Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Untold Story Behind Jeremiah Masoli's Past, Downfall at Oregon

Jeremiah Masoli is asking you to open your mind, to consider the possibility that, regardless of what you've read or heard, he is not a thug. That would be an easier sell, of course, if he hadn't spent nearly three months in a juvenile facility in 2005 for robbery; if he hadn't pled guilty in March of this year to burglarizing a fraternity house; if his career as the starting quarterback -- and a potential Heisman contender -- at Oregon hadn't ended last month after police found him driving with marijuana in his car.

But here's the thing with Masoli: there are always extenuating circumstances. Less than 48 hours after Oregon coach Chip Kelly kicked him off the team, Masoli is sitting in the living room of his parents' cramped row house in Daly City, Calif., a working-class suburb of San Francisco, trying to explain those circumstances. His hair, once a flowing mane, is trimmed short, befitting a young man eager to rebuild his image. The dual-threat quarterback who specialized in mystifying ball fakes is wrestling nervously with a throw pillow as he asks those who have judged him to look beyond his police record and consider his personal account of the events that led to his downfall -- an account that brings to light a number of previously unknown details, many of them backed up by police and court records, eyewitness accounts, and other sources.

Masoli admits that he lied about whether he was at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house on Jan. 24, 2010. He lied to Kelly, to police, to his parents. He lied, he says, for reasons he hopes others will understand. He also admits to poor judgment. He is where he is today, "because I let all this happen. I put myself in some bad situations. That was the whole mistake." But he insists that he did not steal. His misdeeds took place in that wide area between black and white, between absolute guilt and innocence. He is asking you to see the gray.


Around 12:40 a.m., on Sunday, Jan. 24, Oregon sophomore Max Wolfard began walking up the east stairs in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, whose maze of halls and rooms hosted a multitude of small parties in progress. As Wolfard went up, two Ducks football players -- Masoli and Garrett Embry, a backup receiver who had been kicked off the team on Jan. 8 for undisclosed violations of team rules -- descended the stairs toward him.

Wolfard later told police that he was "elated to see Masoli in the fraternity house." Then he brushed past Embry and noticed him trying to hide a digital projector close to his side.

"Hey, that's mine," Wolfard said to Embry. "What are you doing?"

Masoli and Embry said nothing, exiting the house through a door at the foot of the stairs and heading in opposite directions. Masoli walked toward Taylor's Bar & Grill -- a popular campus hangout across the street from SAE -- and Embry sprinted around the frat house and into an alley. Wolfard hadn't seen anything in Masoli's hands, so he took off after Embry.

The most plausible reason that Wolfard, a biology major who played high school football only briefly, caught up with a Division I-A receiver like Embry, is the one corroborated by several sources (including Embry himself in a phone call recorded by police) -- that Embry had been drinking heavily that night. After about four blocks, Embry stopped, turned, handed Wolfard his projector, and according to what Wolfard told police, said, "You got it back, just get out of here."

As Wolfard walked back to the house, his heart rate descending, he thought about letting the incident slide. Then he returned to his room and found his Apple MacBook laptop and electric guitar missing. Another SAE brother said his MacBook was gone too.


The Eugene policeman who responded to Wolfard's 911 call moments later found Wolfard (who described himself to police as a "huge Duck fan") "visibly upset that [Masoli and Embry] could be involved with the stolen property," according to the police report.

"I asked Wolfard if he saw Masoli with anything in his possession," the report continued, "and he said he did not ..."

The story Masoli tells from his parents' couch is that, yes, he was there that night, but he didn't steal anything.

He admits that's not what he told Kelly when the coach called about nine hours after the incident to ask about the burglary rumor going around town. "Masoli said he didn't have anything to do with it ... " Kelly later told police. "Masoli denied being at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house."

It was the first of several lies that Masoli would come to regret, including his identical lie to police the next day. But although it notes these initial dishonesties, the 52-page report compiled by the Eugene police department offers little else to contradict the story Masoli tells today about his lack of involvement in the burglary. What the report does reveal is an incomplete investigation that does not describe how Masoli and Embry converged from their separate, unrelated social agendas that night to meet up at the SAE house and commit a burglary. Nor does it account for the phone records that show no calls or text messages between Masoli and Embry on the night of the burglary, and no contact in the weeks before it. The report also fails to explain why the police searched Masoli's vehicle, his apartment, even the dumpster and recycling bin behind his apartment, but makes no mention of searching the residence or car of Embry. (The two MacBooks and guitar were never recovered.)

(The Eugene Police Department did not respond to's questions about the case.)


So if Masoli didn't steal anything that night, why did he lie?

"I just didn't want to affiliate myself with anything like robbery or anything that had to do with that," he says, "because I had been through it all already. I had been through that whole ordeal already."


An American combat veteran who has twice been deployed to Afghanistan recalls the robbery that landed Masoli in trouble in high school. The soldier, who asked that his name, rank and branch of service not be disclosed for fear that his military career would be jeopardized, was driving the truck in which Masoli, then 16, and two of their football teammates from Serra High in San Mateo, Calif., were riding that day in June 2005, along with two other juveniles. It was after an off-season workout, the soldier says, and they had pulled up outside Hillsdale High to pick up a friend when the guys in the back hopped out, walked over to a kid who was smaller than they were, and told him to hand over his wallet. As Masoli describes it: "I was sitting in the shotgun seat, and we pulled up and parked and these guys in the back got out, and I got out too ..."

Masoli and the driver independently recall that Masoli got out of the vehicle last, and with hesitation, before the victim gave up his wallet, which according to redacted juvenile records reviewed by, contained $10 cash and a Jamba Juice card. Those same records indicate that Masoli was not the instigator in the robbery and didn't say anything to the victim. Masoli told police that when he looked inside the wallet as it was being passed around, he was relieved to find it empty.

Masoli appears to still harbor remorse as he describes how he failed that day. He says he should have been the leader his father had raised him to be; should have herded the guys back to the truck and told them how stupid this was; should never have gotten back in the truck with the stolen wallet and the guys who stole it.
Because he did none of those things, he knows that by the letter of the law he was as guilty as the other guys.

So he doesn't complain about the guilty plea he entered, or the nearly three months he spent in a youth detention center wearing a jersey with the facility's name stenciled across his back. Instead, he expresses what he told a San Mateo police officer in 2005. "If given the chance to speak with the victim," the confidential police report states, "[Masoli] said he would 'apologize for what we did. ... I mean, I'd just like to really say I'm sorry.'"

"He did not initially understand why what he did was illegal," the report concludes, "but he understands now."

Masoli and the driver also stated independently of one another that they didn't know the guys in the back of the truck as well as they knew each other, and they didn't know that two of them had committed such robberies before. A snowball of inaccurate reporting as to this last fact is why years later, at the peak of his football fame, Masoli would be described erroneously in several media accounts as having been involved in a series of robberies as a teenager. Confidential sources (and the San Francisco Chronicle) have confirmed that only two of the juveniles present that day were implicated in another incident. Not Masoli.

According to confidential probation records, Masoli's high school disciplinary record at the time "consist[ed] of three entries, one for ... tardies, and two for dress code violations." He spent his 17th birthday in a small brick room with a tiny window on the door. "I definitely don't regret going in there," Masoli says of the Hillcrest Juvenile Hall. "It definitely changed my life ... just jumpstarted my whole life."

He had been a 3.0 student and was a football star at private, academically rigorous Serra before he was expelled following the robbery. Harvard and Yale had been among the schools recruiting him. After his expulsion, the recruiters stopped calling.

Soon thereafter, his father, Kennedy, quit his job as a hotel manager and tapped into his 401(k) account so he could move with Jeremiah to Hawaii (mother Linda remained in Daly City with the couple's two younger children). Kennedy enrolled his son at St. Louis High in Honolulu, another highly regarded parochial school and a football powerhouse. Jeremiah was on the team but didn't play much because the nationally-ranked Crusaders had future Division I-AA star Cameron Higgins at quarterback. "Taking him to Hawaii had nothing to do with football," the elder Masoli says. "It was about getting him away from some of the negative influences around him and graduating from a good school so he could move forward."

When he was at Serra, Masoli had worked out with the football team at City College of San Francisco, and was given an open invitation to play there by coach George Rush. After Masoli's troubles, Rush renewed the invitation. Masoli seized this second chance, and in the only season he played at CCSF accounted for 4,000 yards and 41 touchdowns and led the Rams to the state and mythical national titles. "I never had a minute's trouble with the kid," Rush said recently. "He was my captain. He couldn't do enough. He was on time, he was respectful, he was a good student."

After the 2007 season Rush sent an unsolicited DVD of Masoli's highlights to Oregon, with whom Masoli later signed. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Masoli arrived in Eugene in 2008 with a surgically-repaired throwing wrist and a spot so low on the depth chart -- fifth-string -- that it later became part of his legend. Due to a rash of injuries, he was the starter by Game 4 that fall. In the final three games of that year he gained more than 1,000 yards, scored 13 touchdowns and threw just one interception. The Ducks won the Holiday Bowl and Masoli was named the game's MVP. Oregon had a new hero.

"Off the field, Jeremiah's a real quiet guy," Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl said recently. "He keeps to himself."

The reticence of the face of the Ducks was due in some measure to the Samoan culture held dear by his family, which values silence over soundbites and helps explain the lack of in-depth profiles on Masoli. Five days after he led Oregon to its program-defining 47-20 victory over USC, the local newspaper in Eugene ran a story that referenced Masoli's "role in several strong-armed robberies" as a teen. Masoli's mother, Linda, and dozens of other readers complained online about the newspaper's disclosure of a sealed juvenile case, with Linda pointing out that the erroneous "several strong-armed robberies" line had been lifted from a previous story in the San Francisco Chronicle, which that paper had corrected.

The Eugene Register-Guard declined to publish a correction, instead asking Linda for the sealed juvenile records and an interview with Jeremiah to set the record straight. Linda replied via email: "We don't owe the [Register-Guard] any more explanation than we have already provided ..."

In April 2010 a cover story in the New York Times sports section noted that Masoli had been involved "in a series of robberies at a Bay Area shopping mall." The family also asked the Times to publish a correction, to no avail. By that time, though, Masoli's reputation was in tatters for another reason.


A key part of the Eugene Police Department's investigation into the SAE burglary was the security footage from Taylor's Bar & Grill, which showed Masoli and his 21-year-old cousin Tau Lefiti entering the bar approximately three minutes after Max Wolfard called the police.

There were no cameras on Masoli just prior to his arrival at Taylor's, however, a crucial window of time for which the police had four eyewitnesses.

The first witness is Lefiti, who like his cousin was less than honest with police following the burglary. The account he gave to, however, in a interview separate from his cousin's, mirrors Masoli's to the letter. Both Masoli and Lefiti recall that as they were approaching Taylor's that night in Masoli's car, they saw Embry standing outside the SAE house flagging them down. When Masoli slowed, "[Embry said] something like, 'Come check this party out with me,'" Masoli recalls. "And I said all right, and then I go park my car."
Masoli and his cousin decided that Masoli would size up the frat party while Lefiti peeked inside Taylor's. Then they would decide which scene was better.

Masoli says that he "walk[ed] behind Garrett to the SAE house," where Embry opened the same side door they would emerge from moments later. "We walk up this back stairwell," Masoli says, "and up like a flight of stairs or two and then there was this room just completely open." Masoli recalls loud music and a couple of drunk students sprawled in the hallway.

The second eyewitness, SAE member Trevor Bohne -- like Wolfard an avid fan of both the Ducks and Masoli -- said that he saw the quarterback in the hall with Embry around the time of the theft.

(In his interviews with police and, Bohne said he remembered seeing Masoli wearing a backpack that night. Wolfard also remembered Masoli wearing a backpack, although he did not mention one during his first interview with police, when he noted only that upon seeing Masoli in the stairwell "Masoli was wearing baggy clothing and the other items (the laptops and guitar) might have [been] taken before [Wolfard] saw them." Masoli and Lefiti denied that Masoli wore a backpack at any point that night. Video surveillance does not show him wearing one at Taylor's Bar & Grill.)

"And then Garrett goes in this room and comes out with a projector," Masoli continues.

It was a situation not unlike the one outside Hillsdale High on June 16, 2005. Something bad was happening -- what would Masoli do? Stay with his teammate, or walk away?

"Something about the situation told me to get out of there," Masoli said, "and I walked right in front of [Embry], didn't say one word to him, just walked right out of there."

Embry followed Masoli into the stairwell, the projector hidden behind his hip, where they encountered the third eyewitness, Wolfard.

The final witness, of course, is Embry, who seven weeks after the crime pleaded guilty alongside Masoli to second-degree burglary. Embry declined to speak with police during their investigation and turned down several requests made through both his attorney and his mother to be interviewed by

Embry's attorney, Michael Buseman of Eugene, issued a written statement to which read, in part: "Rather than be in denial about who is responsible for the situation he is in, [Embry] has ... use[d] the experience as an opportunity to better himself ... I think many young individuals, both non-athletes and athletes alike, could learn a great deal from how he has addressed the situation."

Masoli was walking to class two days after the SAE theft when he got a call from Lefiti informing him that two Eugene police detectives were at his apartment and wanted to talk to him. During his 10-minute walk home Masoli was referred to a legal services hotline by a family member, and was put in touch with a Eugene-based defense attorney named John Kim, who after speaking with the detectives advised Masoli to give them a voluntary statement.

Masoli told the detectives that he and his cousin had driven to Taylor's Bar & Grill on Saturday night. That much was true. But he said "he was never at the fraternity house," which was not true.

"I asked Masoli if he was sure," wrote the detective, "and he maintained his statement of denial."
Asked about Embry, Masoli said, "I didn't see him at all."


Until the SAE burglary, Garrett Embry was best known as the Duck who'd been punched by his own teammate, LeGarrette Blount, during Blount's one-man riot following Oregon's season-opening loss to Boise State last September.

Embry caught a total of two passes for -4 yards in 2009. Some teammates recall him as a "stand-up guy" and a "good dude." Others say Embry partied too hard, studied too little, and was late to practices and meetings far too often. One Ducks player recalled Embry's father showing up to practice one day to watch his son, only to have Kelly walk over and ask if he knew where Garrett was. Embry's dad had no idea.

Masoli says he didn't know Embry well and didn't hang out with him. Other Ducks players vouch for this. The two had a class together, Military Science, and while they spoke from time to time in class, in the huddle, or in the locker room, that was the extent of their relationship.

According to the police report, in the hours leading up to the SAE burglary Embry was out on the town with his two roommates, Ducks defensive tackle Blake Ferras and Oregon student Alex Rosenberg. They first went to an SAE party at an off-campus apartment, where Embry scuffled briefly with party-goers and was kicked out. After that, the trio drove in Ferras' truck to the SAE fraternity house, where they joined a group of 10 or so students partying upstairs in one of the brothers' rooms, "[drinking] rum, listen[ing] to music and watch[ing] YouTube videos," according to the police report.

Witnesses in that room told police that sometime after midnight Embry excused himself to go check out another party down the street. A few minutes later Max Wolfard was chasing him down the alley.

Wolfard is still surprised at himself for taking off after Embry that night. Nowadays, though, he just wants the whole thing to be over. He says he's gotten some online harassment for supposedly ruining the Ducks' 2010 season (Oregon was a national championship contender with Masoli). To say nothing of the sports cable network's truck that was parked outside of Wolfard's window for several days last month.

Wolfard is sitting in a Eugene coffee shop listening to a relayed version of Masoli's account of that night. At the end of it, he says, "By his version he didn't steal anything, and by mine it's not clear that he did."


Then why did Masoli cop to it? This is where even Masoli's fans get stuck. It's where Chip Kelly gets stuck. How could Masoli sit in court and plead guilty to something he swears he didn't do?
Here is how.

On March 1, Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner informed John Kim in a letter that his office was approaching both Masoli and Embry about cooperating with the prosecution, and that he would not be sharing the police report or any other discovery with Kim, despite's Kim's request for that information. "My view is that [Masoli] knows what his involvement is and can relate that to you ..." Gardner wrote. "At this point in the case I do not see this as Mr. Masoli needing to weigh the evidence against him." (Oregon law does not require prosecutors to release discovery until a suspect is arraigned.)

Kim and Masoli were offered a deal. If Masoli pleaded guilty to burglary two -- a felony that the D.A. promised to treat as a misdemeanor -- he would get a year of probation, and he and Embry would split the $5,000 restitution to be paid to the victims. "But the biggest factor," Linda Masoli says, "was if you lose [at trial] -- and, by the way, the D.A. wins a high percentage of their cases -- your son is facing a mandatory sentence of two to four years in prison."

Like his son, Kennedy Masoli projects a stolid Samoan stoicism. That wall crumbles as he and Linda recall the weekend in March when Jeremiah drove home to Daly City to decide with his family whether to plead guilty to burglary. Kennedy clears his throat several times and looks away, trying to hide his eyes. Linda sobs quietly.

"We changed our mind in our bedroom with our son at least six times," Linda recalls. "Just back and forth -- a lot of tears, a lot of praying as a family, together, and ultimately Jeremiah was the one who said, 'Football's one thing, this is my life. Prison? For two to four years?'"

In court on March 12, Masoli nearly changed his mind again. "We just sat back down from having to rise for the judge," he recalls. "I kinda looked at [Kim] and I whispered in his ear, 'What would happen if I said no to all these questions?' ... [Kim] said, 'That would not be good right now.'"

(Kim didn't return several calls and an email from

"On or about Jan. 25 [sic], 2010, in Lane County, Oregon," the judge asked Masoli, "did you unlawfully and knowingly enter or remain in a building ... with the intent to commit the crime of theft therein... ?"


"Do you want to plead guilty to the charge of burglary in the second degree?"


"Up to that point it was almost surreal," Masoli recalls. In the moments after his plea, he sat there thinking, Man, is this really happening to me again?


That same afternoon Kelly announced a season-long suspension for Masoli that he'd decided upon after learning that Masoli planned to plead guilty. Also that afternoon, Gardner released the police report to the public, then he presided over a press conference in which he deftly handled every question asked of him, except one:

"So if the prints didn't match up," a reporter asked, "what did you go on as far as deciding to charge Masoli?"
Said Gardner: "There was a lot of other evidence. He had been seen in the fraternity house. We had some surveillance from other locations, we had witnesses who have come forward. It was clear -- I think you probably all heard the 911 tape -- the reason the victim is out of breath is from having chased Mr. Embry. There were many other circumstances which made it clear who was present." (Gardner did not respond to numerous interview requests from by phone and email.)



Glenn Bunting would also like you to believe that Jeremiah Masoli isn't a thug. Formerly an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, where he spent 22 years, Bunting is currently managing director of Sitrick & Company, a crisis management firm. Sitrick's San Francisco office, which Bunting manages, was made aware of the case through a friend of the Masolis who was a local lawyer and knew its details. After meeting Masoli and his parents and researching the case, Bunting and a colleague agreed to represent the family. It was Bunting who noticed the line in the police report about Embry and his roommates giving another Oregon player a lift later that night. Bunting followed up by asking Masoli to approach the player -- long snapper Jeff Palmer -- and have him sign a statement as to what he witnessed.

Although the signed statement doesn't exonerate Masoli, it sheds new light on Embry's role in the burglary. Palmer recalls that when he saw Embry and his roommates riding around in Ferras' truck, he waved them down so he could get a ride to the hospital to check on Rob Beard, an Oregon kicker who'd been badly injured in a brawl that same night. "They stopped the truck when they saw me and said there was no room in the back seat," Palmer's statement reads. "So, I hopped into the bed of the truck and noticed a blanket partially covering some items in the back seat.

"En route to the hospital, the truck made a brief stop at a nearby residence. I then witnessed Embry remove two Apple laptop computers and a guitar from the rear seat of the truck and take the items inside the apartment. I was then dropped off at the hospital.

"I had no knowledge at the time that those same items were reported stolen earlier that evening from a fraternity house. I never came in contact with Jeremiah Masoli that evening or heard anyone in the truck mention his name. I was never questioned by police about the events I observed that evening."

(Palmer declined to be interviewed by but confirmed that his statement is accurate.)


Ferras, who was the designated driver for Embry and Rosenberg that night, told last week that he remembers Embry unloading some items from the back of his truck, but he "had no idea what they were." He added that he is no longer friends with Embry. "I don't hang out with people who bring me down," said Ferras, who is trying to catch on with an NFL team. "There was a point where I thought he was a good person. I never thought he'd do something like that." Ferras says he knows nothing about the involvement of his former junior college teammate Masoli in the burglary: "I never saw him that night."

Embry's other roommate, Alex Rosenberg, told via Facebook: "The reason i have been distant is i have been afraid. I want to help you two with this story. I have decided to help you." Two days later he cancelled a scheduled interview, writing: "My advisor thinks the only reason i would do this is to get back at garrett and for purposes that could screw me over in the long run ... This is nothing against you ..."

Contacted by phone on Wednesday, Rosenberg said he'd spoken with Ferras and they'd decided together to withhold further comment and "let the two of those guys deal with it on their own."


Spring practice had begun by the time Masoli asked Palmer, the long snapper, to provide his statement.

Masoli, who had signed a deal with Kelly listing several conditions of his possible reinstatement, was allowed to dress out and run through drills as a backup receiver. One day, Embry showed up.

"He was on the sideline and everybody was shocked that he was even there," Masoli recalls. In the locker room afterward, Masoli "asked him straight up, 'Wassup, man? ... You know what happened. You're the only person that knows what happened.'"

"I told him, 'I know the whole court thing is over now, we can't go to the D.A. and tell him. Why can't you just go up to Coach Kelly and tell him what happened? Why can't you just help me out with this football situation? So at least my coach trusts me on some level. ... '

"[Embry] said he was scared to go talk to [Kelly] because he was not gonna get his release [to transfer to another school], something to that effect, and I just couldn't believe it. I said, 'You're sitting here looking me in the eye telling me that? That's your excuse? A transfer? Look at what really happened, man!'

"He really had nothing to say. Really nothing to say."

At that point, Masoli says, he decided to move on. Palmer's statement and his own impending graduation (in mid-July Masoli completed all requirements to receive his sociology degree from Oregon) buoyed the Masoli family throughout the spring. Then came the events of June 7, which prompted Kelly to dismiss Masoli from the team for good.

Masoli was pulled over at 9:30 p.m. that Monday night for failing to stop while exiting a Eugene-area gas station. In addition to discovering that his license was suspended, Springfield (Ore.) police found a small amount of marijuana in his glove box. Kelly dismissed Masoli two days later for "a failure to adhere to obligations previously outlined by [Kelly]."

(Kelly declined repeated requests from to talk about Masoli.)

Last week Masoli entered guilty pleas to possessing less than an ounce of marijuana and the failing-to-stop citation, both of which are non-criminal violations in Oregon. (The suspended license citation was dismissed.)

Masoli paid $613 in fines, which according to his attorney Dan Koenig, "relieves him of all obligations to Springfield's municipal court." Koenig said it remains to be seen whether the citations will be viewed by Gardner as a violation of the probation Masoli was serving in the SAE burglary case.

Masoli declined to speak with about whether the marijuana found in his car that night was his. He also declined to answer questions about Darron Thomas, his passenger that night -- and the man most likely to replace him as Oregon's quarterback this fall. (At the press conference where Kelly announced Masoli's dismissal, Kelly was asked whether Thomas would be punished. "Darron wasn't charged with anything," Kelly replied.)

Masoli acknowledged that the marijuana was in his vehicle. "I was driving and I have taken responsibility for the citation," he said.

Has Masoli ever smoked marijuana?

"Yes," he said, "I've used marijuana in the past, just like a lot of college kids. I now know that's not the example I want to set as a student-athlete or a big brother."

Still, several of Masoli's former teammates support him.

"A lot of guys on the team still support Jeremiah," said Jeff Maehl, the senior receiver. "Some may look at him in a different light now, but as far as being a teammate on the field, he's one of the greatest teammates I've ever had."

"Nah, he's not a thug," said senior defensive end Tyrell Irvin, who competed against Masoli in junior college and called him "part of the reason I came to Oregon."

Masoli, who still has a season of eligibility remaining, can receive a waiver to play this fall because of an NCAA rule that allows athletes who have graduated to transfer and play immediately as long as their postgraduate field of study isn't offered by their previous school. First, Masoli will need to find a school willing to accept him. Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech are the schools rumored to be interested.
Masoli and his parents reiterate several times that they hold no grudges against Kelly, his program, the university, or its supporters. "We're still Duck fans," Linda says. "It will always be a special place for us."

Indeed, her youngest, 14-year-old Zachariah, is wearing baggy Oregon shorts as he stands with a visitor on the cracked sidewalk outside their home following a June interview. At 6-feet Zach is already taller than his brother, and according to family and friends he'll be a better quarterback than Jeremiah one day. Zach and the visitor get to talking football and the spread offense. When asked offhandedly who his favorite quarterback is, Zach seems stunned by the question, then he jerks his chin upstairs, in the direction of the young man who remains, despite all, his hero.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Asiata Has Been On Amazing Journey

From New Zealand to Hawaii to UNLV, Asiata now hoping to stick with Bears 

Earlier this offseason, Johan Asiata was so engrossed in his present that he didn't fantasize about his future.
The Bears guard, who was undrafted in 2009, watched veterans such as Olin Kreutz and Roberto Garza in the weight room, peppered defensive tackle Tommie Harris with questions and soaked in all the teaching from new offensive line coach Mike Tice.

Yet over and over again, at practices during minicamp and organized team activities, Asiata discovered himself in a most unexpected position.

''I'm down in my stance, and I see Jay Cutler behind me,'' Asiata said. ''Then I'm looking next to me, and there's Chris Williams.

''I was like, 'Whoa!' ''

Asiata's ascension defies convention, whether he does or doesn't start the season at left guard. He didn't start playing football until his freshman year at Yuba Community College in California, and he didn't start mastering the intricacies of the sport until he transferred to UNLV in 2006.

''It's incredible to see how he's progressed as a football player,'' said former UNLV offensive line coach Gary Bernardi, who developed standout linemen such as Tony Boselli and Jonathan Ogden. ''The first three to six months, he didn't know how to watch film.''

Added agent Joe Palumbo, ''A lot of times, the chips have to all fall into place, and they often don't.
''But in his case, it did.''

Technique notwithstanding, Asiata always could do one thing: Move men.

''You could tell he didn't know what he was doing sometimes,'' Bernardi said of Asiata's film at Yuba, ''but he was literally throwing guys around.''

Born in New Zealand, Asiata initially played rugby as a boy. But after he moved to Hawaii with his father and three siblings, Asiata strayed and surrendered to what he described as the ''street life.''

But his life changed during a six-month stint in Honolulu at the Hawaii Youth ChalleNGe Academy, which is designed for ''at-risk/ non-traditional students,'' and he realized his passion shortly thereafter.

''I just like to hit people -- that's basically it,'' Asiata said of football. ''I don't get arrested for hitting people, so thank God for that.''
Turning point approaches

Francois Asiata said he and his younger siblings had ''a good life'' in New Zealand.

But their parents had marital problems, and a judge in Samoa gave custody of the children to their father, Taeao.

''Back home in New Zealand, I wasn't really close to my kids,'' Taeao said. ''I was so angry and emotional in my life and marriage.''

But he uprooted his family for Hawaii because of the opportunities.

''I wanted to see them grow, and see what they wanted to do in life,'' he said.

Taeao was strict --''he was no-nonsense, and he would spank us Samoan style,'' Johan said -- but he couldn't closely track his kids. He needed two full-time security jobs to support his children, working one shift from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and then starting his second from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. He couldn't afford a car, so he rode the bus to their home in the projects, made his children dinner and then slept for three hours before starting the cycle all over again.

But despite the financial challenges, Taeao would cook grand feasts like Samoan chop suey and baked garlic and ginger chicken for his children while often taking two slices of bread to work for lunch.

''As long as we had food on the table, I didn't think we were struggling,'' Johan said.

Taeao was shocked when a high school counselor called him and informed him of Johan's long list of transgressions -- which included cutting class and disrespecting teachers -- and recommended Hawaii Youth ChalleNGe Academy.

''To be honest, I wasn't aware of a lot of stuff that was going on,'' Taeao said. ''That really hurt me so much, when I found out.

''The school never called before. This could have been corrected earlier.''

But Johan experienced a first when his father dropped him off at the academy.

He saw his father cry.

''That hit me hard,'' Johan said. ''I said, 'Man, I'm going to do my best to be better.' ''

The school, encircled by 20-foot-high barbed-wire fences, demanded responsibility and accountability, with students waking up at 5:30 a.m. and running from Point A to Point B.

''It was hard,'' said Johan, who had his long hair chopped short. ''Sergeants just yelling at you, trying to break you down.

''Everything you do, you had to ask first.''
It's time to try football

But Johan thrived, being appointed a leader of his squadron. And while there, Johan's brother made a bold prediction to a friend who worked at the academy.

''Out of nowhere,'' Francois recalled, ''I told him, 'Dude, my brother is going to the NFL. Just trust me.' ''

Yet no one in their family -- including Johan -- had seriously played football. They were a rugby family.

''I played rugby for a few years, but I used to get penalized for high tackles,'' Johan said. ''I just ran and hit people.''

After getting high marks on an Armed Forces multi-aptitude test, Johan planned to join the Air Force following his graduation from the Youth ChalleNGe Academy. But during the summer, he bumped into a church friend named Lorgan Pau who was playing football at Yuba Community College.

''When he came back, everyone talked about him,'' Johan recalled. ''I just looked at that like, 'Wow.'

''People would say, 'Man, you're pretty big; you should play football, too.' ''

So Johan purchased a one-way ticket to Sacramento, Calif., for $450 and left with about $300 in cash and a duffel bag of clothes. When 49ers coach Ted Hoal asked him where he wanted to eat, Johan picked Denny's, where he ate plate after plate of pumpkin pancakes.

''He was just going to town,'' Hoal said. ''They just kept bringing them out.''

Countless young men come to Hoal looking for a chance to play on his football team, but many are rebuffed after that initial meeting.

''If it doesn't go well, there are four or five hotels around the airport, and you send them back home," Hoal said.

But Hoal was impressed by Johan's candidness about his past and his willingness to do ''what you want me to.''

Even special teams.

Johan didn't know what he was doing, but he liked to hit people.

''Pummel -- no technique or nothing,'' Johan said. ''Just pummel.''

He helped the 49ers win consecutive conference titles, and he drew interest from several major programs. But only UNLV was willing to persevere in dealing with Asiata's academic eligibility issues. He red-shirted his first year there, focusing on academics, lowering his body fat and learning the nuances of the game.

Bernardi worked closely with Johan, guiding him on and off the field, and he projected his NFL potential.

''I didn't believe in myself,'' Johan said. ''People [in Hawaii] thought I was in jail or doing some bad things.''
Composure a big plus

Taeao is proud of Johan's turnaround, though he never has seen his son play in a football game.

''That's something I really want to do this year,'' Taeao said.

Tice said the battle to start at left guard is ''wide open,'' noting that Josh Beekman and Lance Louis weren't afforded a chance to make an impression at the position this offseason. But Tice said he's already been impressed with Asiata's composure.

''The thing that jumps out at me the most, for a young player who hasn't played, he's shown amazing poise,'' Tice said of the 6-4, 300-pounder. ''He makes mistakes -- and all young guys do -- but he doesn't get rattled.

''Most of the time, when young guys make a mistake, they compound that and rattle off three or four in a row. But Johan hasn't done that.''

Johan knows there are no guarantees, but he's grateful to the Bears for even giving him a chance.

''To be a part of their team means a lot,'' he said. ''I'm thankful, but I'm not going to take it for granted. I'm going to go hard -- or go home.''

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stephen Paea, 2011 NFL Draft Interview

Stephen Paea is one of the strongest most athletic defensive tackles in the nation. The All Pac-10 defensive tackle has proven he can play with the best at both inside and outside on the defensive line. Should be a front runner for a number of defensive awards during his senior year. Paea was on the fence about turning pro after his junior year but ultimately decided to return to OSU.
DraftSeason: Stephen, you enter you senior year at OSU as one of the nations top defensive lineman. What do you feel you have left to prove at the collegiate level?

Stephen Paea: To begin with I wanna thank you for wanting to interviewing me. I feel like I still need to work on my technique as a defensive lineman and be the best at it especially at this senior season. I don’t need to prove anybody anything. I am just blessed with all this god given abilities the only thing left to do is to show it on the field. But it all starts right now during the off season.

DraftSeason: Decision to return for your senior year… easy or difficult?

Stephen Paea: It was difficult at first because of my family situation but I worked it out with my family and we decided coming back for another year was the best option.

DraftSeason: Toughtest offensive lineman to face in the Pac-10?

Stephen Paea: I would say USC’s o-line because of their splits that they are taught to be in. They only have a foot away from each other. Barely any room to go through. But I dnt have a specific player.

DraftSeason: What do you feel is the best part of your game, what do you feel you need to improve?

Stephen Paea: Strength and speed is what I am blessed with n still need to be consistent with it. And I need to work more on my techniques and hands and just getting off blocks to make a play every play.

DraftSeason: Best OSU Beaver currently playing in the NFL?

Stephen Paea: We have a lot. You name it, Steven Jackson, Chad Ocho, Matt Moore, Al Afalava, Andy Levitre, Kyle Devan. But i’m gonna go with my boy Al.

DraftSeason: Greatest football moment during your career at Oregon State?

Stephen Paea: We played the Ducks, but we lost. Just the fact that my family was out there supporting me in the stands n seeing after the game was priceless.

DraftSeason: What youngster do you feel has the opportunity to be the next star in the coming years?

Stephen Paea: Look out for Marcus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop on the offense and Unga on the defense

DraftSeason: Finally, best football movie of all-time?
Stephen Paea:

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Monday, July 19, 2010

UK’s Evans Appreciates Opportunties

Kentucky senior defensive end DeQuin Evans readily admits he grew up in a dangerous housing project in Compton, Calif., and knows he’s lucky that football gave him a chance to better his life.

“When you come from where I did, you learn to appreciate everything you have or get,” said Evans, who led UK in quarterback sacks with six and tackles for loss with 12.5 last year in his first season after transferring from Los Angeles’ Harbor College.

He enjoys 5:30 a.m. workouts because he knows it will make him better and enable him to be the team leader that coach Joker Phillips wants. However, he also is motivated by his past.

His mother raised him and three younger sisters. His grandfather, Tavita Maefau, was his biggest fan and inspiration but he died when Evans was only 12 years old.

“Everything that people see on TV that happens in Compton or thinks happens in the projects there, it probably does happen,” Evans, who led UK with 12.5 tackles for loss and six quarterback sacks last year, said. “I’ve got friends in wheelchairs now and friends who’ve been shot and didn’t even gang-bang. You can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get shot.”

Here are insights Evans shared about his life, his football career and his future:

Question: What was your life like growing up and what role, if any, did sports play in your life?
Evans: “When I was a young kid, my mother got me into flag football. Growing up in the neighborhood I did in Compton, Calif., it was a tough neighborhood. She always tried to get me involved in sports to keep me away from all the trouble and all the wrong stuff going on and try to keep me around positive friends and people she knew from church more than people staying in my apartment complex.

“I always looked up to my cousin, Hershel Dennis. He played running back at USC and was magnificent football player. I always wanted to get the hype that he got. Everybody always couldn’t wait until my cousin came around and he always was having fun. I used to see him on TV. That is what pulled me into football and had me thinking I could do it.”

Question: Was it easy to listen to your mother at those times?
Evans: “There was so much temptation, so it was hard. If you make the wrong decision, you end up in the wrong place. If you make the right decision, you end up in the right place. But sometimes it is harder to make the right decision and is easier to make the wrong decision. A lot of the times I just listened to my grandfather and buckled down and went to practice.

“One thing that was different about me was that I never played high school football. I fell out of sports and it just wasn’t for me. I lost my grandfather and it was hard for me. He was my father. I am not in good contact with my real father, so it put me through a lot. I was depressed emotionally about right when I started high school. He was my right-hand man. He was my No. 1 fan. He would be at all my flag football games and take me out to eat after all of them. He let me know how proud of me he was all the time.

“Every time I was on the football field, I was trying to please him and my mom. That is who I felt like I was playing for and felt like they were the only two in stands watching me. It was hard on me not having him there. I fell out of football and started hanging around the wrong crowd of people. Football was not in my repertoire any more.

“I think I would have played (in high school) if he had not died. With him being the father-figure in my life and him pushing me, it would have been different. It’s hard for a woman to raise a man, especially a teen-ager growing up in the neighborhood I grew up in. He played a huge role in my life and when he was gone, I didn’t feel like I had anybody that knew where I was coming from. Anybody that has a father and has a good relationship with him would know what I am talking about. I miss him. That is the one of the things that had me away from football, but at the same time that is one of the things that brought me back to football.”

Question: What did you do between high school and when you started playing junior college football?
Evans: “I graduated high school and took a year off. I was just working to help my mom out with the rent and stuff like that. I was working at Albertson’s, a grocery store. It was not glamorous work at $6.25 per hour, California’s minimum wage. I was doing that for a while. Everybody always asked me, ‘You are big. You look like you play football. You don’t play tight end or nothing.’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t need to play.’

“But every day at work somebody asked me if I played sports since I was built athletically. I always worked out. I did my push-ups, did my backyard workouts and ran a little bit. Then I saw my cousin and he took me under his wing and told me I needed to play football. I hung around him a year or so and he showed me all the ropes. I would be around all his friends — Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Dominque Byrd — and even his friends who played asked me about playing. I was like maybe I should try.

“One of my friends played all four years in high school but he was out of football for two years. He was always a player. He told me he was up at Harbor College and I should come up and try. I went up there and talked to the football coach and he said to start workouts next month and get ready.

“I was staying with my cousin, so I moved back to my mom’s house. She had this huge hill about like from one side of Commonwealth Stadium to the top of the other side called Signal Hill. I would go out there. I was heavy — about 260 pounds — with bad weight. I would run that thing until I couldn’t feel my legs no more and was throwing up on the side or the road. I ran like that for a month and a half straight every day. I was hungry. I wanted to play football. I wanted to make my mother proud. I wanted to make my grandfather proud looking down on me. Most of all, I wanted to be a successful man and be a football player.

“I went into workouts and saw I was passing a lot of guys up who had been playing football their whole life. I was a little stronger than people on the team, but I didn’t have any technique. I was just playing on raw talent and getting off on the ball and running everywhere. I always had a high motor and I didn’t even know what a high motor was. I was just running.”

Question: What was life like at junior college?
Evans: “You get a free waiver based on your parents’ income. And you get financial aid. So I got the full benefit package. That kept a little money in my pocket. My uncle got a higher-paying job so he could help my mom out and I could quit Albertson’s. I told him what I wanted to do with my life and he respected that and felt like it was the best thing for me. He got a raise and let me stop working and go to school full-time and play football. I was leaving the house every day about 6 in the morning. The first class was at 7:30 and I was not getting home from practice until about 8:30 or 9 every night.

“My first season I made all-American. That was huge for me. I was making plays I didn’t know I could my make. My coach after I got done working out one day had Kansas, Oregon, Nevada and bunch of scouts waiting on me. He pulled me to the side and said, ‘I am real proud of you and I just want to let you know you are going to be a successful Division I player as long as you keep up your work.’ Right then it dawned on me. I didn’t know how good I was.

“These coaches thought I was this good. I thought I was just an average player. They sat down and told me how great I could be, so ever since then I took football in a different way. Once I heard I had an opportunity to be great and my junior college coach said I was one of the best players he had coached after one year, that was huge for me. That gave me self-confidence that I can’t even explain and showed me how hard work paid off.

“I feel like I was living proof of hard work. That’s all I did. I was not willing to be outworked by anybody on my team. The heart I had was the reason. I felt if it could get me past the junior college level to Division I, then I could bring people with me and get people working as hard as me, I would be helping the team but also doing something for myself. I am not even thinking about the NFL. I just want to be known as a great defensive end at the University of Kentucky.”

Question: Is it a big change having David Turner as your position coach instead of Rick Petri?
Evans: “I guess it fits the defensive front you are running. Last year we read everything. Now we are an attack defense. Coach Petri was a very great coach and taught a lot of fundamentals and had great technique. He always had an answer for any question you would lay out.

“Coach Turner is an aggressive coach. He don’t let us walk to nothing. He is in the weight room before us. ‘Attack your workouts son. Attack your workout, boy.’ That is all we know now. It is animal mode. Attack, attack, attack. Those coaches fit the front line perfect and the scheme we have going on.

“I love coach Turner’s style. I think it fits my game. He won’t sugar-coat nothing with you. If you are doing bad, he’s going to let you know. But if you are doing good, he is going to be the first person on the sideline to come give you a chest bump if you make a big play or something like that. That is huge for us. He is definitely a player’s coach. If you do something wrong, you know you are going to get chewed out something terrible for this. He is a big man on consequences. There is a big price to pay with him.”

Question: Are you really a criminal justice major?
Evans: “Actually I switched to social work, but I want to do the same thing as I was going to do in criminal justice. I want to work with kids who grew up without a father. Anywhere I go, I like working with kids. I like showing kids around.

“This goes back to my childhood. If I had a father figure in my life, it would not have took me this long to get to where I am now. I would not take it back for anything because I have learned off all my mistakes. I know it only makes me a stronger person. I feel like I have a hell of a story to tell. I feel like if you talk to kids, they would rather listen to a person who has been in their shoes and did what they did and made a change out of it. I want to give back to the community and help any kid in need. Throw a football with him or encourage him. Anybody who needs a male on male bond and I will help them out and show them the ropes a little bit.

“Coming from somebody who has been successful, that means more and you make the most out of it. It is hard for somebody to just study psychology and tell a kid who didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth how things are when the person who studied psychology and grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth doesn’t really know. It’s hard for the person to listen to this man. It’s a different perspective. They are thinking, ‘You didn’t grow up like me. Don’t sit here and tell me about my life.’ That’s reality.”

Question: How often do you get to see family back in California?
Evans: “The last time I saw my mother was after the (Music City) bowl game. I am saving money right now to get my mother down here for our Senior Day. That would be huge for her. I am trying to get her the whole package — hotel, rental car, some extra spending money to take her out to eat. That would be her first game and would be huge for her. She records all my games on TV, but I want to find a way to get her here for my Senior Day. She deserves that because without her, I wouldn’t be here and have a chance to be this successful.”

Full Article

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bears Pick Unga in Supplemental Draft


The Chicago Bears selected running back Harvey Unga in the seventh round of the supplemental draft.
Unga led BYU in career rushing yards, and he led the Mountain West Conference with 1,087 rushing yards in 2009.

As a result of today's pick, the Bears will forego a seventh-round

With Matt Forte and Chester Taylor penciled in atop the Bears' depth chart at running back, Unga is expected to compete with Garrett Wolfe, Khalil Bell and rookie free agent Brandon Minor for a backup spot on the roster. The Bears currently have two fullbacks under contract: Eddie Williams and Will Ta'ufo'ou, after releasing veteran Jason McKie earlier in the offseason. The Bears were one of 20 teams to attend Unga's workout in front of NFL scouts prior to the supplemental draft.

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ex-Warrior Sopoaga Returns to Find Peace, Strength

Isa'ako "Isaac" Sopoaga is focused on the big picture, which is why he was disturbed by a recent shot.

"That's a bad picture," said Sopoaga, holding up the reporter's camera. "Where's the shaka sign? I always have a shaka sign. When I make a tackle, I have the shaka sign. Take it again."

The image was clear: Sopoaga, who was raised in American Samoa and now plays defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers, has pledged his allegiance to Hawaii.

"Without this place," said Sopoaga, who gazed around the University of Hawaii athletic complex, "I wouldn't be where I am today. When I was here, I was a student-athlete. Now I'm a pro athlete."

Sopoaga lived full-time in Hawaii a little more than two years, playing for the Warriors in 2002 and 2003. But he said he draws his "spiritual strength" from the islands. So much so that he and his wife - they have four children - own a house in Hawaii Kai and are looking to purchase a second home here.

"I like it here," he said. "On the mainland, it's busy - too many businesses. I can relax here. It's peaceful."
Sopoaga is in town to train and participate in football-related functions. During a break from yesterday's workout at UH's Ching Athletic Complex, he reflected on a National Football League career that will enter a seventh season.

"To be part of the NFL is amazing," he said, noting that while growing up "I never thought it would happen, never dreamed of it. I give thanks to our Heavenly Father for all of his blessings."

Sopoaga always had the strength. At UH, he was one of the first to bench press 500 pounds. At the NFL Scouting Combine in 2004, he bench pressed 225 pounds 42 times, which, at the time, was the second-most reps in the event's history.

But power was not enough for Sopoaga, who was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of the 2004 draft. As a defensive tackle and nose tackle, Sopoaga was asked not only to hold the point, but to track ball-carriers. Too often, Sopoaga was out of position.

"Football," he admitted, "is more than running and lifting."

He said he devoted extra time to studying playbooks and videos of opponents.

"That really helped a lot," he said.

He also found another learning tool: rugby.

The 49ers were initially concerned about his participation in a Bay Area rugby league. Rugby players do not wear pads.

Sopoaga recalled telling the 49er coaches: "You have to trust me. This is what I need in the offseason as an extra workout."

Sopoaga said rugby's non-stop action kept him fit and trained him to track ball-carriers.

"Everything is fast in rugby," Sopoaga said. "The ball doesn't even stop, not like football. I always tell people rugby was my first sport. I love it."

The 6-foot-2, 330-pound Sopoaga has developed into a versatile defensive lineman. He now plays defensive end in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme.

In 2008, he signed a five-year contract worth about $20 million.

The best thing about his healthy bank account, Sopoaga said, is it allows him to spend time each year in Hawaii.

"This is my second home," he said.

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Deuce Lutui Ready to Become US Citizen ‎

Cardinals guard Taitusi "Deuce" Lutui was only a few months old when he, his parents and five siblings immigrated to the United States from Tonga. Lutui jokes that the move came because he weighed 13 pounds and "there was no room for me in Tonga."

The real reason is that Lutui's parents wanted a better life for the family. All jokes aside, Lutui will be thinking about his father, Inoke, on Friday when Lutui becomes the first member of his family to become a U.S. citizen.

"I feel a lot more whole and fulfilled," Lutui said. "It was my father's dream."

Lutui will be among 204 legal residents who take the Oath of Allegiance this morning at South Mountain Community College as part of the Fiesta of Independence celebration.

"This day is very important to me," Lutui said. "I feel like I'm graduating again. I should wear my cap and gown."

Lutui started the citizenship-application process in 2001, but the Sept. 11 attacks caused delays. Some of the final requirements were met last fall, when Lutui had to miss some practices and meetings for interviews.
As someone who had lived most of his life in Mesa, he said some of the questions were almost comical. "I don't think I studied for it," he said. "They were asking me things like what was the longest river in the U.S. They were common-sense questions."

Lutui called it "frustrating" to miss practice because of the citizenship process, but he had the full support of coach Ken Whisenhunt.

"It was a no-brainer," Lutui said. "He let me go."

The final interview came the week before Thanksgiving, as the Cardinals prepared to play in St. Louis. Inoke Lutui passed away that same week.

Lutui started that game, despite missing practice time.
"I wish he was alive for this," Lutui said of his father. "I'm accomplishing one of his goals."

This is a high point in a tumultuous off-season for Lutui, a second-round pick out of Southern California in 2006. A restricted free agent, Lutui missed all off-season workouts because he wanted a long-term deal from the Cardinals.

The team was offering a one-year, qualifying offer of $1.76 million, which Lutui ultimately signed. Lutui's absence frustrated coaches, who were concerned about the guard's conditioning.

A recent report said Lutui weighed 396 pounds.

Lutui declined to comment Thursday about his contract and his weight, preferring to concentrate on Friday's achievement.

The ongoing immigration debate provides an intriguing backdrop to the ceremony. As a longtime Arizona resident, Lutui is familiar with the controversy surrounding SB 1070 and has mixed feelings about it.

"I'm on both ends," he said. "Enforcing the laws of 1070, it's something to think about.

"I'm not a citizen and I'm driving, knowing at any given time I could be questioned and thinking, 'Oh, freak, where is my green card?'

"(Friday) I'm going to throw that green card away. It feels good to have that weight off my shoulders. I've been waiting a long time. I understand both sides, of how to do it right and also being a non-citizen. But, hey, I still play for 'Los Cardenales.' "