Lesuma well suited for WSU starting role

DEFENSIVE END Mike Graise has this move, see. The first time he puts it on an offensive lineman, they're left grasping at air. Cougar starting left tackle Vaughn Lesuma (6-5, 340) was held out of contact this spring to let his wrist heal but one day the Cougs were going helmets-only and he jumped down in the trenches with Graise opposite him. So Graise busted out his move on the Cougar rookie.

Graise knew Lesuma's wrist was still healing at the time, and the Cougs also weren't in full pads. So Graise didn't go full out.

Not at first.

"His hands are so fast, I was not expecting that," said Graise. "I did my move just a little bit. And I missed. So okay, he's pretty fast. The second time I went against him, I put more on it. And I still missed. His hands were so fast, I think he jabbed me about three times before I could count the first one."

Lesuma, modest as he is big, downplayed Graise's retelling when CF.C asked him about it earlier this summer.

"Oh no. I was like, 'Oh Mikey, come on,'" Lesuma laughed. "And Mike Graise is a really good athlete. But that, it was nothing special."

Maybe. Or maybe it was a harbinger of things -- namely defensive ends walking wide-eyed back to the huddle -- to come.



OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Mike Levenseller says the Cougs might field the best pass-catching threesome in his 17-years at WSU this season in Michael Bumpus, Brandon Gibson and Charles Dillon. Plus, there is a well stocked cupboard of more receiver talent in the wings. And the Cougs have a senior, second team All-Pac-10 QB to throw to all of them.

But if the hosses up front don't perform at a high enough level, all the receiving and quarterback talent in the world won't matter. And Lesuma is one of the key players upon whom the offense's success will turn, with the left tackle protecting a right handed quarterback's blind side.

THERE WILL BE high expectations for Lesuma his first year but to be clear, no one should place unfair expectations on the junior-to-be. As Yarno told CF.C subscribers in a chat session this offseason, there will be a learning curve for any lineman entering into his first year of Pac-10 play.

What should allay some concerns is that Lesuma is older (22) than your average JC transfer, very mature, and "extremely intelligent", says line coach George Yarno. Demonstrably, he brings to the table an advanced ability to assimilate knowledge and concepts, and then to turn around and deftly put them into action.

Lesuma on Yarno, and on playing JC ball with one hand
LESUMA SAYS YARNO made no secret of the fact during his recruitment that if Lesuma were to come to Pullman, the Cougs' o-line coach would push him from Day One -- the goal being to make him the best college offensive lineman he could possibly be.

"He was straight up, he told me that when he was recruiting me, 'Vaughn, I will push you,'" said Lesuma.

Lesuma did say he was mildly surprised observing Yarno in "coach-mode" on the field during the spring, as compared to off the field.

"Let me tell you, I thought he was the nicest man on Earth," laughed Lesuma. "No, I'm really grateful that I have him to learn from. I can learn so much from him. Coach Yarno has broken things down really, really well...you have your rules and they really do answer any question you could possibly think up.

"Coach Yarno has so many philosophies, sayings and quotes. And he's so correct in saying that confidence breeds aggression."

Lesuma said there are really two Yarnos -- one is the caring, fatherly type figure who is soft spoken and takes the time to explain things thoroughly. The other is the drill sergeant who will dial up the decibel level when things aren't done perfectly.

Lesuma said while the first one is "really effective with me," he said he loves them both, because he understands the need for both.

"Coach Yarno is everything I expected and the reason why I came here," Lesuma said emphatically. "You'll have that fatherly love when you have the time to step outside the box and look at it. But when we're at Wisconsin and it's fourth-and-one, it's not going to be an unfamiliar feeling, that pressure.

"And I know it's out of love with coach Yarno, because I've gotten to know him on a personal level rather than just as a coach. And I see his vision, and I think that's important, that he allows his players to see his vision so we all understand. When he's yelling at you, it's only to make you better. Because he knows you can do better."

LESUMA ALSO CARRIES with him many of the same qualities that Charles Harris and Sam Lightbody had -- he is one tough football player. He played his entire sophomore season at Mount San Jacinto with a broken wrist he first injured in fall camp last year.

"It was fractured at first but then it actually broke mid-season," said Lesuma. "I thought it was just still healing because there was still pain but the X-Ray (showed different). I'm just excited to be able to use both my hands this season, I played last season with literally one hand.

"My hand feels so much better -- way, way better -- than when I was playing last year. And I think I did pretty good there, and I did it basically with one hand. If I can get inside your pads, I feel it should be pretty much be a done deal."

Lesuma's wrist is expected to be 100 percent when the Cougs open fall camp this week.

Usually, a junior college o-line transfer asked to significantly contribute his first year is going to come with some challenges as part of the package. But if there's a player well suited to those challenges, it would appear to be Lesuma.

The same might also hold true for incoming Cougar sophomore Reed Lesuma (6-4, 305), Vaughn's brother and also a JC transfer. Vaughn credits much of his success, and in being a quick study, to all the hours the brothers spend working on their craft and studying the game.

"It's kind of sad, two grown guys who should be talking about girls spending all this time on football stuff," quipped Lesuma. "But it's fun for us. I liken it to the Pickler sisters at Wazzu, Diana and Julie, in track and field. They were killing everyone in track and field this year and I always liked seeing that they were together in the gym pushing each other. That's how I see Reed and myself."

VAUGHN LESUMA brings with him a ton of work ethic, of this there is no question.

Offensive linemen don't participate in skelly, the 7-on-7 skeleton drills the Cougar backs, receivers, 'backers and defensive backs run during voluntary summer workouts. Yet there was Lesuma out there, working alongside, running sprints on his own as hard as he could underneath a warm Palouse sun. Quarterback Alex Brink, who ran the summer skelly sessions, stopped for a moment and turned to cornerback Chima Nwachukwu and the others assembled.

"That," Brink said, "is what we need."

This offseason, the last thing Lesuma did before hitting the rack and the first thing on his agenda when he woke up was to study his playbook. And although he was held out of contact, Lesuma says he got a lot out of spring ball. Conditioning, drills, plays, he took it all in and participated in everything. Everything but the contact. It was torture, he said, not to be able to crack helmets.

"When they had the one-on-ones, it was really hard to have to step back," said Lesuma. "Coach Yarno is a really passionate coach. None of the guys were doing bad or anything but if someone isn't doing something exactly right, if they make one mistake, he's going to be displeased. There were several occasions I almost ran back to the locker room to get my pads.

"It was seriously one of the hardest things I've had to overcome, to be patient. I'm a competitor at heart and to stand there and have to watch is against my nature...I eventually got to see and accept the big picture, that it was for the best, but it was frustrating, I'm not going to lie."

LESUMA'S IMPORTANCE to the success up front this year was already significant before last week's news on Cougfan.com that starting right guard Andy Roof would miss the season. Coming out of spring ball, Lesuma was listed atop the depth chart at LT and heads into fall camp as the starter.

With Roof (five starts in '06) now out, that's one less Cougar lineman with Pac-10 experience alongside veterans Bobby Byrd, Dan Rowlands and Kenny Alfred. A likely scenario has Rowlands moving inside from his listed starting RT spot to RG, with Reed Lesuma competing with Micah Hannam and Joe Eppele for the starting RT job.

Therein lies the rub. Three-fifths of the line is battle tested. The remaining two starters will not have a whole lot of time to acclimate. In considering the Lesuma boys, if Vaughn ends up as good as he appears to be, the Cougs just might be in good hands -- or quick hands depending on a defensive end's point of of view -- the next two years.

And Reed is someone to keep an eye on. If his upside is anything like his brother's, and indications from Yarno are that it is, the Cougs have two potential bookend tackles that will provide a formidable challenge this year and an even stiffer one the next. Sometime around October, when Vaughn's and possibly Reed's football skills are more ably quantified, more will be known. But if those skills are as strong as his character, the Cougs are going to be quite capable on the left side in '07 with Lesuma and right guard Bobby Byrd.

"I can only get better," said Lesuma. "It's been about working with great guys like coach (Rob) Oviatt, coach Yarno, coach (Bill) Doba. They're going to bring the best out of me -- that's what I'm excited about. Of course there's a long ways to go and of course there's still a lot more to learn. But it's more and more comfortable every day.

"I'm really grateful to my family for how much support they've given me. And going against guys like Mike Graise and alongside guys like Bobby Byrd, a real athlete and a real warrior, and the rest of the guys on the line, it's only up from here. That's how I see it."

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