Pac-12: Victor Butler
But ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman, who is always working the angles, decided to take a look at NFL stars with so-so college careers, and his list also includes some Pac-12 guys: USC linebacker Clay Matthews, Oregon State wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and California cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
He ranks Matthews No. 2. Notes Feldman:
No NFL player has better bloodlines than Matthews, but when he was coming up as a recruit he was a wiry, undersized, off-the-radar prospect who reportedly only weighed 166 pounds as a backup LB-TE for Agoura (Calif.) High. Matthews stared to sprout in his senior year, yet still only had one scholarship offer -- from former USC assistant Nick Holt at Idaho.
Sure, Matthews blossomed as a junior and senior. But he never really was seen as the brightest star in the constellation that was the Trojans' 2008 defense.
Still, Oregon's Nick Reed and Oregon State's Victor Butler were the first-team All-Pac-10 defensive ends. Matthews proceeded to wow scouts with his explosiveness and determination. Green Bay drafted the one-time walk-on 26th overall, and he has rewarded them with two spectacular seasons, going to back-to-back Pro Bowls and winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors, while helping lead Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory.
Ochocinco rates No. 4.
The Miami native didn't spend much time in the Pac-10 -- just one season at Oregon State. The receiver, then known as Chad Johnson, did flash some big-play potential during his time in Corvallis, catching 33 passes for 713 yards. He also flashed a lot of personality on his way to the draft, as you can tell if you read this old Q&A he did with Mel Kiper Jr., who at one point asks: "When all is said and done, how do you want people to remember Chad Johnson?"
Johnson's response: "As a very humble, nice person who had no off-the-field problems."
I'm not sure how many will recall the Cincinnati Bengals star as "humble," but he certainly has produced, notching seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and going to six Pro Bowls. In truth, he'd be even higher on this list, but at 33, he has dipped some in the last three years.
Asomugha is No. 5.
Oakland certainly didn't whiff on this pick. Asomugha has emerged as a true shutdown corner, earning trips to the past three Pro Bowls. He's also as good as they come off the field, winning NFL Man of the Year honors, too.
He had a good but not great career for the Bears, getting chosen as an honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick as a senior. Some great individual workouts took a guy who some touted as a fifth-rounder all the way up into the first round when the Raiders selected him 31st overall.
On a personal note, I covered Asomugha's coming-out game: a 34-27 Cal win at Washington in 2002, which ended a 19-game Huskies winning streak in the series. In that game, Cal matched Asomugha, previously a safety, on All-American receiver Reggie Williams. Asomugha's physical style -- read here to see what Williams thought of it -- threw the Huskies' passing game out of sync.
Bet more than a few Cal fans remember that game fondly.
First, there's the Beavers freakishly strong defensive tackle Stephen Paea. He might be the strongest football player in the United States -- NFL included. How the heck did that happen? Then there's the Beavers' outstanding reputation for developing players (see seven players drafted by NFL teams in 2009).
Miller has been the head of the Sports Performance Center staff since July of 2008 and he arrived at Oregon State in 2006. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), a Specialist in Sports Conditioning and a Level I Club Coach (U.S. Weightlifting).
Here's what he had to say.
So were you always a guy who focused on strength and conditioning as an athlete growing up?
Bryan Miller: Absolutely. I'm the son of a high school coach in Chicago. So being properly prepared throughout the year was taken very seriously in the Miller household.
How did you get into this as a profession?
BM: My undergrad degree was actually in marketing. But the further I got into my senior year of college, the less I wanted to wear a coat and tie and sit at a cubicle. So, like a lot of people in my family who are coaches -- football and baseball coaches -- that's definitely the pedigree of my family. It was just something that came naturally.
I realize this is a big question, but how would you summarize your philosophy?
BM: I would say it is a very methodical series of progressions for the total growth and development of the athlete, from when they are freshmen to when they are seniors.
It seems like coach Mike Riley is very good at finding guys in recruiting who aren't top prospects and turning them into NFL players -- 6-foot-5 offensive linemen who only weight 220 pounds as high school seniors. As his strength and conditioning guy, is that something you specialize in?
BM: I would say the room we need to make up for in development is a lot more than some of the other schools that are bringing in those five-star recruits. They are getting linemen in the door who are 6-5, 300 pounds who are already pretty strong and very athletic. The guys we're bringing in are 6-5 but, like you said, as low as 220. So the room we have to make up to put them on the field is a lot.
How do you motivate guys who aren't big fans of conditioning? Are you a carrot or stick kind of guy?
BM: Definitely a carrot. I think one of the philosophies we have here that is different from other schools is we work on our conditioning all year round -- January to January. So at any point during the year we're in very good shape. With the exception of incoming freshman, with everybody else on the team, when we start our first day of summer conditioning, it's never really that hard because we are already in pretty decent shape going in. The other thing is, with the size of players we bring in, our starting offensive linemen are under 295. Same thing with our defensive linemen. We don't have many guys over 300 pounds. From that standpoint, conditioning comes pretty easily to our guys.
Say you're a 15-year-old who wants to play college football: What are the most important things for him to be doing, strength and conditioning-wise, to get a scholarship?
BM: The first thing is proper, usable strength. I say proper and usable because we get some freshmen who think because they can bench-press 300 pounds they're strong enough to play their position. But most freshmen we bring in the door can't do 10 push-ups the right way. So all the freshmen who come in the door here, they don't do any bench press for the first five months. All they do are different types of push-ups.
Speaking of bench press: We've seen the video of Stephen Paea: Is he just a freak of nature or is that about a lot of that hard work?
BM: It's a combination of both. First is, genetically, he's got strength out the butt. He probably had no idea how strong he really was. It was just something that came naturally to him. Then once we got him into a very organized training program, his strength dramatically took off. Again, it came very easy to him, so it was something that he embraced. Having done that, he sets a very good example for all the younger players.
How many times do you think he'll bench 225 at the NFL combine?
BM: I'm going to shoot for the moon and say 50 [which would be a new record].
Who is another one of your hardest workers?
BM: [Defensive end] Gabe Miller, he's a stud. He's actually one of our faster guys and he's 255.
Do you have an all-time workout warrior?
BM: I feel like I'd be leaving people out if I only mention a couple of people. Hmm. Al Afalava he's definitely at the top. And Joey LaRocque and Victor Butler.
The Beavers entered the 2008 Civil War ranked 13th in the nation in total defense (290 yards per game). In the spring, five players from that unit would be drafted by NFL teams.
For the Beavers, it was a nightmare in Reser Stadium. It cost them the Rose Bowl. For the Ducks, it was inspiring.
"John Wooden said that competitive greatness is when you play your best against the best," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "That's what our players did. Our players just made plays. It wasn't a scheme deal. It wasn't like we exploited anything. It had less to do with coaching than any game I was involved with last year."
Oregon can probably identify with how a defense can have a horrible day. It's played good defense all season, but Stanford somehow rolled up 505 yards in a 51-42 win on Nov. 7.
If defense, indeed, wins championships, then it's hard to imagine that defense won't be where the 113th Civil War on Thursday turns. After all, it's all about a championship, considering the winner goes to the Rose Bowl.
It will be strength-on-strength battle.
Oregon has the No. 1 rushing offense in the Pac-10. Oregon State has the No. 1 rushing defense.
Oregon State has the No. 1 passing offense in the conference. Oregon has the No. 2 passing defense.
Both teams rebuilt their defenses this offseason. The Ducks lost six starters -- four were NFL draft choices -- while the Beavers lost eight, including their entire secondary and three-fourths of the defensive line.
Kelly said repeatedly before the season began he wasn't worried about his defense. He loved the across-the-board speed, particularly at linebacker. His secondary ranked among the nation's best.
Even when two cornerbacks -- starter Walter Thurmond III and his backup, Willie Glasper -- went down early with season-ending knee injuries, the Ducks continued to play well.
"[There's] a lot of athleticism and speed," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "One of the best Oregon defenses I've seen."
The Ducks perhaps revealed some vulnerability to a power-rushing attack -- Stanford piled up 254 yards on the ground -- but that's not the Beavers thing on offense.
The first order for the Ducks is disrupting Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield, whose quick release has made him the conference's top-rated quarterback.
Oregon State, which starts two sophomores and a true freshman on its offensive line, surrendered 15 sacks in the first four games. But it gave up just 12 in the past seven, in large part because Canfield is distributing the ball quickly to the Rodgers brothers, James and Jacquizz, who are one-two in the conference in receptions per game, and letting them do their thing.
The Ducks rank third in the conference in sacks with 30, but will they be able to get to Canfield? And if not, will they tackle well in space?
As for Oregon State's defense, Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker talked candidly about their concerns in the preseason. The Beavers gap-cancellation scheme counts on getting pressure on the quarterback because the secondary is often in press-man coverage. In 2008, ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris dominated with their edge rush, and cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes could handle most receivers one-on-one.
That didn't matter much, of course, when the Ducks rushed for 385 yards last year.
That's why many of the Beavers defenders are as interested in redemption as they are in the Rose Bowl.
"That obviously wasn't the Oregon State team we had last year playing out there on that field, that's for sure," said linebacker Keaton Kristick, one of three starters returning from that 2008 crew.
The Beavers defense was mediocre early in the season. It recorded just two sacks in the first four games and couldn't get off the field on third down. But it's picked up the pace considerably, recording 13 sacks over the last seven games and improving its performance on third down by eight percent.
"I think [Banker] has done maybe his best coaching job ever with this group, considering who we lost," Riley said.
Still, the Beavers looked stout on D before they played host to the Ducks last year. This time, they won't have a home crowd making things difficult for quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
The first key is fairly simple: Do your job -- don't freelance.
"When you're playing a team that has variety like that you can't do your job and somebody else's," Riley said.
Then second and third keys also are simple: Get off blocks. Tackle. If the Beavers run defense holds up, it's got a much better chance containing with the Ducks passing game.
It should help that powerhouse defensive tackle Stephen Paea is healthy. A knee injury slowed him considerably in last year's game, though it's not encouraging that the guy who starts next to him, Brennan Olander, is decidedly questionable with his own knee issue.
So which team will be grinning after the Civil War for the Roses?
As they say: Defense wins championships.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Here's a list of players: defensive end Dexter Davis and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy -- both from Arizona State -- Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed, California defensive end Cameron Jordan, Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea and Washington defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.
That is a stout crew. Each is a likely NFL draft pick -- a few on the first day -- when their time comes to go pro.
|Scott Cunningham/Getty Images|
|Dexter Davis has 27.5 career sacks, but none so far this season.|
Meanwhile, USC freshman Nick Perry, who's not even a starter and mostly missed the California game due a bruised knee, has six sacks and seven tackles for loss.
Arizona's "other" defensive end, Ricky Elmore, has 4.5 sacks. Stanford end Thomas Keiser has 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
In other words, the big names aren't hanging up big numbers while more obscure guys are.
Apparently lots of double-teams. And toss in a few injuries.
One thing is clear, however: No coach was ready to rip his putative defensive star.
"Brooks is playing phenomenal," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "Sometimes statistics don't tell the whole story, and in Brooks' case that's certainly evident. You just turn the film on. He's a very productive player."
It also hurts that Reed has been hurting. He sprained his ankle against Iowa, missed the Oregon State game and is questionable for Saturday at Washington.
Stoops also said Elmore, a junior like Reed, isn't simply benefiting from offenses focusing on Reed.
"I think Ricky's gotten better as a player," Stoops said.
Davis is a four-year starter with 27.5 career sacks but he has zero sacks thus far in 2009, with only one tackle for loss.
"He's not playing bad. He's getting doubled a lot, which we expect," Sun Devils coach coach Dennis Erickson said, before adding. "We're not getting to the quarterback with those other guys. It's not so much Dexter as the other three guys -- or five guys or six guys who play -- when they double him and they are one-on-one."
One of those "guys" is Guy, who had 10 tackles for loss last year. He's only made five tackles this season with 0.5 TFL and zero sacks. He's also been battling a biceps injury that knocked him out of the season -opener.
Still, it's noteworthy that Arizona State, which is tied for last in the conference with three sacks, ranks third in the nation in total defense. If they maintain an elite overall ranking, then there's not much to gripe about, even if Davis and Guy fail to hang up big numbers.
The situation is not the same at Oregon State, which is tied with the Sun Devils with just three sacks. While the Beavers' defense took a step forward at Arizona State last weekend, it's still not the high-pressure unit of years past.
Coach Mike Riley doesn't blame Paea for that, though.
"I think he's doing a great job," Riley said. "He's getting a lot of attention. He is a disruptive force in the middle."
Paea had five sacks and 11 TFL last year, but he's got two new defensive ends flanking him who aren't stressing the opposing offensive line as much as Slade Norris and Victor Butler did a year ago.
As for Jordan (one sack), the junior been overshadowed by the Bears' other end, senior Tyson Alualu, who's recorded 26 tackles -- tops among conference D-linemen -- with 4.5 sacks. At Washington, Te'o-Nesheim (one sack) is much like Davis and Reed -- he's getting lots of attention from opposing offenses.
Of course, Te'o-Nesheim commanded lots of attention last year. He got off to a slow start but still ended up with eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. In fact, he got his first three sacks of 2008 in Game 5 against Arizona.
Guess who's coming to Husky Stadium on Saturday?
In other words, there's plenty of time for the "name" guys to still live up to their, er, names.
DeLawrence Grant and LaDairus Jackson begat Bill Swancutt, who begat Jeff Van Orsow, who begat Dorian Smith, who begat Victor Butler and Slade Norris, who begat... we'll see.
There's been a lot of productive begetting for Oregon State at defensive end. The Beavers have recorded 130 sacks over the past three seasons, most of which have come from ends adept at defeating blocks and smacking quarterbacks.
That's why recent reports from preseason camp of defensive domination -- and defensive ends roaring -- suggests the position will be in good hands this fall with new starters Ben Terry, a senior, and sophomore Kevin Frahm.
Still, Frahm, as exuberant a player as you'll see, admitted the Beavers legacy at the position creates pressure.
"Totally -- I think anybody who has to come in and replace somebody who ended up going on to the NFL and was as successful as Vic and Slade were would feel pressure," Frahm said. "But I guess I try not to think about it. I just focus on doing my job. Let the chips fall as they may."
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker compared Frahm to Van Orsow, a player who wasn't spectacular at anything but was good at everything. He finished his career 29.5 tackles for a loss, which ranks eighth on the Beavers all-time list.
"I kind of saw the same style in Jeff when I was a true freshman," Frahm said. "I think that comparison is a big credit to all the teaching and tips I got from Jeff. Without all of that, I wouldn't be the player I am today."
While powerful Frahm and the speedy Terry, a converted tight end, are the starters, Gabe Miller, Matt LaGrone and Taylor Henry all could see playing time.
The Beavers entered spring practices with just three returning starters on defense. That seemed like a big concern, but the situation was exactly the same in 2008, when the Beavers so-called rebuilding defense finished ranked 23rd in the nation.
So is 2009 a rebuilding year with two new defensive ends?
"I kind of feel like that same question has been coming up every single season since I've been here," Frahm said. "Last season, no body thought Vic and Slade could step up and replace Jeff and Dorian, but they did."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
So who had a fast start to preseason practices? Who's taken a leadership role? Who deserves notice for a fine effort?
We present: Preseason Pac-10 Players of the Week. These are based on reports from program insiders and news reports.
Defensive end Brooks Reed. Reed, already a workout warrior, was a sack machine in practices, making life hard for Matt Scott and Nick Foles as the compete for the starting job.
Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy. The word to describe Guy, who is a rock-solid 293 pounds, so far is "unblockable." How unblockable? Try five sacks a day.
Running back LaMichael James. To pull a quote from Rob Moseley's blog: "Not surprisingly, the player who continues to most consistently draw the most "oohs" and "aahs" from players and fans is LaMichael James." The speedy James is the likely "lightning" component to the Ducks backfield beside thunderous LeGarrette Blount.
Hey, it's the "ooh Le La backfield."
Senior defensive end Ben Terry. He's got a lot on his shoulders replacing Victor Butler, one of the best ends in school history. But word is Terry appears comfortable with his enhanced role and is not that far off Butler's quickness.
Defensive end Erik Lorig. Lorig is the leader of a sneaky-good Stanford defensive line.
Defensive tackle Brian Price. It's nice when perhaps your best player sets an example by busting his butt every play. And by making things tough on an offensive line that needs to get tougher.
Quarterback Matt Barkley. He's positioned to win the marquee position in the nation -- Trojans starting quarterback -- as a true true freshman and he's handled himself with poise that belies his age. He's also got freaky talent.
Freshman receiver James Johnson. Wrote Bob Condotta, "Wednesday, the best player on offense for the Huskies might have been one of the 10 active scholarship true freshmen on the roster, receiver James Johnson... Johnson caught three TD passes during team drills, one a highlight reel-worthy, one-handed grab in traffic of a pass from Jake Locker."
Senior center Kenny Alfred. Alfred is the Cougars undisputed leader, both as a vocal presence and as a work ethic role model. He plays hard every play. Honorable mention goes to receiver Jeshua Anderson, who's showcased vastly improved receiving skills to augment his world class speed.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting five players drafted last spring sort of hurt the image of Mark Banker's defense at Oregon State.
These Beavers aren't scrappy overachievers any longer. They're getting paid.
Fact is, Banker's defense has been one of the most consistently good units in the Pac-10 since he became coordinator in 2003.
|Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI|
|Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker's unit returns just three starters.|
But the Beavers welcome back just three starters and have to replace their entire secondary.
Of course, as Oregon State fans are quick to note, last year the Beavers also welcomed back just three starters, and none from their front-seven.
Still, the last time the Beavers defense struggled was 2005 when a pair of freshmen corners got eaten alive.
Those culprits, Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes, by the way, were two of those five drafted players.
So, just as camp gets started, we figured we'd check in and see what's up with Banker and his crew of "Gap Cancellers."
I'm sure I'm going to refer to your "gap cancellation scheme" about 50 times this season. Please, explain the basics of your defense?
Mark Banker: Most defenses are either contain defenses or they are spill defenses. We are a spill defense, meaning what we would prefer to do take away the middle the field -- both in the pass game and run game -- and we want teams to work outside on the perimeter. One reasons is we are able to use our speed to run things down as the opponent runs out of room to the outside. A lot of that starts up front. We teach our defensive line an attacking style of play. We're getting vertical off the ball and the most important thing they can do is look at the inside portion of their gap -- usually referred to a hip -- and if that hip disappears inside, they close to it to make sure there's no daylight inside so the ball bounces to the outside. It allows our linebackers to be, rather than just downhill inside, where they give away 100 pounds per man, it gives our guys a chance to go where that thing gets spilled. We create basically an alley by our secondary showing up and leveraging the ball and the linebackers are able to run through that alley to make the play.
You guys put a lot of pressure on you cornerbacks to be able to cover man-on-man: How is that going to work with a pair of new starters?
MB: Athletically we like how the (less experienced) players in our secondary have developed. (Senior cornerback) Tim Clark has played in game situations since as early as his sophomore year. In fact, during Timmy's sophomore year, (former starting cornerback) Keenan Lewis got hurt and he had to come in against Cal, and they had a guy named DeSean Jackson. I think (Jackson) had seven yards on the day [actually one reception for eight yards]. One big expectations is Timmy can become an every-down type of player and we only have to deal with the other side when it comes to starting. But you know James Dockery, who we lost last year (to injury) and we got back for the spring, continues to grow. He's very much a competitor. Brandon Hardin is another -- a big kid who has good size and strength and has every capability to be that guy as well. His big thing, just like any of the corners, is an understanding of how to play specific techniques by down-and-distance and field position. That has eluded him at times. But has shown great promise. Those are two guys who came to mind. Patrick Henderson is a senior and sort of a journeyman. He saw some time last year in some bit roles. Unlike 2005, this season we have some players, with some depth who might lack the game experience but at least they've been in the program and know what is expected.
You lost eight guys from last year's unit: Who's going to be the toughest to replace?
MB: That's a loaded question because out of the seven players who were drafted, (five) were starters on defense. The corners were valuable because of their experience. A guy like (safety) Al Afalava, his heart and soul and leadership ability, that's hard to replace. The two ends, Slade (Norris) and Victor (Butler). Each one of them, in their own right, were special. It was a tough group that played well together. We're not replacing chopped liver. The guys who are stepping in got a lot to live up to. The immediate concern is in the secondary, no doubt in my mind. Because you can play good for 75 plays, but if the game is 76 plays long, all it takes is one shot down the field, and things get evened up. We've got to be smart in the way we play in the secondary and rely on the front to create pressure in the passing game. I think there are guys stepping into different spots -- we've got four ends and possibly a fifth that we feel really good about.
Who are your best pass rushers going to be?
MB: The two who come to mind are (end) Ben Terry, who will be a starter. I think he will be able to rush the passer with great effectiveness. Another guy, who right now is not a starter and was a tight end at this time last year, is Gabe Miller. I think he's going to be a good pass rusher. And then a guy coming off the bench in third down situations, Taylor Henry, a redshirt freshman this year, has got that ability. At the same time, (end) Kevin Frahm, who will be a starter for us, has changed his body a lot. He is very much like (former end) Jeff Van Orsow from the standpoint of his intellect and his work ethic. He's probably a step faster than Jeff and Jeff was old reliable. And we've got an X-factor in this guy, Matt LaGrone, a transfer from (Nevada), who was a basketball player and has been with us who had to sit out. He's 6-foot-6 and he's got some stuff to him. But those three guys I mentioned -- Ben Terry, Gabe Miller and Taylor Henry -- from a standpoint of being edge rushers, those three guys would probably be the ones to watch.
It seemed like tackle Stephen Paea, even when he was banged up, really asserted himself at the end of last season. How good can he be?
MB: You know he hasn't really played a lot of football [Paea starting playing football as a high school senior], so he's still learning the game, which is kind of scary. He is so explosive off his first two steps and then he's just so physically strong. And he's fast. I think his upside, as long as he stays healthy, is way out there because he's still learning the game itself and the intricacies to it. But he sure is a powerful, powerful guy who is very, very dominant. I think he is among the elite defensive tackles in this conference, no doubt about it.
Linebacker Keaton Kristick looks like a regular, if slightly larger, college student: Why is he so productive?
MB: He's a typical linebacker that we try to have in this defense. He was a tailback in high school, so he was his high school's best athlete. His background helps him out from a standpoint of his football intellect. He's extremely competitive. He has that desire to succeed. Football means a lot to him. And [linebackers coach] Greg Newhouse does
a tremendous job communicating to him. He has his attention and Keaton loves it. He listens and sucks up all the information like a sponge. He takes action upon his goals and things he wants to accomplish.
You've built a strong defensive foundation at Oregon State. Does your eye ever wander? Do you see yourself somewhere else in the future?
MB: Absolutely. In this business it's important to progress. I have aspirations within the profession, but one drive I have that is stronger than anything is quality of life. The next job I take has to be something that is, No. 1, that is better than the one I have. And, as you said, we've got some things established here. This is going on my 13th or 14th season coaching with (Mike Riley). I enjoy the atmosphere he sets. I enjoy the people I am around, day-in and day-out. I truly appreciate that my family is involved in the program. Money is important. Some day being able to have my own program is important. But some of those other things I just mentioned are equally, if not more important, to me. Life is too short and I've seen too many people who don't enjoy life. This is a great place to be coaching football.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Not to start a recruiting riot or anything, but Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea, whose combination of power and athleticism is going to earn him a job on Sundays in the not-too-distant future, says where he comes from he's just average.
Of course, Samoan and Tongan success in football is nothing new, though Paea's 50-50 blend -- Tongan mom, Samoan dad -- seems to have worked particularly well.
"I thought I was just an average Tongan guy," said the 6-1, 293-pound junior. "Then I came here, and I was pretty much stronger and bigger than the guys on the [high school] team. There are guys who are stronger than me down there."
When he came here -- as in Provo, Utah -- three years ago, he didn't speak any English and had never played a down of football before.
The transition was tough. No more ocean. No more year-round sunny, warm weather. Everything was unfamiliar. And the earnest student, who actually was ahead of many of his U.S. peers in subjects like math, struggled in class.
"It was hard to explain when I knew something," he said. "Sometimes I'd draw it instead of explaining it."
As you might imagine, football was the easy part.
"One of the coaches saw my size and said, 'Why don't you try out for the football team?'" Paea said.
Paea, then slightly over 300 pounds, didn't clarify whether the coach said that from his knees with a box of chocolates and bouquet of roses in hand.
He played only his senior season, but that was enough for him to become a prospect. After playing at Snow (Utah) Community College, he signed with Oregon State and was almost immediately penciled into the starting lineup last year.
He certainly passed the sight test. After only a handful of practices in full pads, he created a fairly substantial buzz.
"He didn't look like a JC guy coming in to play D-1 ball, he looked like an NFL guy coming back to play in college,'' former Oregon State defensive end Victor Butler told The Oregonian in the fall. "I told the coaches not only should this guy start, but put him on my side of the ball so he can draw some double-teams and free me up.''
Former Beavers guard Andy Levitre spent time during his interviews at the NFL combine telling scouts about Paea.
After recording five sacks and a 11 tackles for a loss in just his third season of football -- he also battled a sprained knee late in the season -- Paea might be the Pac-10's breakout defensive player next fall.
He's the Beavers strongest player -- and maybe one of the strongest in the nation -- with a bench press of over 500 pounds. He's also built like a linebacker, with no excess fat.
Dude is just one big muscle. And he can move.
Part of his athleticism comes from his first love: rugby. Paea was born in New Zealand and growing up dreamed of doing the Haka with the All-Blacks.
When asked now whether he'd like to play for the, say, San Diego Chargers or the All-Blacks, Paea chooses the NFL.
He seems as aware as anybody that his future in the sport looks bright.
"I was no body," he said. "Now I'm making a name for myself for me and my family. It would be a dream come true [to play in the NFL]. It would be perfect for my family because I come from a poor family."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
[Note this is a corrected post... apologies for not factoring in the underrated Big East].
The Big East nipped the Pac-10 for the lead among conferences in the 2009 NFL draft.
The eight-team Big East supplied 27 total players in the draft, or 3.4 players per team. The Pac-10 supplied 32 selections (3.2 players per team). The 12-team SEC was third with 37 selections overall, or 3.1 per team. The 12-team ACC was third with 33 (2.8 per team).
Last year, the Pac-10's led with 3.4 per team vs. 2.92 per team for the SEC and ACC (2.75).
USC led the way with 11 players selected, including three in the first round, though many are shaking their heads of linebacker Rey Maualuga's tumble into the second round. Every draft-eligible Trojan who started last season was picked.
Oregon State was second with seven players selected and Oregon was third with six. Arizona State, with a pair of seventh-round selections, maintained a 45-year streak with at least one player drafted.
Not all the news was good: Stanford, UCLA and Washington each had no players selected.
Here's the complete list
Patrick Chung, S, New England, second
Jairus Byrd, CB, Buffalo, second
Max Unger, C, Seattle, second
Fenuki Tupou, OT, Philadelphia, fifth
Ra'Shon Harris, DT, Pittsburgh, sixth
Nick Reed, DE, Seattle, seventh
Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo, second
Keenan Lewis, CB, Pittsburgh, third
Victor Butler, OLB, Dallas, fourth
Slade Norris, OLB, Oakland, fourth
Brandon Hughes, CB, San Diego, fifth
Al Afalava, S, Chicago, sixth
Sammie Stroughter, WR, Tampa Bay, seventh
Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets, first (No. 5)
Brian Cushing, OLB, Houston, first (No. 15)
Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay, first (No. 26)
Rey Maualuga, LB, Cincinnati, second
Fili Moala, DT, Indianapolis, second
Patrick Turner, WR, Miami, third
Kaluka Maiava, LB, Cleveland, fourth
Kyle Moore, DE, Tampa Bay, fourth
David Buehler, PK, Dallas, fifth
Cary Harris, CB, Buffalo, sixth
Kevin Ellison, S, San Diego, sixth
Brandon Gibson, WR, Philadelphia, sixth
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every Pac-10 team will be young somewhere... so what are the green units?
Arizona -- OT: Both starting tackles are gone, including potential NFL first-round pick Eben Britton. The four tackles on this spring two-deep roster have combined for only five starts, all by right tackle Adam Grant.
Arizona State -- QB: Combined starts of the five candidates to replace Rudy Carpenter at quarterback? Zero.
California -- TE: When Cameron Morrah, the Bears second-leading receiver in 2008, unexpectedly bolted a year early for the NFL draft, he left behind four combined receptions for backups Tad Smith, Anthony Miller and touted redshirt freshman Spencer Ladner.
Oregon -- DT: Both starting defensive tackles are gone and this unofficial depth chart shows 14 combine tackles for seven potential replacements.
Oregon State -- DE: Sackmasters Victor Butler and Slade Norris and their 41.5 combined sacks over the past two seasons are gone. Sophomore Kevin Frahm and senior Ben Terry, who split two sacks between themselves in 2008, are in.
Stanford -- K: Kicker Aaron Zagory is gone and either Travis Golia or David Green will take over, though neither has kicked a college field goal.
UCLA -- P: After four years of huge boots, punter Aaron Perez is gone. Redshirt freshmen Jeff Locke and Danny Rees will compete to replace him.
USC -- LB: All three starting linebackers, including All-Americans and future first-round draft choices Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, are gone. Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan aren't exactly chopped liver, though.
Washington -- K-P: The Huskies need to replace both specialists with players who have no college experience.
Washington State -- TE: Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard, the top two guys on the 2008 depth chart, are gone and the expected replacement, JC transfer Peter Tuitupou, unexpectedly opted to go on a two-year church mission.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
I will let you go, Ricky. But first, I want you to say...'I... love... links.'
- Notes from Arizona's pro day, including former quarterback Willie Tuitama trying to get on the NFL radar, despite a recent DUI arrest.
- Quarterback Kevin Riley looked sharp in California's second day of spring practice. And this is an incredibly thorough look at day one -- with tons of depth chart notes! -- from Jonathan Okanes.
- As strange as it sounds, this is a big day for Oregon's 2009 recruiting class: a letter of intent is expected from junior college receiver Tyrece Gaines and running back Bryce Brown makes his decision.
- Oregon State's Victor Butler prepares to move from defensive end to outside linebacker in the NFL. Meanwhile, the current Beavers are working toward 2009.
- Bit of bad news for UCLA from over the weekend: Safety E.J. Woods was charged with six misdemeanor counts of battery and sexual battery.
- Nick Daschel looks at recent first-time head coaches in the Pac-10, who succeeded and who didn't.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The Pac-10 spring position reviews conclude with the defensive ends, the guys who get after the quarterback. Or are supposed to.
Even with four of the top five conference leaders in sacks gone, this is a fairly solid position across the board. The only team that raises a rebuilding red flag is Oregon State, which lost twin sackmasters Victor Butler and Slade Norris.
Of course, Washington and Washington State both produced only 16 sacks in 2008, tied for worst in the conference and among the fewest in the nation.
- California: Cal welcomes back underrated end Tyson Alualu, second-team All-Pac-10 in 2008, and rising star Cameron Jordan, a junior. They combined for 22 tackles for loss last year in the Bears' 3-4 defense. There's also solid, young depth behind them in sophomore Trevor Guyton and junior Keith Browner.
- Arizona: Juniors Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore combined for 15 sacks last year and both backups, D'Aundre Reed -- who started four games and had 2.5 sacks in 2008 -- and Apaiata Tuihalamaka are back.
- Arizona State: Dexter Davis had 11 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. James Brooks, Jamaar Jarrett, Jamarr Robinson and 25-year-old newcomer Dean DeLeone will battle it out to replace Luis Vasquez and provide depth.
- Stanford: Tom Keiser had six sacks last year and earned freshman All-American honors while Erik Lorig has started 20 career games. Tom McAndrew provides experienced depth.
- UCLA: Senior Korey Bosworth had 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2008, while junior Reginald Stokes started five of the final seven games last year. He will be challenged by sophomore Datone Jones.
- Oregon: Sackmaster Nick Reed is gone, but that at least means Will Tukuafu might finally get some credit. He had 7.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last year. Competition will be hot to replace Reed, with juniors Brandon Bair, Zac Clark and Kenny Rowe in the running.
- USC: Sure, both Kyle Moore and Clay Matthews are gone, but how many teams in the nation do you think would trade defensive ends with the Trojans? Everson Griffen, who had 4.5 sacks last year, is a true talent as a pass rusher, but he needs to be more consistent. Sophomore Malik Jackson and freshmen Wes Horton and Nick Perry each have huge upside.
- Washington: The Huskies sneak in here mostly because of second-team All-Pac-10 end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, a high-motor senior who had eight of the team's 16 sacks in 2008. Senior Darrion Jones returns at the other end and youngsters like Kalani Aldrich and Everrette Thompson showed flashes of promise.
- Oregon State: The Beavers also had to replace both starting defensive ends last season, but this year the backups don't arrive with 19.5 sacks split between them like Victor Butler and Slade Norris did. Sophomore Kevin Frahm and senior Ben Terry split two sacks between themselves in 2008.
- Washington State: Matt Mullennix is gone, but Kevin Kooyman is back as is Andy Mattingly, but he might end up as an outside linebacker. But, really, the Cougars only had 16 sacks last year (in 13 games). Youngsters and newcomers will need to step up.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Helmet stickers for those who stood out during the bowl season.
Willie Tuitama: He ended an up-and-down career with perhaps the best performance of his four years as the Wildcats' starter, completing 24 of 35 passes for 325 yards with two touchdowns and no picks in the 31-21 Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU.
Mike Stoops: Stoops has taken plenty of shots from critics, and many of those shots haven't been unfair. But he's grown as a coach because Arizona AD Jim Livengood had patience instead of a quick firing trigger. Stoops' Wildcats were well prepared for their bowl game, the school's first bowl victory since 1998, and things appear to be trending up for a program long mired in the bottom half of the Pac-10.
Jahvid Best: All Best did was turn in one of the bowl season's most dynamic performances, rushing for 186 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns in California's 24-17 Emerald Bowl win over Miami. Best, who won the Pac-10 rushing title, laid substantial groundwork for a 2009 Heisman Trophy campaign.
Zack Follett: Follett posted two sacks for Cal in the Emerald Bowl, the second one from the linebacker forcing a fumble from Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris and setting up the Bears' winning score with 2:41 left.
Jeremiah Masoli: How physical is the Pac-10? Well, did you see Masoli run over two Oklahoma State defenders in the Ducks' manhandling of the Cowboys in the Holiday Bowl? The Ducks quarterback rushed for 106 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 258 yards and a touchdown.
Mike Bellotti: His Ducks trailed the Holiday Bowl 17-7 at halftime, but whatever Bellotti said at the break was golden. Oregon outscored the Cowboys 35-14 in the second half, and if the game went on for five quarters the Ducks would have scored 100 points. If that turns out to be his last game at the Oregon helm, it was a heck of a way to go out.
Victor Butler: Butler was unstoppable against Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl, recording five tackles for a loss and four sacks -- and four other quarterback hurries -- in the Beavers' 3-0 victory. He finished with 11 total tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Mike Riley: Sure, 3-0 wasn't pretty, but it was about as dominant as a 3-0 victory can be and the Beavers did it without Jacquizz and James Rodgers, who accounted for more than 50 percent of their offense this season. And you can't argue with Riley's scintillating 5-0 bowl record.
Mark Sanchez: Sanchez clearly saved his best for last, slicing apart overmatched Penn State in the Rose Bowl with four touchdowns and 413 yards passing. Oh, and he ran 6 yards for a TD, too. He completed 28 of 35 and could have done a lot more damage if not for a decisive 31-7 lead at halftime.
Damian Williams: If Sanchez returns in 2009, there's no question who his go-to receiver will be. Even if Sanchez doesn't come back, Williams showed himself to be first among the Trojans' talented crew of receivers with 10 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown in the Rose Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
|AP Photo/LM Otero|
|Oregon State's Slade Norris celebrates with his teammates after the Beavers defeated Pittsburgh, 3-0, in the Sun Bowl.|
Anybody want to help me out with a scoring summary for Oregon State's win over Pittsburgh in the Brut Sun Bowl?
The best offense in this one, a 3-zip Beavers victory, was the 10 sacks split between the teams.
Make no mistake, though: No. 24 Oregon State (9-4) was way better -- WAY -- better than 18th-ranked Pittsburgh (9-4).
The Beavers, playing without Jacquizz and James Rodgers, who supplied more than 50 percent of their offense this year, outgained the Panthers 271 yards to 178 and got zero points on a pair of first-and-goal situations.
Pittsburgh's deepest penetration was the Beavers 36-yard line.
While the Beavers offense struggled to find a consistent rhythm, coordinator Mark Banker's defense, led by ends Slade Norris and Victor Butler, redeemed itself for the Civil War debacle.
The same unit that gave up 65 points and 694 yards to Oregon, surrendered just 10 first downs to the Panthers. It held touted Pitt tailback LeSean McCoy to 84 yards on 23 carries.
Mike Riley improved to 5-0 in bowl games as the Beavers coach.
The Pac-10 also improved to 4-0 this bowl season with three victories over ranked teams and victories over three different BCS conferences.
The rest of the college football nation is free to draw its own conclusions.