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Cougar defensive line coach Joe Salave’a coaching with heavy heart

DON’T LOOK NOW but midway through the 2016-17 season, Washington State has the No. 12 rushing defense in all the land. That all starts with the steakeaters up front on the d-line. And those guys had some extra motivation Saturday night in the 27-21 win over UCLA. Their leader, Joe Salave’a, was coaching with a heavy heart.

Joe’s father, Otela Mitimaauga (Miti) Salave’a, recently passed away after a long illness. 

He was known as “Miki” to friends far and wide. And Miki Salave’a was a highly respected figure in the Samoan community.  In the village of Leone, he served as the vice principal at Leone High.

“You didn’t fool around in school when he was there,” said Dan Pritchard (CouGreat Jack Thompson refers to Dan as his mentor). “Miki was always known as a disciplinarian. He was respected, he was big and strong … and the title he had in Leone -- he was the spokesman for the village, in the village council.

“I hadn’t seen him for a while since he’d been sick.  I do know Joe has been carrying this load on his heart for a while now.”

THE SON CREDITED the father, as told to Washington Redskins historian Michael Richman, back during Joe's NFL playing days, for instilling in him the willpower to fight through adversity.

The Cougar defensive line faced plenty of adversity in the first two games this season. In a pair of three-point losses to open the 2016 campaign, the tip of the crimson spear got stood up far too often. Indeed, all the early season evidence indicated Cougar Nation was in for a transition year, chock full of ups and downs on the d-line after losing key players like Destiny Vaeao, Darryl Paulo, Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan.

But then a funny thing happened on the way from 0-2 to 4-2.   

The Cougar d-line began wrecking people up front.   

And that has hugely changed the way Washington State is playing defense.

With the defensive line bringing the heat, WSU forced four UCLA turnovers on Saturday. The Cougars held the Bruins to 43 yards on 25 carries (*1.7 ypc).

Halfway through the season and in addition to its No. 12 ranking against the run, Washington State ranks t-4th nationally in turnover margin (1.33) and t-53 in scoring defense (25.3).

The eye-popping turnaround on D is due in large part to the play of DE Hercules Mata’afa, NT Robert Barber, DT Daniel Ekuale and rush’s Dylan Hanser and Logan Tago. The Cougar front is also getting key contributions from Garrett McBroom, Ngalu Tapa, Derek Moore and others.

And the increased production is in large part due to how Joe Salave’a has been mentoring his troops to battle back from adversity. 

As it turns out, with the lessons of the father passed on to the son, Miki has had a hand in it too.

FROM THE CF.C ARCHIVES: Big Joe tells U-dub and USC thanks, but no thanks

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