The Magnificent Seven

The defensive line has proven to be solid force up front all season long. However, Coach Kaufusi has lost one starting player in Eathyn Manumaleuna and another projected starter in Ian Dulan to injuries, leaving just seven available defensive linemen. Coach Kaufusi calls them "The Magnificent Seven" after the famed 1960 movie starring Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson.

One reason the Cougar defense has been such a force to be reckoned with in large part is because of the play of the defensive line, which largely goes unnoticed. Coach Kaufusi glows with pride when speaking about the players under his charge.

"Oh, I've just been so proud of them," said Kaufusi with gratification. "They play hard, and the main focus is this is about making your opponent respect you, and no one watches the trench. Everybody watches the quarterbacks, the receivers, the running back or DB or linebacker.

"But up front for us, you know, at the end of the day I tell them, ‘Respect that guy in front of you whether it's a center, guard or tackle.' To walk off the field, you know, they look at you knowing that you've successfully manhandled them at the end of the day, and that you've won the majority of the reps. That's how you gain respect from those individuals. That's what it's about for us."

Ian Dulan hasn't played at all due to a back injury, and now Eathyn Manumaleuna is out for the year thanks to a leg injury suffered during the Boise State game. The loss of another experienced starter is a big deal for the defensive line.

Regarding Dulan and Manumaleuna, Kaufusi said "those are two guys that, obviously, played a lot of football for us. There's a lot of experience and now we're just down two, so having Eathyn out, man, that's a huge loss for us. We have to shake it off and keep going, so other guys have to step up."

Much like other injured players such as Jordan Richardson, Walter Kahaiali'i and Jray Galea'i, Dulan and Manumaleuna have been staying active and helping out with the team as much as possible.

"Right now they want to stay involved, so they're helping us, whether it's in team meetings or they're helping their graduate assistants and the day-to-day behind-the-scene routine that we do," said Kaufusi. "They're involved and they're finding things to do that we need."

Although Russell Tialavea has filled in nicely for Dulan after being away from the game for two years, the loss of Manumaleuna now leaves Coach Kaufusi with just seven players to work with.

"Well, you have Remington Peck and you've got Simote [Vea], who is back-up nose, and you've got Bronson [Kaufusi], who's barely been home two months [from his mission] now," Kaufusi said. "So right now I'm counting at seven. I asked them and said, ‘You guys remember the movie The Magnificent Seven? That's what we got right now. We've just got seven warriors right here. That's who we're going to war with for the rest of the season. So, yeah, we're thinking of bringing some of the younger guys up, but they're not quite ready, so seven is what we've got."

Although both Dulan and Manumaleuna are struggling with their situations, there is a very bright spot in all this.

"It's hard for them but their spirits are good," Kaufusi said. "Eathyn has a redshirt year, so he can use that to come back next year, and so he still has some eligibility and he'll come back. Obviously things could change if he doesn't want to, but he wants to come back and use that redshirt.

"You know, next year is kind of a rebuilding year up front and I'll be doing a lot of coaching. Either way I gain an experienced player in that time. You know, Eathyn has played nose, he's played tackle and is one of those guys that can play multiple positions. It's looking great for next year having him come back."

Coach Kaufusi is also going to try and fight to get Dulan back for next season as well.

"Yeah, and with Ian too and I'm looking into trying to get him back as well with a medical redshirt," said Kaufusi. "We have to research that until they say no. We've had kids like that in the past that have gotten another year back, but we just have to go out and fight for them and obviously there's a lot of documentation. I think we have all that stuff, so it becomes putting a nice packet together and appealing for that. That's going to be the biggest thing on our part, but that's what I'm going to do for these guys."

Though hurt by the fact that two of his players have been injured, Coach Kaufusi doesn't seem to be worried despite the magnitude of the losses.

"We're not making a big deal about it, but we are one man down and the next guy has to step up and fill the void," said Coach Kaufusi. "It would be nice to get those two guys, but it is what it is, so we'll just have fun with it."

The reason Coach Kaufusi isn't worried is pretty simple.

"Ziggy [Ansah] came in and filled in nicely for Eathyn and he was productive and he made a lot of plays in that [Boise State] game," said Coach Kaufusi. "It was good to see him do that, and so I feel comfortable having him do that."

A quick learner, Ansah has played multiple positions and in various defensive packages. With great execution within those assignments, his role and reps have increased.

"I totally have confidence in him. I mean, he's been working on playing in our base package and has done a lot of things for us really," Coach Kaufusi said. "He's played in the nickel defense, two positions, and plus he's played with his hand down, so he was with me when he first started playing football. Then he went over to Will [linebacker], and so he remembers all those things. So, it was an easy transition for him to make but I totally trust him."

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