Quarry Q & A
DL coach excited about returnees, recruits
By Paul Honda
Monday, March 11, 2002
A little less than two years ago, Kaimuki High School's basketball team boasted a pair of 6-foot-2 post players whose agility belied their size.
Matthew Faga didn't have his "Rocky" nickname just yet. He was 300-plus pounds of fun, spinning on the low post for layups, diving for loose balls and doing a lot of things you just don't see much of from athlete of that size.
Darrell Tautofi, at 235 pounds, was a smooth shooting wing man with 3-point range. Both were raw talents on the hardwood, but it was on the gridiron where they received far more attention.
Fast forward the videotape to February, 2002, and both are set to return home from journeys afar. Faga, who UH offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh calls the "Samoan version of Goose," completed two seasons at Fresno City College.
Like most junior college prospects, there will be fundamentals to enhance, and defensive line coach Vantz Singletary is ready for the process. Singletary, who talked with RSN on Feb. 15, has an interesting crop of new linemen to work with. Heralded JC transfer Isaak Sopoaga is eligible, and with John Siofele and Albert "Abu" Ma'afala in the stable, Singletary expects some new faces in the rotation this fall.
The local Subway spokesman and Texas native talked about his newcomers, Isaak Sopoaga, returnees, Wayne Hunter's move to the offensive line, and even the up-and-down season of the St. Louis Rams.
Matt "Rocky" Faga (DL, 6-3, 320, Jr, Fresno City College)
Comparisons to Tony "Goose" Siragusa aside, Faga brings size and explosiveness to the interior. He is one of Palolo Valley's contributions to the University of Hawaii.
Skinny: Graduated from Kaimuki High School in Honolulu and attended Fresno City College for two years...a two-year starter who is strong and explosive...was also recruited by Oregon, Oregon State, Florida State and Brigham Young...earned all-conference honors both years...helped Fresno City College to 1 10-1 record in each season...amassed 33 total tackles, 12 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, six pass break ups, six forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered in two-year career.
"Rocky plugs up the middle at nose tackle. He is a guy who demands two blockers on him constantly. He's a dominating player who has very strong arms and legs." - Fresno City College Head Coach Tony Caviglia.
RSN: What did you like about him?
Singletary: "You don't have to watch a lot of video to see if he's a good football player. With that kid there, you can watch one series and that's all you need to see. The question is, do we have a shot at this guy. We met him and showed him the facilities. Good kid, good people. Works hard. Has a desire and passion for what he does. He's eager to learn and listen. He had a number of Pac-10 schools looking at him."
RSN: Anyone serious?
Singletary: "Everyone says they're being recruited. I think he was pretty much set on coming home. Anyone who wants to come home, whether it's high school, college or the NFL; that's how it is with free agency, they may get the offer of a lot of money, but they want to go home and play where they grew up. That's what it was with Coach Jones. He had his desires on returning to Hawaii. No matter what kind of figure they threw out there, he wanted to be here. This was where he wanted to be."
Albert "Abu" Ma'afala Jr. (DL, 6-2, 270, Fr, Kamehameha Schools)
Coming into the season, Ma'afala received some interest, but not a lot of serious inquiries. At 235 pounds, the articulate senior was on the proverbial bubble when he was on the cover of HSN Magazine, October issue.
But as the off-season began, the Kamehameha senior went to work. He added pounds by the week, and the last time he talked with RSN in January, he had already risen to 260 pounds on his 6-2 frame.
Skinny: A two-year starter for the Kamehameha Warriors...named first-team all-State by The Honolulu Advertiser...also a first-team ILH all-star selection as a senior...a part-time starter as a sophomore...played both defensive tackle and end...served as team co-captain as a senior...is the nephew of Pittsburgh Steeler running back Chris Fuamatu Ma'afala.
"Albert is a great young player with super upside potential. His better playing days are ahead of him. He's a great performer, has great leadership just a joy to coach and be around." - Kamehameha Head Coach Kanani Souza.
Singletary: "I think overall, he wanted to stay here. We have a number of guys who are Kamehameha graduates. And George Lumpkin played a large factor in there. He was taught by Coach Lumpkin, so I felt that was a part of it. Guys like him and Ron Lee, Dan Morrison, having those guys here, remain here at home and be part of the staff is a bonus.
"The kid's from Kamehameha; a lot of those guys are fundamentally sound. He plays with low pad level. He's exceptionally good with his hands. He has a good sense of where and how to attack an opponent. That's a big start in many cases. Most kids who come in from the high school level don't have any idea of the game in general, having football knowledge. You can teach technique, but you've got to have football savvy.
RSN: What about his weight gain?
Singletary: "As long as he can keep his speed, more power to him. As long as he doesn't lose a step, because this game is all about speed. That's how it is in the NFL. They look large on television, but when you meet them, they actually look more lean. It's all muscle.
"And he'll come down. You'll either come down or you'll kill yourself. Our conditioning coach, Mel DeLaura will run you out."
John Siofele (DL, 6-0, 255, Fr, St. Louis School)
Skinny: An honorable-mention all-State pick by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin as a senior...also named second-team all-ILH in 2001...amassed 77 total tackles (30 solo, 47 assisted) in his three-year varsity career...also had 21 tackles-for-loss, 40 quarterback hurries, 18 knockdowns, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and three passes defended...recorded a career-high 10 tackles against Kamehameha as a senior...an honor student who is involved in many community activities...also a member of the Crusader track and field team.
"Hawai'i is getting a young man who is so eager to learn and get better. John has a lot of heart, desire and quickness. I don't worry about him. He's a great person and will be a good addition to the UH program." - St. Louis Head Coach Cal Lee
Singletary: "I think he's a reincarnation of Lance Samuseva. He's about 5-10, but where I see him, like Samuseva, that's positive. His best football is ahead of him. No. 1, he comes from a winner. He's had good coaching there so he's fundamentally sound. He's a winner. Anytime you can bring kids in from a great program like St. Louis, that's nothing but up. To keep a kid like that at home is a plus."
Darrell Tautofi (DL, 6-4, 275, Jr, Dixie College)
By coming home, Tautofi gets to play before family and friends. He has two younger brothers at Kaimuki, including all-state tournament basketball player Daniel Tautofi.
Skinny: A two-year starter at Dixie College in Utah...named all-Western State Football League last season... played an key role in the team's 11-1 record in 2001 and 8-3 in 2000...a great athlete who runs well for a big guy...also plays basketball...also recruited by Boise State and Brigham Young.
"We were one of the top ranked defenses and he was a big part of that. He is very athletic with size. The bigger the game, the better he plays. He does a nice job when he's on the field. He's not a vocal leader but very effective." - Dixie College Head Coach Greg Croshaw
Singletary: "Darrell is a football player who just makes plays, bottom line. Guy knows how to get it done. Has great size, long wingspan and is very athletic. It takes a little bit to get him fired up, but he has some abilities that can help us up front. Just a matter of him getting in here and learning the system.
"So many kids come in here from junior college, a lot of things have to be taught. A lot of times they play on raw ability. What you see on that tape, you make your own assessment of how he can fit in and you can better him, but they're not playing against good talent or schemes. You just see if this guy can become better than he is. They have no strength or conditioning program, no technique, no structure. That's your job, to help them to grow and mature and flourish."
RSN: Who can get some playing time soon?
Singletary: "I think pretty much all of the kids. I know June's not big on Redshirting guys or sitting guys. D. line is a relentless position. Tiring, enduring, emotional, stressful, painful, so you play everybody. I'm the only one who can put the uniform on. I'm sure we could use that. D-line – they've gotta have a different mentality."
RSN: How much will a structured system help these guys, and which one most?
Singletary: "I think all of these guys will benefit. The kids from Kamehameha and St. Louis have great systems. But the kids from JC are there for a reason. It was academics or their tools. Their hands, timing, blocking, catching, whatever case it was the position they played. Going to a JC system for two years gave them a chance to work on those things."
RSN: What about Darrell? He's gone from 235 to 275 in less than two seasons.
Singletary: "Darrell needs to stay flexible. He doesn't need to get too bulky. These guys should take ballet classes and yoga. Flexibility, balance, endurance are key to playing defensive line now."
RSN: Will he play tackle or end?
Singletary: "Probably both, but once he gets in training camp, we'll get a better feel."
RSN: What about Matt?
Singletary: "Ideally, I'd like to get him down to 305 so he can move and run. We play 80, 90 snaps a game, so he has to be ready to play the fourth quarter. He's very focused, and that's huge."
RSN: Wayne Hunter's move to O-Line is okay with you?
Singletary: "We sit down as a staff to talk about everything, and I felt he was better suited to offense and that's what's best for the team. I've seen guys his size and stature, 6-6, 290 pounds, he's Reggie White or Bruce Smith or somebody, but that's not always the case.
"He has some abilities to really excel at offensive line, more so than defensive line at this point and time. Not to say he couldn't become a great defensive lineman, but I think he could succeed quicker at the O-Line."
RSN: What was his response?
Singletary: "I didn't bother him with it. I didn't feel like I needed to talk about it with him. Whatever happened would happen. It wasn't pressuring him to do it. He came around and felt good about it. I just told him to give it a shot, and he was excited."
RSN: What was it about his skills that better suit him to O-Line?
Singletary: "D-line you have to have great instincts. Sometimes, that can be coached. He's really a great football player. He can play defense or offense. Not that we have great depth at D-Line, but collectively, visiting with Kevin (Lempa), we're not going to lose a lot by letting him go. He could've possibly been.
"With Lui, Lance and Isaak, we open up in training camp, Lui and Lance will be our starting two tackles. At outside, there's going to be Houston Ala, and of course, Laanui Correa.
RSN: And Wayne can start at offensive tackle?
Singletary: "Yeah. Those guys have instincts. Maybe Wayne is a training camp away from being phenomenal at that (DL) position, but there are other kids who are really hungry and they've been in the system two or three years."
RSN: So how's Isaak doing?
Singletary: "Isaak's just a warm, wonderful individual. Very receptive. He's like a quiet storm waiting to happen. I think he loves the weather. He likes going down to the beach. He's a very quiet guy, doesn't say a whole lot. He trains a great deal, plays volleyball and basketball. He's not a couch potato by any means."
RSN: How misleading is his 31-stat total from his final junior college system?
Singletary: "I don't get caught up with those JC stats. Who held the sack record in the NFL? Gastineau? That record's been standing for a long time. Even at the collegiate level, what was the sack number that led? Thirteen?
"People really spread it out and throw quick, so it's not like most high schools and JC where there's a five-step or seven-step drop where guys are waiting for routes to develop. We blitz more than anyone in the conference or possibly in the country. It would take a lot of hard work to get those stats.
"I'm expecting a lot of great plays from him. He'll be double-teamed and triple-teamed. Expect a lot of great things from him, but don't expect him to duplicate what he did at junior college. When you look at Nebraska, Miami, Florida State, I don't think there's one guy on their front who had a total of 10 sacks in one season. And those are pretty good athletes in good systems."
LE Laanui Correa
LT Lui Fuga
RT Lance Samuseva
RE Kevin Jackson or Houston Ala
"They've been in the system and know the system. It'll give Isaak a chance to compete for a starting position. It makes us better because one of those two guys inside knows, there's Isaak Sopoaga and he wants a starting job. I know I have to work hard for my starting position.
"It'll be a great deal of rotation between them."
Singletary: "There's a lot of unanswered questions. There's Hiram Travis, played end when he first came in. He had some personal issues and finally got over that. He made a mistake and he wants to redeem himself, and we certainly want to help him. He could be a contributor for us. He and Isaak could be our starting second group of tackles unless the tables turn.
"There's other guys like Darrell and Abu who will contribute to our inside play, and Rocky (Faga).
Singletary: "Houston at the RE, Kevin and a couple guys at the right side. Right now, we've got to re-evaluate. I'm not sure who'll be the second-team guy just yet."
RSN: Seems like every season, the line gets banged up and new guys have to step up.
Singletary: "No question. We don't have a lot of depth. It's a long football season, so every one of those guys will see the field unless they don't do anything or get injured.
"Our guys are so different from other places. Those kids will take a month or year off. Our kids will play with torn ligaments. You almost have to restrain a guy from going back on the field or in the weight room. These guys try to find a way to get back out there. If we don't say anything, they'll go back out there.
"They love their team and their coaches, and they'll run through a brick wall for them. We very seldom hit in practice or even suit up in pads. Our philosophy is very different von Appen's era. It's teaching, assignment and alignment. If we can excel in that area, we'll win 70 or 75 percent of the time.
"If you don't know your assignment or coverage, it doesn't matter how gifted an athlete you are. You can really hurt your team."
Singletary: "I feel really good about where we are and who we have coming to contribute. Our system is simple. You don't have to be a rocket science student to understand it. Most places you go, most schemes are hard to understand. I'm bringing the nursery approach so they understand what I'm talking about when I use certain terms. I'm using the Lego blocks. I'm going to laminate them and put them on the wall. I don't know if anyone's ever done it.
"Many times, guys will tell you they understand, but they haven't learned it. It's not important what I've learned, but what they learn. Once they can see it over and over, it's easier for them to lock it in and retain it.
About the Rams …
Singletary: "They said nobody can beat the Rams but the Rams, well, the Patriots BEAT the Rams. They had so much confidence, it didn't matter who they played on the other side of the football. They played with a lot of aggression and attitude and controlled the game.
"The Rams came in there with a chip on their shoulder but had the wrong kind of swagger. They felt the New England Patriots were going to lay down because they were the 'Greatest Show on Turf.'"
UH defensive line coach Vantz Singletary picks
out his favorite scripture (James 1:12) in a
sportswriter's bible. That verse was shared with
him by his uncle, Hall of Fame linebacker Mike