey Unga Scores 3 TDS As No. 19 BYU Defeat Colorado State 42-23 In MWC Opener

Harvey Unga ran for 113 yards and three touchdowns and No. 19 BYU converted two interceptions and a blocked punt into scores while holding off Colorado State 42-23 Saturday.

Max Hall passed for two touchdowns and ran for another as the Cougars (3-1) won the Mountain West Conference opener one week after getting blown out at home by Florida State.

The Cougars still had some defensive lapses in the second half, but built a 21-0 lead off Colorado State's mistakes in the first quarter.

Hall was 18 for 29 for 241 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Grant Stucker completed 30 of 50 passes for 372 yards and two touchdowns for the Rams (3-1, 0-1), whose six-game winning streak ended.

Colorado State got within 28-17 on a field goal early in the fourth quarter and answered Unga's third TD run with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Strucker to Tyson Liggett to make it 35-23 after the two-point conversion failed. But the Rams could not keep matching BYU to overcome the deficit.

Unga ran for 88 yards in the second half and became the first Cougars player to top 100 yards this season.

The Cougars led 21-0 after the first quarter, needing only a pair of plays on each drive to cover the short distances to the goal.

Colorado State receiver Rashaun Greer tipped both intercepted passes high enough that a defender was easily able to grab it. Brian Logan had the first, leading to Unga's 4-yard touchdown run barely two minutes into the game, then Andrew Rich grabbed the second at the Colorado State 39. Hall threw a 37-yard pass to O'Neill Chambers down the sideline, then Hall faked out everybody with a bootleg and trotted into the end zone with 3:04 left.

The Cougars got the ball right back when Matt Marshall blocked a punt and BYU went up 21-0 on Unga's 5-yard run with 25 seconds left in the first.

Hall's pass to McKay Jacobson for an apparent touchdown was overturned for pass interference called on Dennis Pitta. It was one of 10 BYU penalties called in the game, but Pitta redeemed himself on the next play with a diving catch on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Hall to put BYU up 28-7. It was the first time all day BYU was able to drive any distance, going 82 yards on 10 plays to get the margin back up to three touchdowns.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hoomanawanui Puts His Heritage, Skills on Display for Illini

Short sleeves are enough to cover most of the elaborate tattoos that adorn Michael Hoomanawanui's upper arms. And a ponytail can disguise his voluminous hair.

But when the Illinois tight end walks down student-populated Green Street or strolls campus wearing his colorful kikepa, nothing can dissuade passers-by from casting surprised looks.

A colorful skirt on a man's 6-foot-5, 270-pound frame tends to turn heads.

"People don't say anything," he said. "But I see them looking out of the corner of my eye.''

It's part of Hoomanawanui's message.

The long hair, tattoos and kikepa are the senior's way of honoring his Hawaiian culture, which he has studied through books and hours of stories ingested during annual visits with relatives on the islands.

Hoomanawanui (pronounced huh-oh-muh-NOW-ah-noo-ee) grew up in Bloomington, Ill., but developed a bond with family history after his parents were divorced and he lived with his father, Isy, who was born in Hawaii.

"I always realized I was different," he said. "But as I grew older, I realized I was special and used it to my advantage to learn about the culture and about my family, putting everything in perspective.

"I come from a culture of putting others before myself. That has played into my role at Illinois, starting slow and then getting a couple of passes here and there, but not fretting. Being patient.''

Patient: the meaning of the family name.

That attribute helped as Hoomanawanui, known to his teammates more simply as "Uh-oh,'' slowly blended into the Illinois offense. He started with no catches as a freshman and progressed to five as a sophomore.

Last year, he blossomed with 25 receptions and is expected to be a key target for quarterback Juice Williams this season. He has four catches for 53 yards in two games.

The Mackey Award candidate also is one of the most sure-handed Illini receivers, making him a prime target near the goal line. He is projected by several NFL draft websites as a mid-round pick in 2010.

"He's always been a great catcher, but now he understands the game so much better,'' coach Ron Zook said. "He's big and strong, he's a leader and he's getting better as a blocker. He has soft hands, and he was a basketball player and knows how to position his body.''

Hoomanwanui's body has made statements on and off the field. His confidence in wearing the kikepa rubbed off on teammates Arrelious Benn and Chris James, who each have one but have not been seen wearing them in public.

In four years at Illinois, he has added six tattoos — all incorporating family or cultural elements. His right arm includes a representation of his sister, her favorite Hawaiian flowers and a "band of strength.''

He has a tattoo of the family Aumakua, or protector, which is a shark. The other arm includes tribal representations. And he has the Hawaiian islands across his back.

"A lot of people get tattoos that don't really have a meaning; it just looks cool,'' he said. "Every one of mine has a special meaning, and they all come back to family and culture.''

The same goes for his shark-tooth necklace, which was carved by a family friend with symbols that represent energy. And there is the hair. Hoomanawanui arrived at Illinois with a short-cropped look but has let his hair flourish, Troy Polamalu style.

"You see a lot of Polynesian players who do that in the NFL or college,'' he said. "It's loyalty to the program and to my family. Plus it stands out a little more, so maybe Juice will see my hair and know who I am."

Hoomanawanui hopes to introduce himself to a few more opposing defenders in coming weeks, starting with Saturday's game at Ohio State. At 270 pounds, he is a load for any defensive back.

Illinois nickel back Dere Hicks has occasional encounters with his tight end in practice and gives up nearly 100 pounds.

"He's a good athlete for a tight end,'' Hicks said. "He can block, he can catch and he has exceptional speed for a guy his size."

Hoomanawanui has scored only four touchdowns in his career. But this week he was reminded that the three times he scored the Illini's first touchdown in a game, the team won.

That includes their trip to Ohio State in 2007. He planned to remind offensive coordinator Mike Schultz of that fact this week.

"I've got to let Schultz know that,'' he said. "I've got that on my to-do list.''

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Alualu & Te'o-Nesheim Hope to Make the Hendricks Award Watchlist

Pac-10 defenses are getting some recognition, with the Hendricks Award adding three conference defensive ends to its watch list: UCLA's Korey Bosworth, Stanford's Tom Keiser and Arizona's Brooks Reed.

Already on the watch list were: Arizona State's Dexter Davis, Oregon's Will Tukuafu and Stanford's Erik Lorig,

Still missing: USC's Everson Griffen, California's Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu and Washington's Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.

Alualu and Griffen, notably, have 2.5 sacks and 2.0 sacks respectively.

Says the press release: "The Mid-Season Watch List, which will remain open to adjustments through our first vote, now includes 40 players. This list will be shortened to include five to six finalists in the final weeks of the season, and the final vote will be concluded on December 7th. The 2009 Hendricks Award winner will be announced December 9th."

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Stanford's Chris Owusu Returns Opening Kickoff for Touchdown

When the Washington Huskies opened the season against Louisiana State and its dangerous returner, Trindon Holliday, UW coaches played it safe, kicking the ball away from him.

But the Huskies gambled Saturday at Stanford, deciding to kick it deep to the Cardinal's Chris Owusu, who already had two returns for touchdowns this season and came in leading the nation in kickoff return average at 52.8.

The move backfired on the Huskies as Owusu took the kick at his own 9-yard line, found a seam, and quickly darted through the middle of the field essentially untouched for a touchdown to put Stanford up 7-0 just 10 seconds in.

Owusu's third return for a touchdown tied him for the Pac-10 season record with USC's Anthony Davis in 1974 and UCLA's Matthew Slater in 2007.

It also meant that Stanford had scored a TD on its opening possession in all four games this season.

It was also the second straight game that UW won the toss and elected to defer and then saw the opponent score. Last week, USC drove for a TD on its first drive.

The Huskies learned their lesson from there as they kicked it short on their following kickoffs of the first half, not allowing Owusu to get the ball.

Owusu is a sophomore from Oaks Christian High in Southern California, the same school as heralded UW commit Nick Montana, a quarterback who has said he will sign with the Huskies as part of the Class of 2010.

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Masoli, Oregon upset No. 6 California 42-3

Jeremiah Masoli answered his doubters by throwing for 253 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon's 42-3 upset of sixth-ranked California on Saturday.

Masoli went into the game without a scoring pass this season, prompting many Ducks fans to call for his benching. But he responded by completing 21 of 25 passes for the Ducks (3-1), who had 524 yards in total offense to Cal's 206 yards.

Tailback Jahvid Best ran for just 55 yards for the Golden Bears (3-1). Widely considered a top Heisman contender, Best went into the game ranked third in the nation with an average of 137.33 yards on the ground per game.

Oregon tight end Ed Dickson had 11 catches for a career-best 148 yards. He caught all three of Masoli's scoring passes.

Fehoko Carries on Family Tradition

Five games into the season, linebacker V.J. Fehoko has made at least four sacks in each game for Farrington High School (Honolulu). After every sack, he points to a special group of his fans in the crowd -- his family.

"I just let them know that they're my main priority and that I love them and they're the reason I'm out there hitting quarterbacks," he said. "I love seeing them at games."

Last season, the No. 4-ranked linebacker in the ESPNU 150 led the state in sacks with 20, and had 86 tackles (18 for loss), one interception and one fumble recovery. If that performance didn't raise the expectations for V.J., his last name did. V.J.'s two older brothers played football at Farrington, and both now play at Division I college programs -- Whitley signed with San Diego State in 2006, and Sam signed with Texas Tech in 2007.

"A lot of people ask, 'Are you going to be as good as your brothers?' but to me, I didn't look at it that way," V.J. said. "I knew that I would know everything they know and more. My own styles and everything come into it, so I never looked at it that way."

Farrington coach Randall Okimoto, who has known the Fehoko family since V.J. was in fifth grade, says there is no competition between the brothers, just encouragement.

"I think he embraces it, you know, the meaning of family, so he listens to his older brothers. … [They] give him real good advice, so I don't think there's any pressure, any need to feel like he has to live up to their names or fill their shoes, so to speak. He knows that he has their support and that he can do what V.J. likes to do or wants to do."

The brothers became close through football. When they were younger, their father, Vili, sat them down and asked them what they wanted to do when they grew up. Whitley, Sam and V.J. all said they wanted to play football.

And so their training -- and bonding -- began.

"We woke up at 4 in the morning to go run hills at a military base and push our Lincoln Navigator for a mile and stuff like that. That really pushed us to be the football players that we are," said V.J., who added that having older brothers to play and practice with also helped him.

For the Fehoko brothers, education is the reward for all their efforts on and off the field.

"In our family, we're not wealthy, so everything we work for, we basically earn it. I see that I can go to college for free and fulfill my dream. And to me, I thought that was the best thing in the world, doing something you love to do every day and then compete for it," said V.J., who has narrowed his list of top schools to Hawaii, Texas Tech, Utah, Utah State and Washington.

Whitley, Sam and V.J. talk to each other every day. V.J. says his brothers give him advice on recruitment.

"My brothers both are so supportive. One thing that I know and my brothers told me is that I got to go and see all my trips for myself if I fit in that program," he said. V.J. has one official visit planned so far, a trip to Texas Tech on Nov. 20.

His brothers also help him with drills and tips to improve him game, like how to read the other team's offense.

"I try to play like a college player because that's the way I'm coached," he said. "My brothers teach me everything from ball get-off to explosion to rapid fire and working a lot with your hands and techniques, so it comes from everywhere."

V.J., who has a 3.6 GPA, says he feels no pressure about making his college decision. He adds that it's not the same for his father, who feels the heat from most of the population of Hawaii. Vili Fehoko is Vili the Warrior, the University of Hawaii's mascot. While people think of his dad as the guy they see on the sidelines of UH games, V.J. thinks of him as a friend, coach and great guy.

"He's sacrificed so much for me, and I think that my dad gets so much pressure out here," he said. "Two of his sons going away to other colleges and not choosing Hawaii, he gets a lot of pressure out here. But he's so supportive and he's just like my brothers; he wants me to go where I'll be happy."

V.J. plans to announce where he will play in college at the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2. He says his recruitment process is picking up and coaches are calling every day. He tells the coaches that he will play his heart out for them, no matter what position he plays.

"I have coaches tell me that I'm built like an inside linebacker but I move like an outside linebacker and I rush like a defensive end, so I say I don't really care where you put me as long as I'm on the field. And as long as I get to hit somebody, I think I'll be happy."

Okimoto knows first-hand how V.J.'s passion translates to his performance on the field.

"You can tell when you have a good player because they elevate the game of everybody else on your team, and that's what he does. He does it through his play, not by talking. His motivation is how he plays. He plays with a lot of heart, a lot of passion, and he's very consistent week in and week out," Okimoto said.

V.J. takes football and family seriously, and he is passing the football legacy to his younger brother, Breiden. V.J. (5-foot-11, 210 pounds) is channeling his older brothers and is teaching the game to his middle-school-aged brother.

"I think my little brother's probably going to be the best," he said. "I tell him every single thing that I know about the game. Not only is he mentally ready, but he's physically almost my size, so I think he's going to be real scary."

Having the support of his parents and brothers has helped V.J. develop into a highly touted player in the Class of 2010. He credits his parents with his on- and off-the-field success, which is why he always points to them in the crowd after making a big play.

"They go crazy," he said about his parents' reaction in the stands. "It means a lot to them. All I want to do is make my family proud and hopefully do really well while I'm doing it."

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Maiava Gets Practice Time w/ Browns Defense

Kaluka Maiava's role in his first two games with the Cleveland Browns has been on special teams, but that doesn't mean the rookie linebacker and 2005 Baldwin High School graduate can't be a factor on defense this season.

''I think both (rookie linebacker David Veikune) and Kaluka are moving forward a little bit each week,'' Browns coach Eric Mangini said at his news conference Thursday. ''And, they've gotten work with the unit, the defensive unit, through the course of practice.''

Maiava, a fourth-round draft pick out of Southern California, has two tackles through two games --- one on kickoff coverage and one on punt coverage.

Cleveland faces the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

When asked further about Veikune, who led the University of Hawaii in sacks last season, Mangini said: ''He's got some versatility, which is positive. So, he's worked outside. He's worked inside. He needs to keep improving with his overall understanding of the defense, of that week's opponent and contributing on special teams. Sometimes, you go to the game and you may not get any defensive reps, or offensive reps, but you make a real impact on teams. What we're look for, ideally, is everybody that goes to the game has an impact in whatever role they're asked to play.''

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Rest in Peace, Jesse

I've spent the better part of the last week trying to process Jesse Mahelona's death.

The former Tennessee All-SEC defensive tackle died in a car accident last weekend in his native Hawaii. He leaves behind a wife, an 18-month-old daughter and another child on the way.

I had the pleasure of covering Mahelona when he was at Tennessee, and the picture I can't get out of my mind is his radiant smile. Even on the hottest of days back in August as he trudged off the practice field, the sweat pouring down his face, he always wore that familiar smile and would greet you as if he'd known you his entire life.

Mahelona was a fierce competitor on the field. I'll never forget his performance against Alabama in 2004 on a sprained knee. The Crimson Tide outplayed the Vols most of the game, but Mahelona simply wouldn't allow his team to lose. I can still see him blowing through the Alabama offensive line and forcing the fumble that saved the Vols that day.

My prayers go out to Mahelona's family. He was taken from us much too soon.

For anybody who would like to help, a trust fund has been set up. Donations can be sent to Jesse Mahelona Trust, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, c/o John Verble, 1111 Northshore Drive, Suite N-160, Knoxville, Tenn., 37919.

Also, people can go to

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oregon Defender Has SLC Roots

Will Tukuafu grew up as an avid Utah fan. He attended high school just down from the university at East High always attended Utah's football camps where he loved learning under coach Kyle Whittingham 's guidance and watched his brother, Pasa , play for the Utes.

All those good feelings toward the Utes will be put aside come Saturday though, when Tukuafu does everything he can to send the Utes home from Oregon with a loss.

The 6-foot-4, 272-pound Tukuafu is Oregon's star defensive end who ranked fifth in the Pac-10 in 2008 in tackles for loss (17.5) and tied for eighth in quarterback sacks (7.5).

He had seven tackles against Purdue to earn his team's Player of the Week honors and envisions another big game for himself against the Utes.

Having grown up as a Utah fan, Tukuafu has followed the Utes in their recent success and said he has made sure his teammates won't underestimate Utah.

"We have a lot of respect for Utah, we know they're a great team, and coach Whittingham has done a great job for them," he said. "They're similar to us. It's going to come down to who wants it more."

Interestingly, as much as Tukuafu has followed the Utes, his plans never were to be a part of the program. He was headed to BYU, but after working a year and going on a two-year LDS Church mission, discovered he was short on the academic requirements. He attended Mesa Community College instead and blossomed into one of the top junior college defensive lineman. He decided Oregon was the best fit for him to "try some new things out."

Now he can't wait to see his old friends and hopefully beat them.

"We're excited to play them down here," he said. "This stadium will get rocking, but I think Utah is used to this kind of thing. They've played in Provo and in the Sugar Bowl, we know Utah is going to come in here and play hard."

No hitters to hits

Throughout fall camp, Joe Dale wore a special shell over his jersey indicating he couldn't be hit after offseason shoulder surgery.

His first real action was the season opener.

The lack of hits though has apparently done nothing to soften up Utah's defensive back.

Dale leads the Utes with 14 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

The senior said he was a little tentative at first since he hadn't any live reps since the Sugar Bowl, but he is confident in his shoulder and in his play now.

"I still deal with some soreness, but it's not a big deal," he said. "I have to trust it's going to hold up."

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Getting to Know Vince Manuwai

Seventh-year pro Vince Manuwai (pictured) sat down with to discuss his favorite food, the position he would play if he didn’t weigh 300-plus pounds and how he uses a saying in Hawaii to keep him motivated.

What is your favorite TV show?

CSI. I like the suspense and trying to figure out who did the crime.

Favorite meal?

Eggs. I can eat eggs for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

How do you like your eggs?

Sometimes I eat them over easy, sometimes scrambled.

What is a talent you wish you had?

Probably singing.

What was your first job?

I sold newspapers when I was in the eight-to-ten year-old range.

What did it pay?

Back then a newspaper cost about 35 cents so I made about seven cents on the paper plus tips.

Pet peeves?

I don’t like it when people say they’re going to do something and they don’t do it.

Who is the most influential person in your life?

My uncle. He supported me in everything I did and always gave me things I needed. He was one of those guys where if I asked for something, he’d give me whatever I needed, no questions asked. He was the only one who came to all of my high school games, college games and he comes to my NFL games. I learned how to succeed from him.

What other position would you want to play?

Probably D-line because of my size.

What if size wasn’t an issue?

Running back or safety.

What kind of an animal would you be?

A tiger.

What do you want to do after you’re done playing football?

Coach high school football. Coaching college or NFL would be tough with all of the travel.

Do you want to go back to Hawaii to coach high school?

Definitely. And coaching high school would allow me to be part of my kids’ lives more. I don’t want to put them through the lifestyle of coaching in college or the NFL. High school gives you more time. It isn’t a grueling schedule where you have to watch a bunch of film and go recruiting. I also want to watch my kids and see how they develop.

What is your motto?

One thing they say in Hawaii is, ‘Eddie would go.’ (Eddie Aikau) is the big-time surfer there. He used to surf the big waves, like 35 to 40 feet waves. Every time he surfed, one of the other surfers would say, ‘Eddie would go’ because he always went up against the big waves. When they use that saying, no matter how big the challenge is, you can do it. If I have to block someone that made it to the Pro Bowl for like nine straight years, I say ‘Eddie would go.’

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

3 Players From The Same HS in Texas Join BYU

It's been more than three months since Texas receiver Ross Apo joined star quarterback Jake Heaps for a press conference in Salt Lake City. It was at that press conference when the pair announced they would play for BYU, becoming a part of what may be the best recruiting class in BYU history.

Apo, who was once committed to play at Texas, decommitted and also turned down scholarship offers from Oklahoma State, Missouri and Nebraska for the chance to play with Heaps in Provo. Now finishing his senior year at the Oakridge School in Arlington, Texas, Ross can't wait to be a Cougar.

"I'm leaving in December so I'm very excited," he said. "I'm trying to get this over with so I can head up there."

Ross isn't coming to Provo alone. Two of his teammates at Oakridge have committed to play at BYU and will join him in the class of 2010.

Teu Kautai is a 6 feet, 1 inch, 200 lb. LB/RB and a lifelong BYU fan. Playing for the Cougars is a dream come true.

"I'm really excited. I want to go there right now," Kautai said. "I committed as soon as I got an offer. I've been wanting to go to BYU ever since I was little. And I got Terry to go there. And we're all just getting ready to go to BYU."

Terry is a 6 feet, 6 inches tall, 270 pound lineman.

Teo Fabaluje didn't know much about BYU until Ross and Teu invited him to go to BYU's junior day. During that brief trip to Provo for the camp, Terry fell in love with BYU. And the coaches were so impressed they offered him a scholarship.

"Before I got there, he (Bronco Mendenhall) didn't know anything about me, but he said usually not knowing people, he doesn't give scholarships. But he said there was something special about the interview; and he said he just wanted to offer me a scholarship, and I committed." said Fabuluje.

"It was just too amazing to skip. I've been other places and no place was like that. I had to commit. It was out of the blue, I tell you that. I didn't have any intentions of going to BYU, but when I went there, I was glad I did," he said.

Their high school coach Phillip Farhat had nothing but praise for the future Cougars.

"They're all very talented, and I'm sure you saw that watching the game tonight." he said. "But they're all special kids too. They're good people and good teammates and we love having them around. We're fortunate to have them. And they're all at a talent level as a coach that you don't know if you'll ever coach kids that talented again."

All three have been blown away by the support they've been shown by BYU fans. Many Cougar faithful came to watch them play the day before BYU's victory over Oklahoma. And they put on a show in a 48-7 victory.

"I like it," said Kautai. "It's a good feeling for them to be here. It feels like I'm already at BYU."

These three future Cougars also hope to convince another teammate to join them, sophomore quarterback Thomas Johnson.

"Looks like you're working on another one here," I asked. "Yea, Thomas Johnson. He's going to be there in 2012," said Kautai. "He's going to come to BYU with us."

If they offer him, he'll probably come." says Apo. "We're talking him into it."

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Oregon State Needs a Leader, and Moevao is The Man

They leaned over the railing near the end zone ramp at Reser Stadium, booing and with their middle fingers extended. One of the security guards accompanying the game officials, looked up, his eyes darting from fan to fan, worried.

Beaver Nation was ticked. Probably still is today. But just know the fretting and fury at the game officials ends up as a meaningless distraction from the real issue for Oregon State.

It's this: How soon can Lyle Moevao be ready?

Cincinnati beat the Beavers 28-18 on Saturday. And yeah, there was outrage in the stadium after an apparent fumble by the Bearcats was ruled a dead ball because of the lack of forward progress. But what becomes most evident after a loss like this is that OSU is missing its leader at quarterback.

That would be Moevao, who had shoulder surgery in March but was making reads and throwing good short-range spirals all last week in practice.

He's not tall. He's not strong armed. But Moevao is a winner who plays fast, and makes great decisions, and in a high-pressure game, you need a guy who can hack it.

Cincinnati knows what I'm talking about.

It has Tony Pike under center. And he was pressured on Saturday, and sacked, and knocked around the pocket, but kept coming up big.

Pike managed his team, and the pressure. He threw for 332 yards, many of those with the game swirling around him. And maybe you saw him running in the open field, threatening to beat the Beavers with his feet or arm, and it reminded you of Moevao.

How soon can he play?

Because the Beavers compete on defense. They have a fantastic 1-2 punch on offense in James and Jacquizz Rodgers. But what they didn't have against Cincinnati was a leader at quarterback who could stand in the pocket, or scramble, but either way, cut out the Bearcats heart.

Starter Sean Canfield was just so-so. He made a few good throws, and found Team Rodgers often, but he lacked pocket presence (Read: jittery), and held the ball too long (Read: 5 sacks), and it became evident as the game slipped away that Oregon State got outplayed worst of all at the controls on Saturday.

Canfield isn't making his reads comfortably or quickly. He's locking onto his primary target too early, and at times, without regard for what the defense is doing. And in the end, the team's troubles in the red zone against Cincinnati end up as more than bad luck.

OSU coach Mike Riley said he was irked in the second quarter when his offense wasn't crisp in and out of the huddle. And he said it was "procedural stuff." And I can't help but think that this all gets fixed with Moevao back at quarterback. Maybe, too, it gives OSU a non-Rodgers dimension.

Moevao was called the primary back-up this week for the first time this season. And those close to the team said everyone was stunned at how in-rhythm Moevao was all week in practice. So the ticking clock ends up as his arm strength alone, because he can't yet throw the deep ball. But neither could Canfield on Saturday, right?

I asked Riley in the hallway after his news conference about the missing leadership, the lack of a presence at quarterback, and the timeline for what ends up an obvious decision.

Will it be a month?

"Not that long," Riley said.

A week?

"I still have a lot of confidence in Sean."

Then Riley explained that the luxury he'd hoped for, all along, was two healthy and experienced quarterbacks. Which only means that Canfield has about one more unobstructed start to announce his presence as a leader.

One week to prove himself or then, it's "Smiling Lyle" back on the field, clapping his hands, throwing darts, and running over defensive backs. And while you don't want to squeeze Canfield and manufacture pressure, the reality is Moevao thrives on it.

As the game got tight on Saturday, the guy playing quarterback for Cincinnati looked calm and made big plays. And Canfield looked wide-eyed. If that continues, Moevao should be rushed along. Nevermind the arm strength, the leadership and presence is enough.

There's going to be a lot of talk today about that non-fumble, which was ruled correctly. And about Oregon State blowing an opportunity, which it did. And maybe that's what fans do before Pac-10 Conference play begins.

The team must think on a higher level.

Said James Rodgers: "We can go forward or we can go backward."

Which is only to say we've arrived at the team's "Get busy living or get busy dying," moment.

You ready, Moevao?

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Willie Tuitama is Waiting on the NFL and Your Table

Willie Tuitama is the Arizona Wildcats all-time leading passer and was the MVP of last year's Las Vegas Bowl. But right now what he really wants to know is which type of dipping sauce you want with your wings.

A tragically untimely DUI weeks prior to this year's NFL Draft left the former Wildcat quarterback undrafted. Now he finds himself a part-time staffer at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Tucson while enrolled in four fall semester classes at Arizona.

Which sounds about right for a guy who would have only been a low-round pick anyway. Toss in a glaring character issue that arises at the worst possible time and you're gonna be waiting out another shot at football for a little while. Tuitama told an Arizona Daily Star reporter that he had a "pro opportunity" coming up this week, though he wouldn't elaborate on it, only that he'd be willing to drop all the extra schooling for another chance at being a QB.

If anything, he seems like a prime UFL candidate, that is a college QB from a marginal program who has put up lots of stats. However, because of personal factors, may not be attractive to the NFL at the moment. If he can demonstrate continued success there, he could salvage a career he nearly squandered in one ill-considered night.

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Masoli in Spotlight as Cal Game Looms

As Oregon prepares for its Pac-10 Conference opener against No. 6 California, junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli figures to be heavily scrutinized during his passing preparations this week.

A quarterback change isn’t necessarily imminent, but UO coach Chip Kelly acknowledged concern about the Ducks’ passing game following their 31-24 victory over No. 18 Utah in their nonconference finale Saturday.

Masoli completed just 4-of-16 passes for 95 yards and threw an interception in the end zone against the Utes.

It’s unlikely the Ducks (2-1) would be able to net a victory with a similar passing performance against the Bears (3-0), the highest-ranked team to enter Autzen Stadium since No. 6 Arizona State on Nov. 3, 2007.

Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Ducks do not have a touchdown pass this season, and they rank 116th out of 120 FBS teams with a passing average of 126 yards per game.

“The reasons I stayed with Jeremiah (against Utah) is because he’s our quarterback and he gives us the best chance to win,” Kelly said in his Sunday conference call with reporters.

After reviewing film Sunday, Kelly labeled the passing game “inconsistent.”

“I’m confident we have the right personnel, but it’s always an area of concern,” he said. “We come in on Sunday and analyze every area of our offense. … We’ll continue to do it in practice; that’s the only place we can start. We’ll get back to work tomorrow morning.”

Kelly didn’t go so far as to say that Masoli’s starting job was in jeopardy, but he did open the door for the possibility of the rise of backup Nate Costa.

“Yeah, Nate has a shot to work his way up to No. 1 every week. …. There’s quarterback competition every week,” Kelly said.

While the passing game was in decline, the UO running game got a breakout performance by redshirt freshman LaMichael James in his first collegiate start.

James rushed for 152 yards on 27 carries and his first touchdown.

“He didn’t surprise me at all,” Kelly said. “I think he’s capable of doing that and even better than that.

“But it’s only one game. Let’s not put him in the hall of fame yet.”

The defense again carried the Ducks, forcing Utah quarterback Terrance Cain into two late interceptions to seal the Ducks’ second straight victory.

The last of those interceptions was by safety John Boyett, a redshirt freshman making his second start in place of injured senior T.J. Ward.

“John did a nice job,” Kelly said.

“Everybody on our defense did a nice job. He’s getting more confidence back there as he gets more experience.”

Among wide receivers, Kelly praised the perimeter blocking of Lavasier Tuinei and D.J. Davis, though neither had a reception.

Kelly said Ward (ankle) has yet to be cleared for full contact in practice. Nor has wide receiver Rory Cavaille (shoulder).

Kelly said there were no other injuries to report.

The Ducks received some votes but were not ranked in the AP poll released Sunday.

Utah fell out of the poll after its national-best 16-game winning streak ended.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

C.U.'s First Samoan Quarterback Sal Aunese...

Sal Aunese was quarterback for the University of Colorado and passed away of stomach cancer at the age of 21in 1989. He was the first and only Samoan quarterback in the history of CU football.

Bruce Newman :This Is For You, Sal

It may well have been the most deafening moment of silence in the history of college football. Just before the kickoff of their game last Saturday with Washington in Seattle, Colorado's players dropped to their knees, pointed to the weepy sky that spread like a bruise above Husky Stadium and, as opposing players and more than 69,000 spectators looked on in silence, bade a wordless farewell to quarterback Sal Aunese, who had died a week earlier of stomach and lung cancer at age 21. That this silent salute looked a lot like 60 guys signaling "We're No. 1" may have been the purest of coincidences. Then again, judging by the 45-28 defeat the Buffaloes dealt the Huskies to raise their record to 4-0, maybe it wasn't. "We pointed to the sky to let Sal know we were thinking about him," said Darian Hagan, a sophomore who replaced Aunese as the starting quarterback. "And to say the sky's the limit for this team."

If Hagan continues to play the way he did last week, driving the Buffaloes to six scores in nine possessions and a 38-6 lead before being lifted at the start of the fourth quarter, there is indeed no telling how good Colorado can be. With Oklahoma ineligible for postseason play because of sanctions levied by the NCAA, only Nebraska seems capable of preventing Colorado from winning the Big Eight championship and the bid to the Orange Bowl that goes with it. If the Buffaloes do make it to Miami, they will undoubtedly point once again toward Aunese, whose dying wish was that his teammates "bring home the Orange Bowl" trophy. If they don't suffer any ill effects from a season that has been emotionally charged from the first day of practice, they may do even better than that—like bring home Colorado's first national championship in football.

Aunese attended the team's first three games, all of which were at home, sitting up in a private box, and his teammates frequently pointed to him after big plays. Those moments, however, paled in comparison with the scene created when he showed up for the opening day of the Buffaloes' preseason drills in August while undergoing debilitating chemotherapy treatments. With an oxygen mask strapped to his face, Aunese was driven onto the field that day in his car. He emerged and tried to address his teammates, but after several wrenching minutes his voice became so choked with emotion that he had to be helped back into the car.

The drama of that day was further heightened when coach Bill McCartney's 21-year-old daughter, Kristyn, showed up with her four-month-old son, Timothy, wearing a tiny T-shirt bearing the number 8—Sal's number. At one point the baby was carried from his mother to Aunese, who dandled the child for 10 minutes before handing him back. By then one of the worst-kept secrets in the state was that Aunese had fathered a child by the coach's daughter, and that McCartney and his wife, Lyndi, had decided to help raise their only grandson.

It could not have been an easy step for McCartney to take. His tumultuous seven-year stewardship at Colorado has been plagued by charges that he is unable to control his players (18 of them were arrested in 1987, including Aunese, who spent two weeks in jail on an assault charge). What's more, until an emotional acknowledgement on Sept. 25 during the memorial service for Aunese in Boulder, McCartney had been largely successful in suppressing public speculation about the identity of the child's father.

Timothy was born in April, three weeks after Aunese was diagnosed as having inoperable cancer. McCartney had not intended to comment on the gossip about his family, but he became caught up in the emotion of the memorial service and at one point turned and spoke directly to his daughter in front of the more than 2,000 mourners who had filled Macky Auditorium on the Colorado campus. "You could have had an abortion, or gone away and had the baby somewhere else," McCartney said. "But you didn't. You stayed here. You're going to raise that little guy, and all of us are going to have an opportunity to watch him grow up."

Aunese's family and former teammates conducted a private service two hours before the public one, during which his sister, Ruta, read a letter to them that Aunese had written just before his death, imploring them to "bring home the Orange Bowl" championship. So completely have Oklahoma and Nebraska dominated the Big Eight that no other team has represented the conference in the Orange Bowl since 1977, when Colorado lost 27-10 to Ohio State. "Hearing her read that, I started crying," says linebacker Michael Jones. "I said, 'Yeah, that's Sal talking to us.' "

The public memorial reflected Aunese's Samoan heritage. Most of Aunese's male relatives were barefoot and wore the traditional black lava-lava wraps. Before the service they draped a long red lei and a woven straw blanket over his casket. At the end Cindy Shafer, Aunese's girlfriend when he died, joined Kristyn and the two families behind the casket and sang I've Got Peace like a River in My Soul.

Aunese's death seems to have, in fact, brought peace to the Buffaloes, who were a talented but often fractious team in '88, when they finished 8-4. "There was a lot of bickering last year," says Hagan. "A lot of people felt they should be playing or that they were better than the person ahead of them. Sal's death has given us a tight togetherness we didn't have before."

It would have been easy enough to trivialize Aunese's death with a lot of empty Gipper speeches, but Colorado's players seemed genuinely moved by the loss of a teammate. They dedicated the season to him when it became obvious that he was too ill to play again, and the players wear his name in black letters on their uniform sleeves. Even Washington flanker Marc Jones, who went to high school with Aunese in Oceanside, Calif., has said that he is dedicating the current season to him.

Many of the Colorado players spoke of Aunese with such affection that he was still a vivid presence in their locker room on Saturday. "Don't be saddened that you no longer see me in the flesh," he wrote in his letter to the team, "because I assure you I'll always be with you all in spirit." Defensive tackle Okland Salavea, who batted down a pass in the second quarter and blocked a field goal in the third, was Aunese's closest friend on the team. After the game Salavea broke into tears every time he tried to talk about his former teammate.

McCartney had no idea how his team would react to the week of mourning, but before Colorado's final practice, on Thursday, he was clearly concerned. "Our kids are really trying hard," he said, "but they spent a lot of emotion early in the week. Sadness really drains you." Kristyn had traveled that morning with the baby to Oceanside to help make arrangements for the funeral, which was to be held there on Oct. 2. "It's not behind us yet," McCartney said. "It's still very difficult."

In one sense Aunese's death was especially difficult for Hagan, who spoke both figuratively and literally when he said, "I can't help but think about Sal all the time. He got me to the position I'm in now." A brilliant ballcarrier, Hagan had seen only mop-up duty playing behind Aunese last season, when he was often shaken by the sophistication of the pass defenses he was facing for the first time. "I didn't have the mentality that was needed to be a quarterback," says Hagan. "I knew I was smart enough, but I just wasn't thinking right. I didn't read defenses well, I didn't concentrate well, and I didn't have confidence in myself." Aunese took Hagan under his wing and persuaded him that he could, in fact, play quarterback.

When Aunese was unable to get Colorado into the end zone during the fourth quarter of last December's Freedom Bowl game against Brigham Young, McCartney sent in Hagan to try to break a tie, which he ultimately did by throwing his only pass for an interception that set up the Cougars' winning field goal. Hagan was shattered. "After I threw the interception in the Freedom Bowl, I felt I had let a lot of people down," he says. "I told the position coach I wanted to switch to running back. He told me to think about it, but even after I thought it over, I wanted to make the change."

Not until Aunese's cancer was diagnosed shortly before the Buffaloes started spring drills did Hagan finally change his mind. "Somebody had to step up," says Hagan. "I told them it was going to be me."

Aunese was not the first of Hagan's close friends to die young. Growing up in Watts, the urban caldron on the south-central side of Los Angeles, Hagan had to choose between football and the rival street gangs that terrorized his neighborhood. "It's a decision that kids here have to make around the seventh grade," Hagan's high school principal, Edward Robbs, told the Rocky Mountain News. "He had every opportunity to go the other way. believe me."

So intense is the street warfare between gangs like the Bloods and the Crips that Hagan once had to run for his life simply because the red jersey he was wearing home from football practice was considered a hostile color by the gang whose path he inadvertently crossed. While he was still in high school, one of his best friends was beaten to death by gang members. He wrote about the murder of his friend in a paper on deviant behavior for a freshman sociology class at Colorado. Many of his classmates had to spend hours at the library researching the assignment. "Me, I lived with it," he says.

Just how Colorado's opponents will learn to live with Hagan is another matter. On his second snap as a starter, he raced 75 yards in a 27-6 win over Texas. The next week, in a 45-20 defeat of Colorado State, Hagan had a 71-yard touchdown run, and a week later he threw a 74-yard pass to wide receiver Jeff Campbell that set up a touchdown in a 38-7 rout of Illinois. Going into Saturday's game, Washington coach Don James found 24 plays in the Buffaloes' first three games that had generated more than 1,000 yards, an average of 42 yards per play. "That's what's incredible," James said. "And scary."

Against the Huskies, Hagan threw only three passes but completed two of them. The first was a flea-flicker to Campbell, who lateraled to wingback Mike Pritchard. The play covered 25 yards and set up Colorado's second touchdown. The second pass was a 40-yard bomb to Pritchard just before halftime to set up another touchdown. The Buffaloes also scored on a 35-yard run by 5'6" tailback Eric Bieniemy in the first quarter and on a nifty 56-yard reverse by Campbell in the third. All the plays that were designed to go for big yardage worked to perfection. "Every time the coaches call one of those plays," says Hagan, "we try to work it to perfection, because we know they might not call it again if we don't."

In the locker room after the game, the Buffaloes sang a fight song that grew so spirited that several panels were knocked out of the ceiling and sent smashing to the floor. Sometimes even when the sky's the limit, it's not polite to point.

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Young Polynesians Make A Life Out Of Football

If you scroll down most National Football League rosters — and many major college football rosters — you'll see the distinctive names from Pacific Islands such as American Samoa, Western Samoa and the Hawaiian Islands.

Polynesians have distinguished themselves at football's elite levels for many reasons, including their traditional body types: broad shoulders, wide hips, thick legs. These football players' love of hard physical contact and fierce competition has its roots in Polynesian culture as well.

Many start their climb up the football ladder at high schools in Utah.

As the center of the Mormon faith in the United States, Utah has drawn Polynesians over the years. Many practice the Mormon religion because it was brought to the Pacific Islands by missionaries long ago.

In Utah, young Polynesians use football as a way to express their culture — and at times, as a way to move beyond it.

A Connection

Alema Teo, 47, who grew up in American Samoa, is the assistant football coach at Bountiful High School in Bountiful, Utah. Thomas Hamilton, 17, is the team's defensive tackle. Their high school football playing experiences are 30 years and thousands of miles apart. But they have much in common because of a shared heritage and culture.

Both stand 5 feet 11 inches tall and weigh about 300 pounds. They have the classically thick Polynesian builds that Miami Dolphins football executive Bill Parcells once called "perfect for the trenches." That's the key area around the line of scrimmage in a football game, inhabited by the biggest players on the field.

They also share a cultural heritage of Polynesian dance, which most Pacific Islanders learn as kids. It adds agility to their size.

"Going to dance practice, it was like doing a [football] ladder drill," Teo says. "You got to step the proper way, move your hips the right way, move your head and your shoulders and your hands, so there's a lot of coordination work being involved when you do these traditional dances."

Of course the biggest, most agile football players are nothing without a mean streak. And here, Teo and Hamilton are confounding: In the traditional Polynesian way, both are nice, respectful, laid-back people. But in pads and helmet? They become snarling, Samoan warriors.

Teo remembers playing high school football in American Samoa.

"Your mentality is to get ready to kill somebody. That's no joke. We would spend hours talking about, 'Hey, this is our village, this is our family.' So the coaches would build that up to the first hit," Teo says.

Hamilton shares this thirst for physical contact. Like a modern-day warrior, he crushes his way through practices and games during his senior year at Bountiful High.

"Just hitting and making the other person cry, it's just so amazing," Hamilton says. "I love it. I love it!"

Upward Trajectory

Some high school teams with Polynesian players like to choreograph their aggression by performing traditional, menacing war dances called Hakas. Bountiful doesn't do a pre- or post-game Haka. Polynesian senior tight end Helam Heimuli says Hamilton is all the team needs to get fired up.

"He scares everyone, not just me. He scares the whole team!" Heimuli says. "It's just really unexpected. We're all walking out of the locker room all calm and cool, like [Bountiful head] coach Wall likes us to be. And once we get on the field, you just hear Thomas yelling. And he starts smashing people already — our own team! And we're like, 'Get on the field before Thomas kills someone on our own team!' That's how we play every Friday."

So far, it's worked. Bountiful is undefeated this season. Hamilton, at least the calmer side of him, is doing well in school with a 3.7 GPA. He plans, like many Polynesian players, to do a two-year Mormon mission before pursuing his goal of college football and, he hopes, the NFL.

Overall, 18 of the 28 Division I college football scholarships given to Utah high school players this year went to Polynesians.

This upward trajectory is heartening to Coach Teo. Nine years ago, he started what became known as the All-Poly football camp. An inexpensive, education-based skills camp, initially it was geared just for Polynesian players. Many weren't making it in school or on the field.

"There's been a trend over the last 10 years," Teo says. "A lot of our kids — yeah, [they're] good football players — but then, there's the vast majority of them that will get married early, or maybe not finish school, or go to college one year and fizzle out."

Ironically, Polynesian culture may be partly to blame. The same culture that fuels young football players may inhibit them as they try to push forward in life.

We Love Football, But

For the past five years, Fotu Katoa has been Utah's director of Pacific Islander Affairs. His office in downtown Salt Lake City is a virtual Polynesian experience. Filled with shells and weavings and Polynesian art, the office also includes thick binders labeled "Utah Meth Task Force," "Pacific Island Inmates" and "Gang File."

Signs of trouble in a population that now numbers close to 30,000 in Utah, Katoa says. Some in those files are there because of a tough transition from the Pacific to the U.S. mainland. Many came to Utah to practice their Mormon religion. Some succeeded, more struggled in low-paying jobs with little English skills. Their culture, with its emphasis on family, remained strong, but in succeeding generations, says Katoa, who was born in Tonga, Polynesian tradition clashed with norms in the U.S.

"For example, the way I'm raising my children, I'm raising them to be independent, and to move on," Katoa says. "After you graduate, you're going to college. The traditional way is, 'I'm raising you to take care of me, your parents, your grandparents and the extended family.'"

For many young Polynesian men, playing football in the U.S. and seeing that experience through the end seems a way to straddle the culture gap. On one hand, the sport is a source of great pride among many Pacific Islanders. On the other, it can be the classic means to an end — Katoa hopes a much bigger end.

"Football has been really good to us in a sense of publicity and getting our kids out there and some going on to the NFL arena," he says. "It's that we just want to be known for more."

Recently, high school football star Bronson Kaufusi has had to think about more.

This week at a clinic in Provo, Utah, physical therapist Brett Mortenson worked on Kaufusi's damaged right knee. Kaufusi, an all-state defensive end for perennial powerhouse Timpview High School, tore up his knee in an early season game, ending his high school career. He shed tears at first, but now he's back on track — and plans to heal on his upcoming Mormon mission. He'll resume football at Brigham Young University in Provo, where he committed to play when he was a sophomore.

Kaufusi, whose dad was born in Tonga, has a plan for football and for life.

"My dad always says, 'You always want to be better than my mom and dad.' They grew up on an island [in] shacks. He's here in America, you know, great house, great job. So I'm trying to be better than him."

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Helu Must Prove Himself

Nebraska’s Roy Helu Jr. likely won’t voluntarily say he wants to be regarded as one of the nation’s premier running backs.

He’s far too humble for such bravado. But if you take a second to ask. …

Yes, of course he wants that, he said Monday.

Humility is an endearing trait, and Helu oozes it, but there’s nothing wrong with a teaspoonful of ego now and then. In fact, I think many Nebraska football fans just might relish the thought of Helu saying, if even to himself, “Hey, I’ll carry this team when necessary.”

A 6-foot, 215-pound junior, Helu flies under the national radar, and rightfully so, although that might be about to change. The fact Helu wants it to change might help matters.

“He’ll get to that point (among the elite) — I really believe that,” Nebraska running backs coach Tim Beck said. “If he continues to work hard and be grounded and do the things he needs to do, he’ll play well throughout the season, which is going to help our team. And if your team’s winning and he’s playing well, and carrying the load for us, he’s going to get recognized.”

Helu could take a sizable step in that regard with a big performance Saturday against 13th-ranked Virginia Tech. The game has all the trimmings. Sold-out stadium. Traditional powers. National television.

Yards probably won’t come easily for No. 19 Nebraska, considering Virginia Tech has produced a top-seven defense each of the past five seasons. Helu will be tested thoroughly. Hey, nobody said becoming a star was easy.

The thing is, Helu’s progress as a running back and Nebraska’s progress as a resurgent program are basically intertwined. Let’s face it, it’s difficult for programs to win “measuring-stick” games without a strong running game. Is Helu up to it? Is Big Red up to it? My gut says “yes.” But proof is needed.

Helu’s most meaningful college performance arguably was against Kansas last season (115 yards rushing, 61 receiving). Or maybe Colorado (166, 49). Neither team was ranked. And look what’s become of the Buffs. What a meltdown.

Virginia Tech’s defense doesn’t melt down. It throws down.

Helu understands that. Please rewind to Monday. He wasn’t exactly satisfied with himself.

“The type of running back I want to be can’t settle for mediocrity, and that’s the type of back I was last week,” he said in reference to Nebraska’s 38-9 victory over Arkansas State in which he rushed 14 times for 60 yards and caught four passes for 44.

He missed holes and aborted a few plays instead of letting them develop.

“Roy doesn’t need to be Superman,” Beck said. “He just needs to go out and play.”

Beck appreciates that Helu has worked to get stronger physically.

“What I think, though, is he’s really matured to try to develop his game to be the best all-around back in everything he does — protections, running inside and outside, catching the ball,” Beck said. “Before, he just wanted to play. It was, ‘How do I get on the field?’ ”

Now, it’s: How often should NU take him off it, especially against defenses the caliber of Virginia Tech’s?

How much can Nebraska ask of true freshman I-back Rex Burkhead?

“Rex is mature beyond most freshmen,” Beck said. “If we end up having to play 60 snaps, we’d be fine. I think he’d be good.”

Nebraska might need “great” Saturday. It might need Helu to step up and stamp himself as one of the nation’s finest. Proof is needed.

“He’s confident,” Beck said. “I think Roy knows his abilities. We all know. I mean, he doesn’t have to tell us.”

Here’s a perfect chance to show us.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rookie Louis Murphy Very Impressive in NFL Debut

Rookie receiver Louis Murphy caught four balls for 87 yards and a touchdown in Monday night's 24-20 loss to the Chargers.

Murphy was the only Oakland receiver to nab a catch on Monday, as he was the only legitimate threat they had on the outside. He had another would-be touchdown nullified on a ticky-tack call when he fell and maintained control but the ball happened to touch the ground. Murphy is light years ahead of fellow rookie Darrius Heyward-Bey developmentally.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Browns Still Looking for a Place to Keep Veikune

He might play a lot. He might play a little. He might play here. He might play there.

Not even the boss knows what he’s going to do with second-round draft pick David Veikune.

Veikune was a defensive end at Hawaii, which automatically meant he would get a crash course at outside linebacker in the Browns’ 3-4 scheme. His big body, overall skills and football IQ gave coaches the bright idea he could play inside linebacker, too. Indeed, he has.

“He has to be swimming,” Head Coach Eric Mangini said. “He’s played inside, outside, the buck position, defensive end.

“He’s going from a three-point to a two-point stance. There’s a lot of information. It will serve him well over time.”

What has it done for him lately? Veikune says he has “no idea” what his role will be in the season opener.

Has it been a quantum leap from Honolulu? A gradual one?

“I wouldn’t say quantum,” Veikune said. “Maybe in between those two.”


Veikune heads into tonight’s game at Chicago listed as a third-string linebacker behind D’Qwell Jackson and Beau Bell. Bell, though, didn’t make a single tackle while appearing in four games as a 2008 fourth-round draft pick.

Veikune was drafted two rounds higher than Bell. He was the new regime’s first defensive draft pick. Will he move ahead of Bell? Do the math.

“One important thing that I’ve tried to get across to everybody, especially the rookies, is understanding the whole defense,” Mangini said. “If you understand why we’re doing it, what it’s designed to stop, what it should look like, where people should fit, then problems aren’t as tough to figure out.

“When you just know your spot, other stuff doesn’t make any sense.”

In Veikune’s case, he isn’t just soaking up knowledge. The staff envisions him as a versatile guy who can be solid in a base defense or move around and spring surprise attacks.

“I have a good amount of knowledge from Mangini in the teaching aspect,” Veikune said. “He makes sure we know everything.”

In Veikune’s case, he’s been practicing everything. Soon the games will be real.

“Everyone’s excited about the season,” Veikune said. “It’s really close.”

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Maiava Has One Tackle in Regular-Season Debut

Cleveland rookie Kaluka Maiava, a 2005 graduate of Baldwin High School, had one tackle, the Browns' first of the regular season, in a 34-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

''This was everything I've been working for my whole life, my first real NFL regular-season game,'' Maiava said.

Maiava, a fourth-round draft pick out of Southern California, combined with James Davis to bring down Percy Harvin at the 30-yard line on a kickoff return after the Browns kicked a field goal on the game's opening possession.

''I tried to go for the ball, but I didn't want to try for something that would take too long,'' Maiava said.

Maiava was also flagged for one penalty, a holding call on a kickoff return by Josh Cribbs in the third quarter. Listed as a second-string linebacker, Maiava played exclusively on special teams Sunday.

Maiava had 14 tackles in the preseason, tied for the team lead.

''I was worried about, after preseason, guys were saying how it's going to be a lot faster in the regular season, and I was thinking, 'I can't run any faster than this,' but it was OK,'' he said. ''Football is football.''

The Browns will play on the road against the Denver Broncos next Sunday.

Adrian Peterson ran for 180 yards and three touchdowns for the Vikings, and Brett Favre passed for 110 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

Favre made his 270th consecutive start, tying the NFL record set by former Viking Jim Marshall.

''I had a blast,'' Favre said. ''It wasn't a 400-yard passing game, but it doesn't have to be. As long as we win, that's what it's all about.''

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hawaiian Punch: Manti Te'o to Get First Start for Notre Dame

Toryan Smith is hobbled but will play linebacker for Notre Dame on Saturday.

But he won't start. And that opens the door for freshman linebacker Manti Te'o to make his much-anticipated first start for the Irish against Michigan.

Notre Dame spokesman Brian Hardin confirmed that Te'o, the jewel of the Irish's 2009 recruiting class, will be in the starting lineup against the Wolverines. What Hardin didn't know is the extent of Smith's injury or when it occured this week, but the senior is on the field for warmups at Michigan Stadium.

Te'o made his defensive debut in the second quarter of the Irish's season opener against Nevada and wound up recording two tackles on the day.

"He's one week closer to being on the field on a more regular basis, but I think he will play more this week than he played last week," Weis told the media on Tuesday.

Te'o made two tackles against Nevada, and broke up a pass with a devastating hit, offering just a glimpse of what the former top defensive recruit in the nation might be capable of achieving.

"I think that he will be much more ready to play this week, and I think just like everyone else, playing your first freshman game, getting some of the butterflies out is a good thing," said Weis.

"Manti is a guy the sky is the limit on."

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Afalava Ready for Big Moment

Chicago Bears strong safety Al Afalava has flown under the radar this week -- never a bad thing for a rookie expected to start Week 1.

Playing on the road against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's talented offense would a be a tough assignment for any first-year player, but the Bears coaching staff hopes Afalava can keep building on a strong preseason.

"It's going to be a very special game," said Afalava. "They said my college rivalry game [Oregon] was nothing compared to this. Plus, it's going to be my first NFL game, so just watching the film and noticing the speed of the game is a big deal. Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback, and I've seen how fast the ball comes out, so we'll see how it goes."

Will there be some butterflies?

"I don't know," smiled Afalava. "We'll see how it is when I get out there in warm-ups."

Butterflies shouldn't be an issue for veteran Danieal Manning, who is expected to start at nickel and receive plenty of work -- since the Packers are known to favor sets of four and five receivers.

"They're moving the ball well," said Manning. "I think in one preseason game they didn't even punt. They look pretty impressive."

Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Donald Lee are the givens on the Green Bay offense, but keep an eye on second-string tight end Jermichael Finley. The 2008 third-round pick led the Packers with nine receptions in the preseason, one more than fellow second-year player Jordy Nelson, who caught 33 balls as a rookie. Finley, Nelson and James Jones gives Mike McCarthy plenty of options to compliment his skill position starters.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

The Eliapo Brothers Face Off

When 17th-ranked Utah faces San Jose State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday night, the line of scrimmage will be a family affair.

Madden Curse Strikes Troy Polamalu

When will NFL players ever learn? Never appear on the cover of a Madden football video game.

One of this year's cover stars, Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was injured in Pittsburgh's first game of the season on Thursday. Polamalu suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) after the Tennessee's Alge Crumpler fell on his knee.

Polamalu was featured on the cover of Madden10 along side Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who should really consider sitting out the season.

A look at The Curse:

Madden 2000: On the box -- Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions. Sanders shocks fans and his team by announcing his retirement just before the start of training camp.

Madden 2001: On the box -- Eddie George, Tennessee Titans. George, who the previous year had led his team to the Super Bowl, bobbles a pass that is then intercepted and returned for a touchdown in the Titans' divisional playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Madden 2002: On the box -- Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings. Culpepper, who the previous year led the Vikings to the NFC championship game, sits out the last five games because of a knee injury as the Vikings finish 5-11.

Madden 2003: On the box -- Marshall Faulk, St. Louis Rams. After leading the Rams to the Super Bowl twice in three years, Faulk is hampered throughout the season by an injured ankle as his rushing yards drop to 953 after four consecutive seasons of at least 1,300 yards and the Rams fall short of the playoffs with a 7-9 record.

Madden 2004: On the box -- Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons. Coming off a season where he had led the team to the playoffs, Vick breaks his right leg in an exhibition that takes place only one day after the Madden game is released to the public. Vick plays in only five games during the season and the Falcons finish 5-11.

Madden 2005: On the box -- Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens. Coming off a season in which he intercepted six passes, Lewis fails to get even one interception as the Ravens don't make the playoffs after finishing 9-7.

Madden 2006: On the box -- Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles. McNabb was selected for the cover after leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl the previous year. In the first game of the season, McNabb suffers a sports hernia and sits out the last seven games of the season. The Eagles finish in last place.

Madden 2007: On the box -- Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks. The season after he was selected league most valuable player for leading the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, Alexander breaks his left foot in Seattle's third game.

Madden 2008: On the box -- Vince Young. One of the biggest busts in NFL draft history.

Madden 2009: On the box: Brett Favre. Do we really need to recap his last few months?

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Maualuga Dons Big Blue

OK, so he’s not as easy on the eyes as Ashley Judd, but Bengals rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga was a welcome sight when he showed up last Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium to play cornhole with the Kentucky tailgaters before the UK vs. Miami football game.

Professional athletes have an incredible opportunity for spreading some joy. It’s always great to see one of them take it.

When I got home Wednesday afternoon after Bengals practice to write this column, my wife was unwinding after a day of school by watching 'The Oprah Winfrey Show.'

I’m not an Oprah fan, but 15 seconds into a brief video about her “Dream Comes True” series – this one was updating John Tartaglio, Jr., about his meeting with Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter – I was tearing up.

It reminded me of a scene in the movie, "Ocean’s 13," when Brad Pitt catches George Clooney sniffling at an Oprah giveaway on her TV show. ("Are you crying?" Pitt asks Clooney.) I can’t help myself. I’m a sucker for tear-jerkers.

None of this is to equate what Maualuga did for Kentucky fans to what Jeter did for Tartaglio (and vice versa). It’s just to say that athletes can make a difference, and I love it when they do.

Maualuga, the hard-hitting linebacker from the University of Southern California, who has won the starting job after dropping to the second round of the NFL draft, is getting ready for his first pro game Sunday vs. the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium.

He says his forays into the public eye in Greater Cincinnati have made him appreciative of his role as a public figure.

“Tuesday, I went out to Milford to to watch a friend’s 10-year-old practice, and afterward the kids ran up to me and said, ‘Hey, you play for the Bengals, don’t you?

'That’s my favorite team!’ I heard one kid say. ‘Who is that guy?’ I heard another guy say. ‘That’s T.J.’ They thought I was T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) because my hair was in a ponytail. Another kid said, ‘No, that’s Rey Maualuga, our second-round pick; he’s from USC.’

"These are 10-year-olds! You wouldn’t expect ‘em to know things like that. So, things like that - I don’t know - it just brings ya’ down to earth.”

Last Saturday, Maualuga just genuinely wanted to experience the feeling of attending a big-time college football game atmosphere, so he went to the UK vs. Miami game.

“It was my first college game to just walk around and be a fan,” Maualuga said. “I went back-and-forth between the Kentucky and Miami sides, and everybody was happy even though I had a Kentucky shirt on. Nobody from Miami said, ‘What’s with the Kentucky shirt?’ They were all like, ‘Hey, Rey, glad you came out.’ I enjoyed it.”

With his shoulder-length hair and Polynesian tattoos covering much of both arms, Maualuga isn’t about to blend, but he also has the personality to welcome and embrace the attention.

Some athletes don’t do as well as others in public settings. It would be wrong to expect them to, simply because they’re pro athletes. But everybody can make a difference in their own way.

One can tell by Maualuga’s body language that he embraces the love and that it fuels his desire to give his best on the field.

“When I came here,” he said, “I was upset that I (had fallen to the second round). But things opened up for me with the way the fans accepted me and were glad to have me here. I try to give that back.”

There is a Polynesian tradition of closeness of family and God that Maualuga, who is of Samoan descent, tries to live out.

He was born in Fort Sill, Okla., where his Samoan-born father, Talatonu, and mother, Tina, were stationed with the U.S. Army. Talatonu later became a Pentecostal minister. The family moved to Hawaii and then California, where Rey was raised.

“I’m glad that I’m here,” he said unabashedly, noting the family-oriented nature of the team, and the presence of other Samoans, Domata Peko and Jonathan Fanene.

“The team took me in as a brother,” Maualuga said. “I’ve talked to some of the vets and they say some of the guys who were with the team and left for other teams miss the closeness of the guys here. This linebacker group is something special. We go out to eat together all the time. Dhani (Jones) has been the leader. I already cherish the (relationships) here.”

Among the special relationships are those with Peko and Fanene, who share his love for football and family.

“There’s a thing called, ‘The Samoan Way,’ ” Maualuga said. “It comes from within. It’s harder for me to explain, because I didn’t grow up in Samoa.”

And how excited is Maualuga to play in his first NFL game Sunday?

“It’s a feeling I can’t explain,” he said. “I’m very anxious to get out there and perform. I’ll try not to be too over-excited, because if I’m over-excited, it will make me play the game the way I wasn’t taught to play it. I can play with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, but I don’t want to use it in such a way that I’m playing out of control. It would make me play with anger and regret that I don’t want to play with.

“I want to go out there with a calm mind and just do what I’ve been taught to do. I just wish my dad could be here to experience this with me.”

His dad can’t be here, but my guess is that some 10-year-olds from Milford, and some UK fans from Lexington who hadn’t planned to be at PBS on Sunday, now will be.

That’s the Samoan Way, too.

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