Kafu Challenging, Honing O-line Repertoire

For spring camp, 6-2, 314-pound sophomore Solomone Kafu has replaced team captain, Outland Trophy Watch List and Lombardi Award Candidate Matt Reynolds. It's a new position for Kafu who practiced at the guard position on the scout team last season. The position change is for practical, team and personal advancement.

Solomone Kafu has been singled out by Coach Mendenhall as someone that impressed him as an o-line scout team performer last season. Now Kafu has made the jump to the first team- at least for now- during spring camp at left tackle.

"I know I have a lot of things I still need to improve on," Kafu said. "It's a new position for me. Being on the scout team last season, I played right guard and right tackle, so being moved out to left tackle is a new experience for me."

He's finding out rather quickly the struggles the left tackle goes through, especially when lining up against a more experienced defensive tackle like Eathyn Manumaleuna or 6-6, 270-pound rush Will linebacker Ezekiel Ansah.

"The aggression and the speed that they're working us on the o-line is really helping me a lot to get a better feel for the position," said Kafu. "It's making me confident and much better. It's a challenge being out at the tackle position because you're going up against some of the best pass rushers, so you have to move your feet a lot more and make sure you keep your center for that rush on the outside.

However, while Kafu goes through the refining process of learning the left tackle position, in the end it might be a position he won't play when the Cougars line up against Washington State this fall.

"I'm not sure if I'll be playing this position in the future and we'll see what happens," Kofu said. "I'm just trying to help the team out as much as I can now. I still have a lot of concepts to understand in order to be better at this position and a lot more plays to better execute."

So why even make the change? Wouldn't it be better for him to have stayed at right guard where he practiced last year to better hone the set skills required to play that position?

"I think it was an option that was there," Kafu said. "As a player on the offensive line, you have to understand that you could be playing any position on the offensive line. I took it as a challenge to better myself and be an overall more effective offensive lineman that can play any position across the line if I'm needed. I still have a lot of things to improve on but it's definitely giving me more tools and allowing me to benefit everyone else."

Apparently, the diverse position experiences through applied application will strengthen the group- rather than the individual- overall.

"I think overall as an o-line we have to be aware of what's happening, not in our own individual position but overall as an o-line, to better understand what everyone on the o-line goes through," Kafu said. "The better we all understand what each person goes through on the offensive line, the better we'll be able to help each other and perform in games and practice by working better together."

The spring camp first team offensive line group of Kafu, Vaitai, Tushaus, Stringham and Yeck are all getting reps at one position now, which does help with position mastery. However, if there happens to be a change- with the addition of Brown and Hansen at the tackle positions- would it naturally create a disadvantage for those being replaced now having to compete against those that hadn't been replaced come fall camp? Kafu doesn't believe so in the long run.

"I think right now it's an advantage for us overall," Kafu said. "Looking at it individually, it might not look that way because we're not getting the reps at our starting or assigned position, but I think overall it's more of an advantage because as a group we have more diverse tools and a greater overall understanding that will make us depend more on each other. I think it will help us more as a unit rather than as an individual and that will make us better as an offensive line group. The coaches will sort it all out based on their evaluations."

For Kafu, he believes the ideal position for him would be at the guard position, but by playing tackle he'll know exactly what his teammate on his outside shoulder will go through on every given play.

"I think the most ideal position, I thought, would be guard for me," Kafu said. "Honestly, I think, within the guard position- either left or right is probably where I play best right now. It's just I'm playing left tackle now and I think if I do go back to guard we'll be able to work better as a team because I'll know what's in store for him before the ball is even snapped."

If Kafu ends up playing left guard, the switch would send Manaaki Vaitai to right guard to either replace or cause a new position battle with Brock Stringham and so on.

"Well, it's whatever is best and the best players will play," Kafu said. "If that's me then I have to be ready. If that's Manaaki he has to be ready. At the level we're working at we all have to be ready. With the time we're spending in the film room, the way we're working, the speed and pace at which we're working, the drills we're running, the execution level we're running at, the level of grit at which we're playing at will determine who plays and who doesn't.

The offensive line is performing rather well with the players playing the current positions. Each understands that they could be the odd man out. With that understanding has been an increased incentive to perform better.

"If I don't have those things more than the next guy, it's a case of me either being in or out," Kafu said. "The way we're doing things now I would most likely be out if someone else is doing those things better than I am. The same goes for everyone on the o-line so we all have to be ready for any changes when Braden Brown and Braden Hansen come back.

"I think there are a lot of things driving us to be the best and show that we belong out on the field. Everyone right now knows we might not be playing the positions we're playing now, and when those two guys come back as the more experienced players there's going to be more challenges and fighting for a position, and that's driving everyone as well."

In the end, Kafu believes their diverse position experiences will strengthen their overall bond as a more affective unit in any given circumstance.

"It's a brotherhood on the o-line and that's something we want to foster," Kafu said. "If someone goes down we have to back each other up in any situation. If the left tackle is taken out, there has to be someone ready and willing to step in and fill in for each other. We take it literally as a brotherhood and that's the foundation by which we live, practice and play."

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