Vatuvei making a major impact for Cards

Former Washington defensive lineman Pio Vatuvei arrived on campus at the University of Louisville two days before fall camp started. But he's already making a big difference for the Cardinals and should be in the mix up front for the Sept. 1 opener against Miami, Fla.

It didn't take long for Pio Vatuvei to make an impression on his new coaching staff.

The former Washington defensive lineman spent last season at College of San Mateo and then was a late signee with the University of Louisville in early March after signing day.

The 6-foot-2, 275-pound Vatuvei was a late signee who also got a late start with the team. He had to finish some academic requirements this summer and didn't arrive on campus until two days before the start of fall camp.

But that hasn't stopped Vatuvei, who is Tongan, from making a splash.

"He came in right away and picked things up," U of L coach Bobby Petrino said. "He missed all summer, so I've been impressed with what he's done in the short time he's been here."

Vatuvei said he's "excited" to be part of the U of L roster and came to campus with the mindset of just trying to soak it all in.

"I'm just trying to learn every day," he said. "Coach (Todd) Grantham and my position coach (L.D.) Scott are help me learn the defense. Every day is a chance for me to get better."

Vatuvei started the fall camp on the first day with the 'newcomers' group but was moved up to the veterans after dominating the first day.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he's quickly worked himself into the rotation up front and is expected to be a key cog in the defense. U of L opens on Sept. 1 against Miami.

"I just continue to study my playbook, keep learning every day," Vatuvei said. "I can learn a lot technique-wise from the other players. I need to get into the weight room and study. I'm just trying to get better every day.

"I want to play relentless pursuit, attitude, and effort. That's all I can give right now, is just full effort.

U of L defensive line coach L.D. Scott said he has been impressed by how Vatuvei hasn't skipped a beat after joining the team late. Most of the team worked out together all summer and also had film sessions with the coaching staff.

"Pio already has big-time conference football experience," he said. "His film is very impressive and he's come right in here understanding what we do defensively.

"Now he's just making plays."

Grantham said he was familiar with his JUCO coach at San Mateo and noted the system they run there is similar to his defense.

"We kind of new the type of player he was," Grantham said. "I had a good relationship with his (JUCO) coach and we were very comfortable with his abilities and him as a person.

"He shows initial quickness up front and has some good movement skills for s big guy."

A three-star prospect, Vatuvei attended Patterson (Calif.) High School and originally committed to USC. He signed with Washington and played in nine games as a freshman, recording seven tackles as a true freshman. He totaled a pair of tackles against nationally ranked LSU and was credited with a career-high three stops in a win over Portland State.

After one season at Washington, Vatuvei spent a season at San Mateo. He had 35 tackles, including 6.5 sacks, in 11 games.

Scott, a former player at U of L, said he believes Vatuvei will continue his progression towards helping out the Cardinals on the field during game time.

"He played in a scheme very similar to ours at Washington," Scott said. "He's been working very hard to get up to speed. Pio is a pretty big guy. I think that he's going to be a great interior pass rusher for us."

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