By Steve Wisham
Thursday, Aug. 1, 2002
HONOLULU – Five road games, including BYU, Fresno State, Boise State and home games against SEC contender Alabama and a solid Cincinnati team (they're in the MAC) makes for a much tougher schedule than in recent years.
A solid defense and solid defensive line, therefore, is a non-negotiable. According to UH defensive line coach Vantz Singletary "everything on the defensive side starts with the defensive line, from pressuring the quarterback to stopping the run." Singletary has had successful coaching stints at Trinity International, Southern University and 5 NFL internships. I had the opportunity to speak with coach about his players and what we can expect from the d line this year. Now you may have heard a little here and there about the UH d line but I'll bet nothing as exhaustive as this and if you have, great. And as an added bonus you get my analysis for free; I know great isn't it.
Laanui Correa # 58
When asked who on the line is the most improved player, without hesitation coach Singletary said "Laanui Correa by far" In 2001 Correa played in all twelve games had 51 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. So look for a big time year from him, which might include all WAC honors. Correa has great speed, quickness and strength. According to Singletary "Correa has a burst and acceleration that's unparralled." He runs a 4.75 40 and bench presses 500 pounds. Coach Singletary is quick to point out Correa's work ethic, football smarts and technical soundness, saying of him "there is a guy, if I had to talk about technique his picture should be listed in the dictionary. He's just fundamentally sound and of course he's taken time to develop that. He doesn't make a lot of mental errors, he doesn't blow assignments; he doesn't get hotheaded and blow up." Put Correa's athletic ability, work ethic, football savvy and technical soundness together and what you have is a senior who's going to lead a vastly improved defensive line.
Houston Ala #93
Backing Correa up will be junior Houston Ala who according to Singletary is also a vastly improved player. Singletary said "talk about most improved I would say Houston and Laanui would be co-mvps when it comes to most improved players this spring." In 2001 Ala played in all twelve games and started in two. According to Singletary, while watching film, Ala "Jumped off the screen." Singletary says that while only 245-250 Ala can squat 700 lbs; "is very powerful and naturally explosive." Ala spends a lot of time in the weight room and in watching film. Coach laughs when he says "if I had to list a hobby for him would be being in the weight room. Some say Houston is like my son. He's a guy I would have no reservation about babysitting my four daughters. He's that kind of kid." Watching him last year and seeing his solid performance this spring it looks to me like Houston Ala is going to bring consistent, solid play in depth to the left defensive end position.
Lance Samuseva #92
Samuseva played in all twelve games last year and started in 10 games amassing 38 tackles. Singletary says of Samuseva "Lance is much like Houston doesn't say a whole lot but brings his lunch everyday and his hard hat. He plays great pad level; he's very explosive. He's a kid that's about 290 and carries it real well his arms looks like legs their so large. He throws up a lot of weight. Lance has a feel for the game and is a good run defender. He's really improved at his pass rush technique and he's become much faster. He stepped up last year big for us and became a starter last year when we struggled inside early on in the season, so I look for big things to happen." Last year Samuseva a highly touted Farrington grad brought real stability and toughness to an interior defense decimated by injuries. Look for an improved Samuseva to make big plays consistently this year.
Lui Fuga #99
In 2000 Lui Fuga played in 11 games and started in 8. Fuga totaled 42 tackles while playing injured much of the season. Last year he redshirted after undergoing two shoulder surgeries. His return means only head aches for opposing offenses but for UH he brings athleticism and intensity to the interior line. Singletary said, "Lui has the biggest and greatest engine out there. He's the guy you have to tell slow down. He'll hurt somebody or himself, because he practices so hard. I don't think there is any one who practices as hard as him." A healthy Fuga should dominate the middle this year.
Travis LaBoy #1
In 2001 LaBoy played in 9 games and started in 6. He was named to the all WAC second team. He led the d line in tackles with 52, had four sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Coach Singletary said of LaBoy "He has so much that he has to find things to really continue to motivate him; because it comes so easy for him. He's extremely quick he's extremely explosive, he's very fast; he's like a cheetah. He can change directions without slowing down; very few guys can do that. He has great footwork; he is great with his hands and plays great at pad level. He's tall, rangy, athletic; just blessed with some abilities that some guys have to get into the weight room and go out on the grass field to train and develop."
It's just a matter of refining it and sharpening it and really working at it and repping it till he's just a machine out there. If he can get healthy; that's the biggest thing with him just staying healthy; if he stays healthy, I mean here is a guy who makes 2nd team all-WAC playing part of a season; Lord knows if he can stay healthy and finish his full season I think he would be an all American."
Kevin Jackson #11
Jackson played in twelve games last year. According to coach Singletary Jackson's primary strength is his speed. In assessing Jackson's spring and what he expects from him this year Singletary said "His strength would be pass rushing at this point in his career. He's in the transition game, last year we had him playing at linebacker. We got shorthanded at d line and we inserted him back into the front four and he contributed and did real well for us. He's a guy who I thought had a great spring; he did an outstanding job and made a lot of plays for us; he's really fast off the edge. When you talk about edge rushers you certainly have to put him in there with Travis LaBoy and Houston Ala." With Jackson backing up LaBoy, coming out of spring you have incredible speed and athleticism in depth at the right defensive end position.
Sopoga should bring size and athletic ability and add great depth to the interior line that last year was decimated with injuries and in prior years lacked size. One of the most publicized recruits in UH history Sopoga was recruited by Nebraska, Texas A&M, and most PAC-10 schools. He had 31 sacks in his last season at the College of the Canyons in California. At 6'4" 310 he runs a 4.75 40 and can bench 450. A friend of mine told me that he heard that this guy can even do a 360 degree dunk. I wonder if he's bullet proof?
With such Herculean numbers and equally Herculean publicity expectations are high. If you want to know my opinion (which you might not) if he's half as good as that he'll be a great boost to an already improved defensive line. Coach Singletary says of him "I think the biggest thing with Isaak is really just getting in the system; learning the system. We'll probably play him all over the field. We'll play him at end; play him at tackle; we may even put him at linebacker. He's an athletic guy; very gifted and seems to have a feel for the game. He seems to have those instincts that you need to play defensive line."
Matt "Rocky" Faga
Faga took all conference honors both of his years spent playing for Fresno City College. Faga was also recruited by Oregon, Oregon State, Florida State, and Bringham Young. Tony Caviglia his coach at Fresno City College said of him "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."
Under Coach Singletary's guidance an undersized, injury ridden defensive line is now one of the best lines in the WAC. He's preached technique, hard work and a solid mental approach to the game and the returning players have taken ownership of that and are making it work. With the discovery of Lance Samuseva; the return of Lui Fuga and the addition of Isaak Sopoga and Rocky Faga UH for the first time in recent history has the four things UH has needed at tackle: size, strength, athleticism and depth. Laanui Correa is developing into what coach Singletary knew he could be: a dominating player; one of the best in the west. A healthy Travis LaBoy will absolutely dominate; a mature Houston Ala and a refined Kevin Jackson will give talent, speed, experience and strength in depth. With so little drop off of ability in depth everyone will be fresher and better throughout the games and the season. Barring injury this defensive line with a tough linebacker core should keep Hawaii in every game. As far as I am concerned coach Singletary has done a great job and I for one am glad he didn't leave to coach in Texas. Thanks coach.