Monday, August 30, 2010

Havili's Experience Crucial For Trojans

Since Stanley Havili became the starting fullback, USC has gone through four starting quarterbacks, two head coaches, a carousel of assistants, a couple of polar-opposite athletic directors and a mountain of pain handed down by the NCAA.

The fifth-year senior appears to be exactly what USC needs in these trying times: Someone the Trojans can depend on. Havili provides a vocal, trusted presence in the huddle, a dangerous outlet valve in the passing game and, lately, some punishing blocks to open running lanes.

"Stanley's a real cool guy. Everybody loves him on the team," tailback Allen Bradford said. "He's going to be
a real offensive leader this year."

In intense team sports, it's impossible for outsiders to gauge quite how leadership works. When Havili broke freshman cornerback T.J. Bryant's cheekbone in a skirmish earlier this summer, some people viewed it as another example of the Trojans' football program coming apart at the seams. People on the team, however, saw it differently.

Havili is one of the few holdovers from the end of USC's golden era under Pete Carroll, when Rose Bowls and BCS title games were the objective. The fight between the two broke out because Havili was urging Bryant to finish the drill with maximum effort, to compete in the Trojan way. He was leading. And so coach Lane Kiffin suspended him for just one practice.

Havili will be the most experienced member of the offense Thursday at Aloha Stadium, when USC opens its season against Hawaii. "This is definitely the most excited I've ever been," Havili said. "The realization of this being my last year, the first year of Coach Kiffin just makes it a plus. I'm going out with the change of Trojan identity. It's a different leader now and guys have to buy in."

A lot is riding on Thursday's outcome for Havili, who is of Tongan descent and will have family members who live on the island at the game. Hawaii recruited him as a tailback five years ago, but Havili elected to go to USC, saying, "I always wanted to compete at the highest level."

A lot is riding on this season, because Havili has NFL aspirations and will need to prove he's a capable blocker in order to improve his draft stock. At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, he's a bit light for a fullback. New running backs coach Kennedy Pola is teaching him to make up for his size with solid technique.

"Our focus is on knowledge," Havili said.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hoomanawanui Could Become A Household Name

Rams tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, left, dives into the end zone, beating New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes for a touchdown in the first half during an NFL preseason football game in Foxborough, Mass.

Steve Spagnuolo calls him Illinois Mike. But there's also Big Mike. And "Oh-Oh."

Back in Bloomington, Ill., at Central Catholic High, they called him "Ho." Some keep it simple and just call him Michael.

If rookie Michael Hoomanawanui keeps playing the way he has this preseason, you might have to call him starting tight end for the Rams.

"No question," Spagnuolo said. "He's jumped out there, I think that's pretty obvious. He made a great catch with that one hand (against New England). I thought the catch and getting into the end zone for the first touchdown was a really good play, too. He made some blocks as a fullback. Mike's done some good things."

(Hoomanawanui also has been working out of the backfield at fullback.)
It's no mirage, Spagnuolo says. "He's what you're seeing out there, and we're happy he's doing it."

The last name, by the way, is pronounced "Oh-oh-mah-NAH-wah-NEW-ee." Or, like Spagnuolo, you can call him Illinois Mike, since he attended the University of Illinois. In the starting lineup Thursday in place of the injured Daniel Fells, Hoomanawanui caught four passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns.

All of his catches came in the first half against the Patriots' starting defense, meaning all came from quarterback Sam Bradford. Maybe we should get used to this Bradford-to-Hoomanawanui combination.

"It sure was a good combination (Thursday), that's for sure," Bradford said.

"That one-handed catch he had in the first half, that was unbelievable."

Hoomanawanui snatched the ball out of the air like it was a small beanbag. It resulted in a 23-yard gain on the final play of the first quarter, setting up the first of four field goals by Josh Brown in a 36-35 Rams preseason win.

How'd he make that catch?

"Everyone's asking me," Hoomanawanui said. "I don't know; it's just instinct after a while. I felt like I couldn't get my left hand on it, so spread the (right) hand wide open and hold on tight."

He can thank his father, Isy, for the good hands.

"I remember in my younger days when me and my dad would play catch in the backyard," Hoomanawanui said. "He'd 'beam' it at me."

Isy would throw the ball so hard that young Michael sometimes would cry. Occasionally, he'd take it off the chest, off the face, you name it.

"Being 5 years old trying to catch a fastball isn't easy," Hoomanawanui said. "I'd tell him to slow it down. But I guess it paid off in the long run."

When the Rams drafted him in the fifth round this past April, one of the things mentioned by Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney about Hoomanawanui was that he had good hands.

Which begs the question: How could they tell? With eight catches for 112 yards this preseason, Hoomanawanui has caught almost as many balls as he did during his entire senior season at Illinois.

"I think that's about true," Hoomanawanui said, laughing.

It's pretty close. He had 10 catches for 114 yards in 2009, a season in which the Illini passing attack struggled and Hoomanawanui was bothered by an ankle injury, missing three games entirely.

He was thrilled to get drafted by the Rams. How thrilled? He has a tattoo on his hand that reads "4-24-10," signifying the day he got drafted, April 24.

"I pinch myself every day when I wake up," he said. "That's no exaggeration.
There's people all around the world that'd love to be in our position right now. We've got to take this position and run with it."

So far, he's doing just that. Hoomanawanui caught the coaches' eyes with some highlight-reel catches during the Rams' spring minicamps and organized team activities. He did more of the same once training camp started. But it's one thing to do it on the practice field; it's entirely another to do it in a game.

"It's nice to see him take it from the practice field into the game," Spagnuolo said.

"I think all of the young guys gained a little confidence (against New England), and that's a good thing."

No one more than Hoomanawanui. "To know that I can do that against a great opponent like New England, that definitely boosts my confidence," he said. "But there's still a lot of things I've got to work on. So I've got another week of training camp and find out if I make that 53."

He probably no longer has to sweat making the final roster, not that he can sit back and strum his ukulele and relax. Yes, Hoomanawanui plays the ukulele. In fact, he may be the first Rams player ever to bring a ukulele to training camp.

"I just play it in my free time," said Hoomanawanui, whose immediate family is from Bloomington, but who has relatives in Hawaii. "It's nice and relaxing. Fendi Onobun, my roommate (during camp), I think he likes it. He's always falling asleep to it."

Which is something opposing defenses can't afford to do when "Oh-oh" is on the field.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Alabama Gets a California Samoan Smashmouth O-Lineman

Alabama is extending their reach across the country for the best players they can get. Today, Isaac Luatua, of La Mirada, California committed to the University of Alabama, becoming their 13th commitment of the 2011.

Nick Saban is looking at him as the center of the future and his 6'3" 295 pound 17 year old seems capable of doing just that.

"Isaac plays guard for us, but could end up playing center on offense," his high school coach, Moschetti, said.

"On defense, he plays inside at defensive tackle. Some schools like him on defense and some like him on offense. I think if you watch him offensively, he just destroys people. I'm an offensive guy, so I want him on the offensive side of the ball. But defensive linemen are tough to find, and Isaac is a kid who has grades."

People who know him say he's a very polite young man, a devout Morman, as are many Pacific Islanders now, and a hardworking student. He's simply a joy to be around.

Moschetti added that Luatua doesn't care what position he plays at the next level and feels he could play any of them well.

"Isaac has great athleticism, outstanding strength and he's mean kid on the football field," Moschetti said. "He has a lot of anger on the field, and off the field he's a big teddy bear, but once he's steps between the lines, his goal is to get a scholarship, and all he wants to do is win a national championships. That's all he talks about.

"Isaac benched 225 lbs, 24 times. He's also the center on the basketball team, so for three months, he hasn't really been lifting so he naturally strong. He's a freak. He's about a 550 on the squat."

The key point here is that he was doing that already without being in a weight lifting program. Can you imagine what a beast he could turn out to be with Scott Cochran's tutelage for a year?

Almost every program took a look at him, and he had dozens of offers. Many thought it would come down to Colorado, where his father played for Rick Nueheisel. Then it was UCLA, only 40 minutes from his home and where Nueheisel is today. And then there was Tennessee.

Luathua had been saying for months the competition in the SEC had his attention and Tennessee in particular.

He had many nice public things to say about their coaches and the program there, and it looked like a lock until Nick Saban and Alabama offered.

"I talked to Coach Nick Saban last week. He's a great competitor and coaches with toughness," Luatua said.

"I love how Coach Saban challenges his players on and off the field.

"I want to play for a coach that is in my face, has coached the best," Luatua said. "Coach Saban is that type of guy.

"I'm going to give everything I got to the University of Alabama and to the state of Alabama," Luatua said. "I have two simple goals, win National Championships and get a degree."

All this without ever having visiting the campus.

"Isaac isn't interested in the process of recruiting," his high school coach said. "He wanted to commit early, and get that behind him, and focus on other things."

Does it intimidate him to come to Alabama, a place with so much talent there already in front of him?

"There just isn't another place like it and it's a perfect fit," Luatua said. "I don't care about depth charts, etc.

I'm going to Alabama and for the tradition, fan support, and the academics were all the determining factor in my decision.

"The Alabama tradition speaks for itself and it's a great academic school," Luatua continued. "Alabama has simple goals and that is to push you like you have never been pushed before, do the right things on and off the field and win National Championships."

When asked to describe his type of play, he responded, “I’m explosive. I get after the guy in front of me fast and try to knock him down. I’m very physical. But I want to try and stay lower and not always have to out-muscle guys.”

With Joe Pendry teaching him technique and Scott Cochran giving him the muscle, there is little doubt he will fail to accomplish either goal.

Full Article

Friday, August 27, 2010

# 1 Grant vs. # 2 Folsom on ESPN2 Tonight!

Defensive linemen Vei Moala (left) & Puka Lopa (right) helped Grant set a state record with 78 sacks last season.
This Friday, the Grant Union Pacers will invade Folsom high school to take on the Bulldogs to kick-off the 2010 season in a nationally televised sold-out game that will air on ESPN2 at 7:00 p.m. ESPN's broadcast will be a first for Sacramento area high school sports and this matchup promises to give viewers everywhere a reason to tune in.

The Grant Union Pacers will enter the 2010 football season as the No. 1 ranked team in the Sac-Joaquin Section, according the Massey Ratings and fourth in the nation in some polls, due in large part to their potent defense.

Headlining the sizable defensive unit for Grant are Vei Moala, Puka Lopa, and Darryl Paulo, who combine for 825 lbs. and are looking to disrupt Folsom's high power offense captained by QB Dano Graves.

"We've got to shut him down," Moala said. "We're going to mess up his snap a little bit and hopefully get up in his face and disrupt his pass. It's a great matchup to finally face a great offense like Folsom's."

Graves headlines the offensive firepower of the Folsom Bulldogs, who rank fourth in the Massey ratings.

Graves, who last season threw for 66 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards as a junior while anchoring one of California's most prolific offenses, said facing Grant will prepare them for better things to come.

"We're really excited," Graves said. "Grant's a great team and it will be a great opportunity for us and it'll prepare us for the league and the playoffs"

Folsom's head coach Kris Richardson knows the sizable challenge his team faces in Grant's defense, but feels his talented offense is ready to shine.

"I don't know if anyone is ever going to be ready for Grant," Richardson admitted. "But, we've been one of the offenses in the section every year and Dano Graves is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation."
Richardson was well aware of the hype heading into this game when he signed his team up for it back in April and knew the hype and attention surrounding this game would be unlike anything the Sacramento area has ever seen.

"I knew it would be a tremendous challenge for these guys," Richardson said. "(Grant) is one of the best defenses in the country and the hype around (the game) with ESPN, it's going to be fun."

For Grant, hype also brings forth distractions, like national television and hungry opponents, like Folsom.

"We told our guys we have a bullseye on our back," coach Alberghini admitted. "Folsom is a very talented team and well coached team that has a lot of experience returning and they've had a long time to prepare for this game."

Although they respect the talents and the challenge of the Folsom Bulldogs, there is a swagger that comes along with being a former state champion and being No. 1-rated in the section. Friday, Alberghini said it is the expectation of the Grant Pacers to beat Folsom.

"We're ready," defensive coordinator and Athletic Director Reggie Harris said. "We're going to give our community what they want to see, and that's a win."

Full Article

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Te'o Feels @ Home With Notre Dame

Manti Te'o left the beautiful vistas, the sand and the ocean of his native Hawaii for a long journey to Indiana, where he's found peace and a new home as the leader of Notre Dame's defense.

As a Mormon, there is much more to his life than just knocking down ball carriers as a linebacker. There is self-discovery, sacrifice and an inner discipline.

"Faith is a high priority up here," Te'o said of Notre Dame, a Catholic institution. "Coach Kelly said no matter what your religion, it's a very special place and you can grow spiritually here."

A highly regarded prep recruit from Punahou High School — a guy named Barack Obama attended the same school — Te'o came to Notre Dame despite the lure of places closer to home like, say, Southern California. And after an adjustment period, he made an impact last season when he started 10 games and had 63 tackles, the third-best total by a Notre Dame freshman.

"I've always said it was a hard decision for me to leave home," Te'o said. "Leave all my friends and my family and come all the way here. Usually guys from Hawaii will go somewhere near home, but for me I stepped out of my comfort zone and blazed my own trail.

"I learned that I'm more independent than I thought I was. I can depend on myself. I can clearly just be my own man. It took some time, but I had to find myself here, just be comfortable and make this my home."

After that first season when the Irish finished 6-6 in what would be coach Charlie Weis' final campaign, Te'o had another difficult decision — continue with football or go on a Mormon mission. In December, he announced he would come back to school and play for new coach Brian Kelly.

"Right now it's just all football, helping my team win," he said.

And that comfort level, both on the field and in South Bend, made staying easier. He attends a nearby Church of Latter Day Saints.

"It's been great, been my home away from home," he said. "It reminds me of home because no matter where you go, the church is the same everywhere."

Te'o will be in a middle linebacker spot in the Irish's 3-4 defense this fall and he'll be in charge of barking out defensive signals to his teammates. At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, Te'o's physical attributes jump out, but so does his ability to take control and demand respect.

"You say, 'OK, he can do the job,'" defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "The guy might be heck of a player, but we're relying on him to do some of the communication. So if you get a guy out there who is a little mousey, nobody can really hear what he's supposed to do. One of the biggest things he's giving us right now is he's a demonstrative communicator."

So Te'o has shown he can do what the Irish need, both physically and mentally, and not be worn out by either responsibility. The two must mesh in the 3-4 defense.

"He's got energy and passion," Diaco said. "His wind is up. If you're looking at the full group in terms of their cardiovascular, he's one of the top guys. So he's in condition where he's not taxed."

Te'o is very aware of the history of Notre Dame and its great teams and players. Kelly has reminded his players that they carry a responsibility for both past and future.

"He just told us that tradition is important and nice, but it's nothing if we don't honor the guys who came before us," Te'o said. "I feel in order to be a great football player, you have to play for something beyond yourself. Coach Kelly has helped us realize that. We can play for something bigger than ourselves, which is Notre Dame."

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Nevada's Vai Taua Focused, Ready To Lead Pack

Vai Taua didn't want to spend the holidays with his family last Christmas Eve.

No, it's not that the Nevada Wolf Pack running back was trying to avoid his family back home in Lompoc, Calif., during the holidays. It's just that Taua knew where he belonged.

“It hurt to watch my team (on television) knowing I let them down,” Taua said.

Taua wasn't with his Wolf Pack teammates last Dec. 24 in the Hawaii Bowl because he was academically ineligible.

“I put school on the back burner,” Taua said.

Pack head coach Chris Ault didn't hide his frustrations with his star running back last winter when the Pack returned from Hawaii. And he still shakes his head when he talks about it.

“What is so upsetting about it is that Vai is a good student,” Ault said. “He's almost a B student. He'll graduate in December.”

Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick also didn't soften his assessment of Taua's mistake. Kaepernick was the only member of the Pack's historic three-member 1,000-yard rushing club last year that played in the bowl game. Taua was home for the holidays and Luke Lippincott was injured.

“He (Taua) has a lot to prove to everyone,” Kaepernick told the media last spring. “But everybody on the team is behind him.”

Taua says he has learned from his mistake. But the 20-year-old who wasn't allowed to accompany his teammates in Hawaii last Christmas Eve is never far from his thoughts.

“That's something you never forget,” Taua said. “It stays with you forever. I don't ever want to go through that again.”

Taua says to expect a more mature, seasoned veteran running the ball for the Wolf Pack this season.

“I'm not the young guy anymore,” Taua said. “Now I have to be the guy other players look to. I welcome that challenge.”

Instead of merely leading the Wolf Pack into the end zone, Taua is determined to lead his young teammates on and off the field this year.

This, after all, is his backfield now. He's the senior running back. He's the one with the most experience. Gone is Lippincott, whose eligibility finally ran out after last season.

“It's definitely a different feeling,” said Taua of his senior year. “Luke was the veteran guy the last few years. He was the guy who got the ball when I first came here. I was just the raw talent (who had just 19 carries as a freshman in 2007).

“Luke was a great leader. He helped show me how to do things. Hopefully I can be a leader like that.”

There is no question that Taua will carry the load on the field. The 5-foot-10, 220--pounder is already one of the greatest Wolf Pack running backs in history with 2,978 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns.

Chance Kretschmer is fourth in Pack history with 3,782 yards and 35 rushing scores, both numbers easily within Taua's reach this year.

“Vai is a very talented back,” Ault said. “He can catch the ball and he can run with it and we'd like to take advantage of that.”

Ault has never been shy about taking advantage of Taua's talents. Taua, after all, had 1,345 yards and 12 touchdowns last year in just 11 games. The year before he had 1,521 yards (fourth most in Pack history) and 15 touchdowns.

“Vai is as good as I've ever had upfield,” Ault said. “And I've had a lot of good backs. But he's the best when he gets upfield and making the most out of a run. He just has a great presence in the open field.”

If healthy and eligible (he also missed a game with an elbow injury last year), Taua is confident the numbers will come. The Wolf Pack, don't forget, was the best rushing team in the nation a year ago with 4,484 yards.

That's not where Taua's focus is right now. His focus this summer is doing everything he can to show that last December was a one-time mistake.

“You have to have leaders,” Taua said. “The more leaders you have, the more the younger players learn how to do things the right way. When you are a senior it's important you lead by example because the young people will follow you.

“Now, I'm a senior. This is my time to lead.”

Part of leadership, Taua understands, is showing others that you can learn from your mistakes.

“What happened is still a motivating factor for me,” Taua said. “It will always be a motivating factor for me. I learned from it and now I can tell others that school has to be first on your mind. Without school, there's no football.”

Ault can see the motivation in Taua this summer. The motivation, after all, oozes from Taua's pores each time he touches the ball.

That's why Ault is not worried about his senior running back at all.

“He's doing everything we've asked of him,” Ault said. “And we (the coaches) get on him about stuff. We're not letting him get away with anything. He knows what's expected of him. And he's having an outstanding camp.”

When Taua speaks of his goals this year, it's all about the team.

“We (the seniors) want to set our legacy here,” he said. “We want to win the league, beat Boise State and win our bowl game.”

And you certainly can't do that while sitting on your parents' couch in Lompoc.

“I'm more motivated and dedicated than ever,” Taua said.

Full Article

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Paea: It Wasn't About The Money

Nice story here from Cliff Kirkpatrick on how agents tried to lure Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea into the 2010 draft.

From the article:
Agents convinced his parents he could make millions of dollars by leaving school early.

"It didn't bother my parents, it bothered me a lot," Paea said of the constant calls. "I wanted to come back from the beginning. My mom and dad were about money. If I left, it was for that reason only. But there was no reason to leave now."

This is a complicated issue. Just ask former USC safety Taylor Mays. My typical position is simple: Leave when the leaving is good. That infuriates fans, but fans only see the jersey of their favorite team. They're not focused on a young man's future.

NFL careers don't last long. Most guys don't cash in on a second contract. That means the most important thing an underclass prospect can look at is his potential draft position: If he's a likely first-rounder, returning for another season doesn't make sense because the guaranteed up-front money is too lucrative to risk with all the variables that come into play with another college season.

Paea's situation, however, is different. His best football is clearly in front of him. Six years ago, he didn't know how to play football. It's not an exaggeration to say his improvement as a player is on a 45 degree ramp since then. The guy who could play himself into the first round of the 2011 NFL draft this season isn't going to be nearly the player he will be in 2013, when he's an NFL All Pro.

Paea's plan for returning this season is sound, starting with the simple fact he wanted to play another year for Oregon State because he's enjoying himself. In terms of a business decision, that's up to him. If he plays hungry, he'll push his way into the first round, which means his decision to return earned him millions more up front than if he were a second-round pick last spring.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Aoelua to Quarterback Aggie Defense

Manning the middle of the Aggie defense this year will be none other than a man known as 'Blue.The full name is Boyblue Aoelua, a 5-foot-10, 235-pound junior middle linebacker from American Samoa. If things go as planned this season, he will be notorious for far more than just his name.

Opponents will know him for his hitting ability between the hash marks, and his teammates will remember him as the quarterback of an Aggie defense that's looking to continue its improved play in 2010.

"He has passion," NMSU head coach DeWayne Walker said of Aoelua. "The thing is, he loves football. I think that's big. Sometimes, we get caught up on size. Tony Dungy's defenses at Indianapolis and at Tampa Bay, they had one of the smaller defenses in the NFL. But they were passionate, they played hard and they were smart. That's what we're trying to build on as well."

Last year, Aoelua was no more than a contributor on special teams. Now, he'll take over one of the key positions on the Aggie defense at middle linebacker — or the MIKE in Walker's system.

Aoelua will be asked to make pre-snap directional and stunt calls at the line of scrimmage, get his fellow linebackers and defensive lineman properly situated and then read the play upon the snap and attack the football.

It's a lot of responsibility for someone who barely saw the field in 2009.

"It's a really big step for me," Aoelua said. "I had to step my game up ... It was a big change for me, a lot of work. Obviously, you're the head of the defense, you're the quarterback of the defense.
"Main thing for me is get everybody lined up and get the calls right. The second one, is to stay healthy ... I gotta be more physical."

According the Walker, it was a slow start for Aoelua during fall camp, but the junior has picked it up lately.

"He's playing good football again," Walker said. "We're happy he's playing at a level for us to have a good linebacker group."

That group will consist of Aoelua in the middle, senior transfer Frank Padilla (6-foot-2, 248 pounds) at the strongside spot and 2009 scout-team player B.J. Adolpho (5-foot-11, 215 pounds) along the weakside.

"They didn't play a lick," linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said of the group's experience from last year.

"They're making some progress. They're not as good as we'd like them to be. We just need more consistent play from them ... There's no problem with their toughness. They'll run like hell, they'll do all they can for you. They just have to be in the right place all the time."

Last year, NMSU had four seniors rotate at the linebacker position — Jason Scott, Ross Conner, Jamar Cotton and Sam King.

"I think (this year's group) can be far superior to what we had last year," Lindsey said. "I don't mean to be derogatory to the four seniors, 'cause they gave us a good days work. (But) our upside is so much better, with the athletic ability and football intelligence."

The current threesome certainly look like they have fun together on the field.

Adolpho has been seen during Aggie practices throwing his body around with reckless abandon, while Padilla craves physical contact to go along with a rowdy persona. Couple that with Aoelua's rugged style, and the Aggies, while raw, aren't short on football fire.

"All of us like to hit," Adolpho said. "I think sometimes that can be a downfall at times. That's all we want to do — is hit. Hey, it works out good for us."

It all goes back to Boyblue, who was named after his mother's brother.

"Some people (make fun of the name)," he said. "They think its a nickname. I don't like it when people make fun of my name. Have respect for it."

The hope is that by the end of the year fans will know Aoelua for his game, not his moniker.

"The season hasn't started yet," he said. "I'll let that go. I'll let the season talk for itself. We'll find out."

Full Article

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Alama-Francis Embraces Position Change, Weight Loss

As a basketball player at the University of Hawaii, Ikaika Alama-Francis packed on pounds just to be a football walk-on. So when the Dolphins told him to lighten up to move from defensive end to outside linebacker, Alama-Francis responded predictably.

``'Whatever I can do to help the team -- you want me to go free safety, strong safety, what do you want?'' Alama-Francis said, a laugh running through his recollection.

There's a reason he was so willing and is relentlessly buoyant about his position change, which has seen him taking some snaps with the first and second teams early in training camp. Actually, three reasons. One is perspective.

Detroit made Alama-Francis a second-round draft pick in 2007, and he was there a year later, in 13 games with two starts, for the NFL's first 0-16 season. Then, a week before the 2009 season opener, he was cut by a team that had managed only one victory in its previous 24 games.

Think about being a part of the worst fiscal year by a franchise in the past 31 years of your business, then being judged not good enough to help even that franchise. That usually sends people into career transitional periods.

``All of it is tough,'' Alama-Francis said. ``Oh-and-16, nobody wants to do that. You're the only team to go 0-16 in the history of the league. I'm not proud to say that, but it happened. You've got to move forward. And when I was released -- you never want to get released by a team. But I stayed positive, kept in good shape and I'm just glad the Miami Dolphins gave me a chance to come here.''

Two months passed before the Dolphins signed Alama-Francis as a free agent, five days after nose guard Jason Ferguson's season-ending quadriceps injury necessitated some shifting along the defensive line.

``It's very tough,'' Alama-Francis said of that period. ``There's a lot of things playing on your mind. You're thinking this, you're thinking that. But you've got to stay focused on what your main goal was and my main goal was to be on a team and help a team win a Super Bowl. That's always been my goal.''

Reason No. 2 for being willing to change is he has done it before: the aforementioned basketball-to-football change. At 6-6, he was a rangy 190-pound shooting guard. The son of former Green Bay quarterback Joe Francis, he put on 70 pounds to play defensive line at Hawaii and put on another 30 by the time he got to the NFL.

But Alama-Francis retained his basketball feet despite the bulk (and he insists it's not even a question who's the best hoopster on the Dolphins). Behind insistent linebackers coach Bill Sheridan -- ``he's the guy who kind of jammed it down my throat'' Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said -- the Dolphins got an idea that might give them a big, strong side linebacker who could stop the run and do an adequate job in coverage.

``So, we saw [Alama-Francis] move and thought the way this guy moves, you know he's a strong player,'' Sparano said. ``We wanted to take a good, long look at it and the more we got him involved in coverage things, the more fluid we kind of saw him move out there. Now, he's not a finished project by any stretch of the imagination, but I think the guy's getting better and he really works at it. He's a conscientious kid.''

So when the Dolphins late in the last minicamp asked him to drop from the high 280s to 275, Alama-Francis changed his diet. ``Not so much of that Hawaiian food, more egg white omelets and all that stuff,'' he said.

Linemen who make this conversion, such as Matt Roth with the Dolphins in 2008, usually feel at ease when they have to drop into coverage against running backs.

``[It] Feels good,'' Alama-Francis bubbled. ``They're a little bit faster. I'm light on my feet now. I'm 275 now.

I can dance a little bit with them. But I can't run down the field with them. That's a little different story.''
Sparano insists this isn't an experiment.

``I don't think right now we're putting our toe in the water on this,'' he said. ``We're kind of saying, `Hey, we really want to see this guy and give him the opportunity to play this position.' ''

Oh, and Alama-Francis' explanation for his sunny disposition goes back to his sunny native Hawaii.

``That's the Polynesian attitude,'' he laughed. ``You've always got to keep it up.''

Friday, August 20, 2010

Toeaina Making His Brother Proud

Matt Toeaina's life changed forever when his brother was shot and killed.

''My kids made an oath,'' said Albert Toeaina, Matt's father. ''They wanted to do something for their brother. They changed their lives around. His passing was the turning point.''

This training camp is shaping up to be another turning point for the Bears defensive tackle. An afterthought when camp began, Toeaina has been steadily climbing the depth chart during practices at Olivet Nazarene University. Although he only has played in five games the last three seasons, the 6-2, 308-pounder is often finding himself sandwiched between Tommie Harris and Julius Peppers while taking snaps with the first team.
Asked about Toeaina's rapid ascent, coach Lovie Smith seemed pleased that somebody noticed.

''After a while, coaches start playing the guys we see making plays and taking advantage of the opportunity,'' Smith said. ''He's performed when we've moved him up, and he's shown up every day.

''He's exactly the type of guy that we need. There are a lot of stars around him, and he's that 9-to-5 guy who just does his job."

Abiel Toeaina was the oldest of five. He was playing basketball at a San Francisco recreation center in 1994 when a group of teenagers interrupted the game. A fight broke out. Abiel escaped the building but returned when he realized his cousin was still inside. A shot rang out. A bullet hit Abiel in the chest.

The family was devastated. While mourning, Matt's brothers and sister, as well as his cousins, made a pact.

They would live the best lives possible to honor Abiel and would hold each other accountable.

''He was big in sports,'' said Matt, whose younger brother Simi is a defensive lineman at Oregon. ''Everybody felt like he was going somewhere with his athleticism and the type of person he was. When he passed away, we felt we had to finish what he started.''

The family later moved to American Samoa. That's where his football career really began.

He was recruited to Oregon as a fullback and later switched to defensive tackle when he continued to grow and his weight ballooned. He was named honorable-mention All-Pac-10 as a senior.

The Cincinnati Bengals made him a sixth-round pick in the 2007 draft, and the Bears claimed him off the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad late that season.

''The biggest thing for me when I went to college was the training table,'' he said. ''It was like a buffet. It was all you can eat. In Samoa, you had to work for your food. You had to climb trees or go to a plantation or go to the pig sty and kill the pig. Over here, you just stand in line, and everything is waiting for you.''

Matt got married in June. The entire family was there. Albert was surprised to hear his sons and daughter and nephews and nieces talking about the vow they'd made all those years ago.

''It wasn't just for the moment,'' Matt said. ''It's a lifetime pact for us to strive to better ourselves as people. We'll always share that pact together.''

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hisatake Living The Dream

For nearly everyone on the Carolina Panthers' roster, earning their way into the NFL is a life-long dream.

For rookie offensive guard Ray Hisatake, just being a part of training camp is a dream come true, but it's far from a life-long dream.

Less than six years ago, Hisatake felt like the ultimate rookie when he attended a preseason team meeting at the invitation of College of San Mateo football coach Larry Owens.

"Everybody went around introducing themselves, saying, ‘My name is this. I went here, and I play such-and-such,'" Hisatake said. "It came to me, and I said, ‘My name is Ray Hisatake, Westmoor High School,' and then I sat down.

"They were like, ‘What position do you play?' I looked at ‘Coach O' and he said, ‘D-line.'"

At that moment, Hisatake had never played a single snap of football, and as of two years ago, he had never taken a snap in a game on the offensive line. Yet here he is, an undrafted rookie free agent who has seen three fellow undrafted rookie linemen come and go since he got an unexpected call from former Panthers college scout Pete Russell shortly after the draft.

"I had no agents calling me, no teams, and then Pete Russell called me. I was like, ‘Come on, who is this?'" Hisatake said. "He told me, ‘I've been watching film on you, and I really like the way you look.

"I'm not making you any promises, but I wanted to call and encourage you that there is some interest in you, so don't go home and sit on the couch.' "

Since that moment, Hisatake has been the opposite of a couch potato. He's even decided that if he gets a call from his girlfriend in Hawaii to tell him that she's given birth to their child, he'll see his preseason opportunity with the Panthers through before paying a visit.

"He's doing a great job," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "I've played O-line since I was a sophomore in high school. Ray is a little bit behind in his experience level, but it doesn't really show on the field.

"He's really built himself a nice niche on the O-line."


It wasn't that Hisatake (pronounced "Hiss-a-ta-kee") didn't want to play football growing up in Daly City, Calif., literally a couple of minutes from Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

Despite looking like a perfect candidate, Hisatake couldn't play.

"I was too big to play Pop Warner. In eighth grade, I was 5-11, 275," said Hisatake, now 6-3, 305 pounds.

"I didn't play football in high school; we didn't have a team."

Hisatake also couldn't afford to attend any 49ers game next door, but he spent little time worrying about football because he had another dream: to be the first person in his family, the first among his six siblings, to go to college.

With that in mind, Hisatake threw his large frame into track and field, becoming an accomplished-enough discus and shot putter to get an invitation onto the College of San Mateo track team, which he hoped to parlay into a scholarship to a four-year school.

When Hisatake realized that was unlikely, he remembered the offer that the girls' basketball coach at his high school had made to call his good friend at San Mateo, Coach Owens, and ask if he'd give Hisatake a look.

"I knew I wasn't good enough (at track and field) to get a full ride, so I figured I'd just give football the old college try," Hisatake said. "In my mind, I was thinking with my size that maybe I'd get an NAIA or Division III offer, but I picked up the game.

"I loved track and field, but when I started playing football, I really saw what I was missing."


After three years at San Mateo – starting with a grayshirt year when he learned things like how to put on his pads – Hisatake found himself getting scholarship offers from Division I schools.

"It was amazing," Hisatake said. "Never would have thought."

He accepted an offer from Hawaii, anxious to continue his education in the classroom and on the defensive line, but he got an early surprise from assistant coach Mouse Davis and head coach June Jones.

"Coach Davis saw me and said, ‘Can you bend? Go ahead and squat for me,'" Hisatake said. "So I did, and he said, ‘Hey, June, move him to left tackle.'

"That was it."

After redshirting in 2007, Hisatake was a backup in 2008. Last fall, he started at right guard for the Warriors. He reached his ultimate goal last December, graduating with a degree in sociology, but it looked likely that he had reached the end of the line with football.


Now, the Panthers are the latest to give Hisatake a chance.

"I've had my good days and my bad days, but I was fortunate enough to come into a group of vets that are very positive. They're really trying to look out for me," he said. "Every day I'm out there, I try to listen to the vets and work hard and get better."

Hisatake doesn't stop at listening. Gross pulled the rookie offensive linemen aside at one point and stressed the importance of working extra on their weaknesses.

Hisatake took the advice to heart.

"Every little thing the vets or Coach Mags (offensive line coach Dave Magazu) say, I write down in my notebook. I look it over before practice every day," Hisatake said. "I'm out there 20 minutes early and I stay 20 minutes after practice to work on the stuff that I need to work on.

"Then every day after practice, I'm in the O-line room watching film with Mackenzy (Bernadeau)."
Hisatake understands that he's still a long shot to make the 53-man roster, but since he put down the shot put and started learning how to throw around opposing linemen, that's the way his football future has been.

"With all the changes that are starting to be made to the roster, me being able to stick around this long, it feels surreal coming from my football background," he said. "This is really amazing to me."

Full Article

Jeremiah Masoli Out For Redemption @ Mississippi

Jerrell Powe is a bit of a football junkie, so when he realized Mississippi needed a quarterback and Jeremiah Masoli needed a team, he organized a group of seniors, marched down to coach Houston Nutt's office and made a plea.

"We got to get this guy," the 320-pound defensive tackle said. "I saw him play a couple of times last year (on TV), and I've never seen anybody run a zone-read offense like he runs it."

So with the team's blessing, Masoli has made his way to Oxford. And Monday morning, he talked about his strange and highly publicized odyssey from Oregon to Ole Miss, acknowledging this was the last chance to end his college career without a bitter taste.

"I understand that," he said. "and I am determined to do everything with it."

Masoli, a San Francisco native who accounted for 51 touchdowns the last two seasons at Oregon, started preseason camp second on the depth chart, behind starter Nathan Stanley and ahead of junior college transfer Randall Mackey.

But few expect Masoli to remain the backup all season. The 5-11, 220-pound senior led Oregon to the Rose Bowl last season and is widely considered one of the country's best dual-threat quarterbacks.

"He commands respect in the huddle," Nutt said. "He talks with authority. You could see how smooth he was with ballhandling skills and how he jumped right in. You can tell he's played football. ... I'm just glad he's on our team."

While checking Masoli's background, Nutt said almost everyone he came across mentioned the quarterback was bright and engaging. Masoli said he looked forward to proving he was not the same guy who pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary in March and was cited for marijuana possession in June.

"That's all I can do," he said. "I come from a great home with a great family. My parents instilled some great values in me. I just look to live like that."

Now that Masoli's off-the-field issues have been poked, prodded and analyzed, molding his abilities to fit the Rebels offense and vice versa is next. Co-offensive coordinator Mike Markuson said tweaking the offense just four weeks before the season's first game — Sept. 4 vs. Jacksonville State — wasn't exactly ideal.

"In offensive football, you're trying to fit an identity that fits your personnel," Markuson said.

He pointed to his time at Arkansas when Matt Jones was quarterback. Jones, still second among Southeastern Conference quarterbacks in career rushing yards, was a terror because of his ability to run and pass.

But Jones was 6-6, while Masoli is 5-11.

"I think there's always a concern when you bring in a shorter quarterback with just how well he can see downfield," co-offensive coordinator Dave Rader said. "But from what we saw (Sunday), it didn't bother him. He has a lot of confidence. So if it's not bothering him, it's not bothering me."

And with so much on the line, Masoli is intent on making the most of his second chance. To him, learning the playbook would probably be the easy part.

"It's not just about football," he said. "It's about coming out and proving myself. Coach Nutt has given me another chance, and I am determined to do the most I can with it. I'm not going to let anybody else down."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Healthy Troy Polamalu Gives Steelers Defense Its 'Quarterback Back'

Troy Polamalu may be the most popular player at Steelers training camp. The Pro Bowl safety gets more hopeful "We Love You!" shouts than anybody else. He stays long after practice to sign just about every autograph for just about every fan who lingers on the grassy hills here at St. Vincent College. His signature cascading hairstyle makes him easy to spot, his soft-spoken earnestness makes him easy to like.

And the fans of the Steelers like him very much.

So do Pittsburgh's other players, who are more than a little bit happy to have him back from the knee injury that cost him 11 of their 16 games last year.

"It's like having our quarterback back," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said. "Troy's a special player. Probably one of the best players in this league. Every game he's on the field, I tell him I need him to be special. And when he's special, he gives us a chance to win a lot of ballgames."

When he was absent in 2009, it definitely increased the Steelers' chances of losing ballgames. In the five games in which Polamalu played, Pittsburgh was 4-1 and allowed an average of 13.8 points per game. In the 11 he missed, they were 5-6 and allowed an average of 23.2.

"I'm not going to sit here and say I'm going to come back and make 10 points' difference," Polamalu said. "I'm just glad I feel healthy enough to be out here practicing, and so far, so good."

"He allows you to open up the playbook. When you have Troy back there ... it allows you to ... do some more creative things than you're able to do with just a normal, good NFL safety playing in that same spot. "
-- Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau
Polamalu said his goal was to be healthy enough to participate in training camp. He's cautious with predictions and said he hopes to be 100 percent in time for the season, but that he can't be certain until he starts seeing some game action. But the Steelers are hanging a lot of their 2010 hopes on the idea that their do-it-all safety will be back where they need him to be, creating all kinds of havoc in the secondary.

"The way he plays, he's not playing a normal safety position like everybody else plays it," linebacker James Harrison said. "There may be 32 safeties out there playing in the NFL, but there's not one of them that's going to play like Troy."

What makes Polamalu so tough to replace are the non-quantifiable qualities that makes him so good. He takes what Harrison calls "calculated risks," and he gets away with them because of his intelligence and his athleticism. He has a sense for which way the play will run, where the ball is going to be, which is what makes it appear at times as if there's more than one of him on the field. Without him in the lineup, the Steelers were able to plug in safeties they felt were good NFL players, but none of them brought what Polamalu brings to the game.

"He allows you to open up the playbook," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "When you have Troy back there, and you're kind of counting on him to make plays the way he does, it allows you to pull guys from one place or the other and do some more creative things than you're able to do with just a normal, good NFL safety playing in that same spot. It's nothing against anybody else here or anywhere else. Troy's just different."

So they're happy to have him back at practice. It's hard to say they're taking it easy with him, since the Steelers don't do much hard hitting in their practices anyway. He's going through the individual and team drills, getting his timing down like everybody else, getting into what he describes as "football shape."

"I was out for a while, so it feels good to be back in there," Polamalu said. "But at the same time, you miss that kind of time, it's going to affect you. I have some work to do to get back to where I want to be."

He's not the only big addition the Steelers plan to make from within. They're also getting back defensive end Aaron Smith, who missed 11 games last year with a torn rotator cuff.

"Aaron Smith means a great deal, both for our run support and our pass rush," Harrison said. "If you're running the ball, you need two people to block him. And when you have two people blocking Aaron, that means one of us is going to be free to do damage. So both of those guys, Troy and Aaron, are big if they can come back all the way."

This time last year, the Steelers were Super Bowl champs with reasonable hopes for a title defense. This year, they're a team that finished in third place in the AFC North and watched the two teams ahead of them -- Cincinnati and Baltimore -- add multiple pieces to improve their offenses.

The Steelers didn't do that. They traded Santonio Holmes and elevated Mike Wallace to the No. 2 receiver spot opposite Ward. They'll play at least the first four games of the season, and possibly the first six, without suspended starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They're counting on third-year running back Rashard Mendenhall to carry a full-season load behind an offensive line that was questionable before it lost tackle Willie Colon to a season-ending injury.

Yeah, there's a pretty good chance the Steelers will struggle to score this year. Which means it'll be up to the star-studded defense to keep points off the board. And while Harrison and James Farrior and Casey Hampton and Lamarr Woodley are all monsters in their own right, they'll all be better if Polamalu and Smith are back, healthy and playing the way they played two years ago.

"We were playing without their personal capabilities," Harrison said. "We had other guys who were capable to stand in, but it wasn't those two guys, and we missed them. It made a difference." 

Full Article

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Maake Kemoeatu Takes It Easy After Heat Exhaustion

A day after battling heat exhaustion, starting nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu sat out practice Wednesday at Redskins Park.

"It was just the heat, man, it was just hot," Kemoeatu said. "They gave me a break today to get ready for Friday."

The Redskins kick off their preseason schedule Friday night against the Buffalo Bills at FedEx Field. Kemoeatu expects to be in the opening lineup.

"Oh, yeah, man," he said. "That's what I've been working for."

Kemoeatu, who sat out the 2009 season because of an achilles injury, impressed team officials with his tireless work ethic while he rehabbed at the complex for most of the offseason. Ray Wright, Washington's strength and conditioning coach, went to Hawaii before training camp to continue to help Kemoeatu prepare for the season.

Although Kemoeatu, beginning his ninth season, has worked in heat often in his career, the last two days in Ashburn have been especially difficult.

"Man, it's even hotter now with the helmet and the pads," he said. "It's not just the temperature. I was feeling it a lot. Especially yesterday."

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has praised Kemoeatu since the former Carolina Panther signed with team in March. "The kid's been fighting through it," Haslett said. "The guy missed all last year with the torn achilles. He hasn't has a day off. He's fought through it.

"He didn't want a day off. I asked him. He said, 'I don't need a day off. I need to get through this.' Cause once you get back, you're wearing helmets, shoulder pads, guys hitting. I think he's done a great job. He's a lot faster than I remember and he's a lot quicker than I remember. He's a big man in the middle."

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Aaitui Peaking @ Right Time For Rebels

For UNLV senior defensive tackle Isaako Aaitui, there are only two places he could have wound up at this point in his life: On the football field or on the farm back home in American Samoa.

"I really like this option," he said with a grin following Saturday morning's practice in Ely. "Football is life, especially when you're from the islands. Football is the ticket to success."

Despite the fact that he's playing with a torn ACL in his left knee and a cast on his left forearm, Aaitui couldn't be happier.

To explain why, you first have to go back to 2007, when Aaitui first arrived at UNLV. He'd only played one year of high school football, had never lifted a weight in his life and didn't speak a lick of English.

At 220 pounds, his body had been trained to play rugby — his sport of choice since the third grade — but that's not a sport he could realistically go back to now.

After just a year in the weights program at UNLV, he ballooned to 290 pounds. Now, entering his final season as a Rebel, he's a 315-pound mountain of pure muscle, expected to be the anchor for a revamped defense under first-year coach Bobby Hauck.
Oh yeah, and he's also fluent in English.

"When I first got here, I had no technique. I came over with nothing," he said. "It took some years to develop. Last year, I started to learn how to rush the passer and everything. It's been a pretty good progression."

Aaitui had what Hauck called one of the most impressive spring camps of anyone on his inherited ball club and again is drawing rave reviews so far through fall camp.

What makes it all so impressive, too, is that he was able to overcome a major physical hurdle late in spring ball when he hurt the knee in a standard drill working against the offensive line.

It's an injury that typically requires immediate surgery and roughly six months of rehab.

"When I hurt my knee, it was a big deal. It was a big deal. I was thinking about my family ... It was a big thing," he recalled. "I told the doctor to give me two weeks to rehab. After two weeks, I was running with the team and doing drills.

"I'm able to play with it. It doesn't bother me."

Playing with a torn ACL typically means that lateral movement will be most affected. However, in his position, Aaitui is asked to push piles, collapse pockets and essentially play downhill. It's a role he can also fill with the cast that he had applied for an undisclosed injury between practices on Saturday.

"I was really impressed with him about the middle of February," Hauck said. "It's like the light when on, he picked it up, and I've been overly impressed with him.

"For a big guy, he's pretty dynamic in the pass rush and gets off the ball pretty well. When you see a guy who looks like him, you'd think run-stopper and then bring somebody in for him when we're in the nickel (package). But you really don't have to, because he's pretty good off the ball."

He's finally found a home at the tackle spot after flip-flopping between there and defensive end over the past couple of years under Mike Sanford's staff.

Aaitui recorded 31 tackles and 2.5 for losses in 2009 and is expected to post even bigger numbers this year.

He'll be doing so under some watchful eyes, as he's regarded now as a legitimate NFL prospect. Just the mention of playing after college brings a smile to his face.

After his playing days are done, he said, the thought of coaching has crossed his mind.

Aaitui is already showing signs that it could be a legitimate career path. He has commanded the attention of the younger interior linemen and is a natural example for them to follow. It was the case following Friday's morning session, when he spent roughly 15 minutes doing some extra work with freshman Nate Holloway.
It's the natural leadership that the coaching staff also thinks will help the unit overall right from go.

"With our senior leadership, we don't want a single bad rep on film, and that's what we challenged with them. He's really bought into that, and that's awesome," defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson said. "What we try and stress on both sides of the ball is it's more on how you play, and he's really tried to craft that. We needed a profile guy like that to step up and have that great film on a day-to-day basis. The benefits are exponential."

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Uona Kaveinga's Appeal Deserves To Be Judged By Spirit Of Law

The Uona Kaveinga appeal to the NCAA deserves close scrutiny.

As they say in legalese, there are "mitigating" circumstances for the BYU player currently busting his butt in practice.

Initially, the NCAA ruled Kaveinga is not eligible to play for the Cougars this season after transferring from Southern California and enrolling at BYU in January.

The NCAA's decision not to waive bylaw 14.3 through 14.5.6 is currently on appeal by BYU in behalf of the native of Hawthorne, Calif.

NCAA rules say an athlete who transfers must sit out one year of competition. The rule was instigated to discourage players from transferring en masse from one school to another, picking a flavor of the month, after financial commitments have been made.

A waiver to this rule is given when a school receives major sanctions or penalties involving postseason play for violating NCAA rules. Players can then transfer to a school of their choice and immediately play.

This is where Kaveinga hopes there is some wiggle room. There is no precedent for his case.

While USC awaited NCAA sanctions, Kaveinga left a program with disturbing features that left him uncomfortable in December and enrolled at BYU on Jan. 4. It was a few weeks before that when USC's compliance office began an investigation into RB Joe McKnight driving around a Land Rover owned by a Santa Monica businessman and held McKnight out of the Emerald Bowl.

The NCAA slapped the Trojans with major sanctions June 10. Kaveinga, however, transferred to BYU before the actual hammer came down on USC, freeing football players to transfer without penalty.

If the spirit of the waiver rule on appeal is upheld, a legislative committee may yet rule he can play. If the letter of the rule is kept, as in the original decision, he cannot and will redshirt this fall.

Odds are, he'll be forced to sit out 2010.

His coach, Paul Tidwell, is understandably biased and wants the player on the field.

"I think he should play," Tidwell said. "The NCAA may never hear it, or if they do, they may not believe it, but Uona knew what the situation was there and he wanted a better environment. He knew with the coaching change and an investigation going on for some time that it should be a consideration.

"I hope they grant it. Unfortunately BYU has not been very fortunate with appeals and waivers for our young men. We've been turned down a lot more than we've been granted."

If Kaveinga has to redshirt, he has a redshirt year, said Tidwell. "He'll come back and be an outstanding player for us. Thing is, we do need him this year and he could help us now. Personally, I hope he gets the waiver. If they look at the whole picture and why he transferred, I hope they waive the rule so our appeal can go through."

Kaveinga's appeal should be based on the fact the NCAA's hammer was raised and in motion toward the anvil of USC's football program when Kaveinga transferred. It is common knowledge the NCAA was poised to deliver a serious decision against the USC athletic department last January. Whether he attended classes in Los Angeles or in Provo shouldn't matter. It is not a competitive advantage had he spent his winter semester in Provo as opposed to gang-ridden Los Angeles; nor does it open a floodgate of similar cases.

If the NCAA is about the student athlete, it should rule in his favor on appeal, just as we saw with much-injured Ute RB Matt Asiata, not because the cases are similar — they are not at all — but because it would aid an innocent athlete who wanted relief from an infected pool.

Five USC players have transferred since the NCAA penalized the Trojans in June.

It is true head coach Pete Carroll left his USC job Jan. 10, 2010, for the NFL in a cloud of criticism for the lack of control he established with agents and other celebrity influences among his athletes. That leaky access challenge has led Florida's Urban Meyer and Alabama's Nick Saban to take a much stricter approach to practice access this month.

It is well known that USC and the NCAA took major actions against the men's basketball and tennis programs — a signal that USC's athletic department had serious issues that were well known at the close of 2009. On Feb. 18, 2010, the NCAA began three days of hearings on USC allegations.

Is it justice if the NCAA grants him a waiver?


There is a precedent in recent appeals with BYU, however. Last Saturday, Bronco Mendenhall had to bite his tongue when asked about the last time he saw one in BYU's favor.

Chances are this one will be added to that list.

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Will Tukuafu Gets Shot With 49ers

Tukuafu, who was released by the Seattle Seahawks on June 22, was signed to a two-year contract Thursday by the San Francisco 49ers.

His tryout with the Niners figures to start on Sunday in a preseason game at Indianapolis.

The 6-4, 272-pound Tukuafu, 26, was called upon when San Francisco received a roster exemption for the absent Kentwan Balmer, who has been placed on the NFL's "left squad" list.

Tukuafu, a rookie from Salt Lake City, was Oregon's Most Inspirational and Outstanding Defensive Lineman from the Rose Bowl team of 2009. Over the past three seasons with the Ducks, he totaled 131 tackles, 14 1/2 sacks, five fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Georgia State Panthers Brothers'

The Brothers

The boys sleep on piles of clothes in the back of their family's Chevy Astro in parking lots around Los Angeles. They share cans of tuna and saltines, brush their teeth at a drinking fountain, wet a washrag at a garage sink and wipe beneath their arms before school. They are raised to believe in God and to pray. After their dad passed away, they drove with their mom to Phoenix before settling in Sierra Vista. They move into low-income housing, sneaking school cafeteria food home to Mom.

Samoan and proud, they grow to be big kids, with long hair, thick arms and dark eyes. They star in the defensive backfield at Buena High. Louie Muasau, older by a year, hits hard and is afraid of no one; his brother Jake is rocket fast.

Louie moves three hours away to play at Phoenix College after high school, while his family still struggles to put food on the table. Without his big brother around, Jake goes astray and is busted selling a small amount of prescription drugs. In the middle of his senior year, Jake faces expulsion as he stands before a panel of teachers and school board members. He tells them, in his soft voice, that he did it only so he and his mother could eat. Two local women, both juvenile probation officers, know Jake and speak on his behalf, asking that he be able to complete his studies at home rather than be expelled and lose his chance before he even has one. The vote is 12-to-1 against expulsion.

With the guidance and tutelage of these women, Jake graduates and enrolls at Phoenix College in 2008, where Louie, after redshirting as a freshman, has become a fierce 235-pound linebacker. Jake also becomes a linebacker, and the Muasaus start side by side for two years. But both brothers are sick with the flu when GSU assistant Chris Ward makes his recruiting rounds in September 2009. He sees film of Louie, but Jake hasn't made a reel yet, so only Louie gets invited for an official visit that December.

All Louie talks about on that trip to Atlanta is Jake. "My brother's better. You need to see him," he keeps saying. Coach Ward and Coach Thompson don't know if Louie is pushing Jake because they're brothers or if he's telling the truth. "Their coach said they were both great," Ward says, "and that they didn't want to leave each other's side. We fell in love with Louie on his visit. He called himself Louie the Lion and had this personality, this long hair -- he brought in something we didn't have. He wanted to be a king, the leader."
When they get tape of Jake from the 2009 season that winter, "everybody's jaws drop," Thompson remembers. "He was a phenomenal player." They call Louie and offer them both spots.

Nine months before the program's debut, the Muasau boys move to Atlanta, where Louie soon takes over the defensive huddle. Players listen to him, because he demands attention. Now 6'1", 243 pounds, Jake is still as fast in person as he is on film. The brothers play side by side, teaching their teammates the Haka dance. In July, Louie is named to the FCS All­Independent Team in Phil Steele's preseason magazine.

"They're humble guys, appreciative," Ward says. "When they first came here, they said, 'Coach, do we have to pay for this food?' And I said, 'No, Louie. Y'all don't have to pay for it. Y'all are on scholarship. Enjoy it.'"

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lofa Tatupu Faces First Season Without His Father

The sadness sits heavy upon the son.

Especially now, in the first week of this first football season without his father.

Lofa Tatupu was named after Mosi, his dad, and this game has always bonded them.

"It has been tough," Lofa says, "Not to be able to call him during camp. I might tear up. I'm sorry."

He stops to swallow the lump in his throat. The pause is heartbreaking.

Mosiula Mea'alofa Tatupu. That is the full name of Seattle's starting middle linebacker, named for his father,

15-year NFL veteran Mosi Tatupu, who died in February.

Their middle names were different, but he was his father's son. Dad coached him in high school in Massachusetts, and when Lofa went looking for a college to transfer to after his freshman year at Division I-AA Maine, Mosi kept knocking on the door at his alma mater, USC, to convince Pete Carroll and the Trojans' coaches to give Lofa a shot.

But now Mosi is gone, passing one evening back in February. He went downstairs for a nap like he did every evening. A friend came down and found him on the couch holding something in his hand.

It was a prayer bead, one that Lofa's mother, Linnea Garcia-Tatupu, had given Mosi years before. The friend who found Mosi had never seen him holding it during his nap until that night.

"Almost like he knew," Lofa said.

It is a peaceful image from a tragic loss. Mosi, who suffered from high blood pressure, died from a massive heart attack. He was 54.

And so the son prepares for the first season without his father.

Lofa Tatupu, 27, is coming back from a torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2009 season after six games. The real uncertainty is whether he can return to the Pro Bowl form he showed his first three years in Seattle.

He was a star from the start in Seattle, a second-round pick in 2005 who solidified a position that had been a revolving door and made the Pro Bowl each of his first three seasons.

But the past two seasons have been riddled with injuries, from the thumb he broke in the 2009 season opener to the knee that was periodically drained, to the pectoral muscle that was torn off the bone.

Can he get back to playing at that level?

"Honestly, if I don't make another Pro Bowl, yeah that's upsetting," Lofa said, "But that's not the bowl I'm worried about."

He is back in the role that he feels most comfortable. The underdog. This is a player whom New Hampshire's coaches deemed too small coming out of high school.

He had to go to Maine before deciding to transfer, and even when USC took notice of him, the Trojans wanted him to walk on until they found out Oregon was going to offer him a scholarship.

Now, he is the heart of Seattle's defense, the one that Carroll is counting on to hold the linebackers together.

"By far, he's the guy that runs that group," Carroll said.

But Tatupu never lost that feeling of being overlooked and underestimated.

"You always got to have that chip, that edge," he said. "I never lost my edge."

If anything, it's sharpened by the loss of the father he is determined to honor this season. That's what he told his dad on the phone.

"Last time I ever spoke to him, I told him I was going to make him proud," Lofa said. "And that I loved him."

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Former COC Linemen Peko & Fanene: Along The Same Line

It is worth noting when a community college has two athletes in the NFL at the same time.

Two on the same team is attention-grabbing.

But two potentially start on the same side of the same defensive line?

That’s unheard of — except in Cincinnati.

For the fifth straight season, former College of the Canyons stars Domata Peko and Jonathan Fanene will play side-by-side for the Cincinnati Bengals, who opened the preseason Sunday with a 16-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

Fanene had two tackles in the game, including a sack. Peko didn’t record a tackle.

“Who would ever think that two guys that grew up as close as those two did with each other, and went to the same junior college, would end up on the same (NFL) team?” says Cincinnati defensive line coach Jay Hayes.

“They are both doing very, very well,” he adds. “They are core players for us on our D-line.”

The 6-foot-4-inch, 292-pound Fanene played at COC in 2000 and 2001, while the 6-foot-3-inch, 320-pound Peko suited up for the Cougars in 2002 and 2003.

The two behemoths first met in high school after Peko moved from California to the small island of American Samoa, where Fanene was born.

Little did they know just how much their futures would intertwine.

“It’s really cool to have someone from the same place you’re from, who cares about you and understands the difficulties (you face),” Peko says. “Someone you can talk to when you miss home.”

Hayes praises their bond and the family nature that has been fostered within the defensive unit, as well as their play up front.

Their football skills began to take shape under former COC head coach Chuck Lyon and defensive line coach Leon Criner.

That especially rings true for Peko, who was named a Junior College All-American, an All-State first-teamer, the Western State Conference Player of the Year and a WSC first-teamer — all in 2003.

“Oh man, COC was so much fun,” he says. “It was a big part of my journey to get to the NFL. We had a good coach, who took really good care of me. That’s where I really learned how to play D-line.”

Peko evolved into a dominant community college defensive lineman and led the team to a Southern California championship and an appearance in the state championship game in 2002. One year later, the Cougars won the Western State Conference Bowl.

“He was more of a raw-talent guy than Jonathan was,” Lyon says. “He was a more true technique, inside tackle. He was a big kid, strong kid and had a little mean streak in him. He definitely had that from the beginning. He was a very quiet young man and didn’t say much. But he didn’t have to say much with his size.”

In 2001, Fanene helped COC beat Saddleback College 35-32 in the WSC Bowl at Cougar Stadium. It was the first-ever bowl victory in the program’s history.

“It was a jump start for me,” Fanene says of his time at COC. “That team right there was a family team. We had a picnic every Friday. We could bring our friends around and we could talk about football and the things we needed to get better and prepare for games on Saturday. The program was perfect, right on time for me and some of the teammates.”

Fanene had 65 tackles and 14 sacks in his final year with the Cougars before signing with Utah.

“He was really undersized, but he probably had the biggest motor I’ve ever coached,” Lyon says of Fanene. “He was just so darn quick and relentless in his pursuit of the ball that people couldn’t block him.”

Peko transferred to Michigan State for the 2004 season with his brother, Suki.

Two years later, Domata was drafted by the Bengals in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft.

“Domata has come in and as soon as he got here, was able to be productive and was able to play against players that were supposed to be some of the best guys in the league,” Hayes says. “He was able to handle them and really dominate them. ... He’s really been one of those guys that gets better and better all the time. As we get better, you’ll see Domata playing in the Pro Bowl and things like that.”

Fanene, meanwhile, was selected in the seventh round by Cincinnati in 2005 after two years under head coach Urban Meyer and a 2004 victory in the Fiesta Bowl.

“He is the first player off the bench for us,” Hayes says. “He can play all the positions and has played all the positions with us in his career. He really is considered a starter for us. Jon will play maybe 40 plays a game.”

In 2009, Fanene had 36 total tackles, six sacks and a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown in week 13 against Detroit.

Peko, voted a team captain, missed five games with a torn meniscus and finished with 27 total tackles.

Cincinnati’s defense allowed the fourth-fewest yards per game (301.4) in the NFL and the sixth-fewest points (18.2) last season.

Peko says the team’s goals include improving on both marks.

The duo’s biggest impact, however, may come in the form of mentorship.

And on a team that has battled character issues in recent years, their influence is invaluable, Hayes says.

Among the players they have taken under their wing is former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga.

“We are leaders on the team and we need to continue to help the young guys coming in and show them what it is to be an NFL player,” Fanene says. “A lot of guys that come in think it is all about them on the first day and about fast cars and everything else. But your job is the first priority.”

Adds Peko: “We’re not always very vocal leaders. By action and doing things on the field is how we lead.”

The mentality has taken both men a long way.

They’ve found passion in the sport they love.

And as they continue grinding away at football’s highest level, the best thing they may have found might be each other.

“They are like brothers,” Hayes says. “They teach us Samoan words and things like that. It’s always been a great situation to expand your horizons being around those guys. They are really sharp guys and are doing a lot of good things in the community. Both are very involved doing community service and are involved in their churches. They are good husbands and fathers and they love their work and what they do.”

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ex-Cal Star Alualu Plans To Build Church

Former Cal standout Tyson Alualu, who was a first-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, agreed to a contract that ended his holdout, and he had his first practice with the Jaguars on Tuesday.

Alualu agreed to a five-year contract worth a total of $28 million, about $17.5 million of which is guaranteed.   He took an overnight flight from his home in Honolulu on Monday and arrived in Jacksonville Tuesday morning.  He practiced with the team Tuesday night after missing five days of practice, which included seven workouts.

The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville reported that Alualu, who is deeply religious, plans to finance the building of a new church for his father's congregation, about a minute’s walk from where Alualu grew up in a Honolulu housing project.

“I’m going to use it to help my family, my parents and also the community,” Alualu told the Florida Times-Union.   “Building a church, which is important for me, so that others can have the opportunity to worship God.”

Alualu was the 10th overall selection in this year's draft, and he will be given a chance to be a starting defensive tackle as a rookie.

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