Lagafuaina following the Ta'amu Plan

The first time I saw Lawrence Lagafuaina play football, it was just him and his 'Aiea teammates, having fun during a two-hand touch scrimmage during the May Evaluation Period two years ago. It was a beautiful sunset in Honolulu that evening, but Lagafuaina stole the show. He was a bowling ball of a man, every bit the six feet and 350 pounds he measured in at.

Lawrence thought he was a wide receiver, hurling his massive frame around like a player 150 pounds lighter. My first impression was tempered because he wasn't playing with pads, but I could not remember seeing a prospect that big run around that quickly, or that much. I also remembered one specific play when I was on the sideline, talking with 'Aiea Head Coach Wendell Say. Somehow, Lawrence came up with the ball and he trucked down the sideline. Coach Say and I barely steered clear of Lagafuaina's rampaging run.

It's fair to say I became a fan of Lawrence Lagafuaina from that day on.

After signing with Washington in February of 2010, Lagafuaina made his way to Seattle that summer, working out informally with the team while he integrated himself into college life. One thing he quickly found out was that these 'voluntary' workouts took a toll. He was used to working hard, exercising in the deep sand of the beaches on Oahu, building up his legs, as well as his stamina. But what he experienced at UW was at a different level.

Instead of playing last fall as a true freshman, the Washington coaches gave those minutes to fellow frosh Sione Potoae. That gave Lagafuaina time to revamp his body.

"It was pretty hard," Lagafuaina told Dawgman.com when asked about the idea of sitting on the sidelines instead of playing. "It felt weird. In high school, it was always like, 'Lawrence, get in!'. I was in for special teams, defense, offense. I came here and I was on the sidelines, and it didn't feel right. I wanted to get in there, I wanted to play."

"Look at how long it took 'Meda to get to where he's at," Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian, comparing Lagafuaina's physical transformation to that of Husky senior DT Alameda Ta'amu. Ta'amu was also listed at 350 pounds coming out of Rainier Beach High School, but the reality is that he was probably bigger. Slowly, Ta'amu has redefined his shape and now checks in at a svelte 330 pounds. It doesn't sound like he's lost a ton of weight, but if you look at his body now from three years ago - he's a completely different-looking player.

"Having 'Meda around and seeing the change that 'Meda has done with himself is really an eye-opener for Lawrence," Defensive Line Coach Johnny Nansen said before the beginning of spring. "If you look at Lawrence now, he's dropped a lot of weight and his body has formed into a football player's body."

"I think Lawrence looks great," Sarkisian added. "He's the lightest he has been since we've had him, he's down under 320 now. He's playing quick, which is what we thought he could be. And he's getting better, and that's a tough position."

Coming into spring ball, Lagafuaina believed a strong off-season prepared him well. He admitted to doing cardio workouts that pushed him to his breaking point, but he's now reaping the benefits of his hard work. "We did some stuff and it helped me out…we did some cardio and everything like that," he said. "It got kind of tiring, but I knew where I was going. That helped me.

"I feel good. I feel better than when I was at 350. I can move better now. When I come out to the field, I feel it. I can last longer. So with spring ball, I'm just going with the flow. I think I'm settled now. I'm learning from my mistakes. I think I'm doing pretty good."

"He didn't understand how to lift weights, he didn't know his diet and nutrition and things like that, but he's starting to understand the importance of that stuff," added Nansen. "You can see the change…remember when he first got here with two-a-days compared to now…it's been a big change."

Lagafuaina is grinding to emulate Ta'amu's success, spurred on by the understanding that his teammates had to count on him this spring. With Semisi Tokolahi out, and Chris Robinson very limited, Lawrence is anchoring a very thin two-line with walk-on Pete Galbraith, backing up Ta'amu and Potoae.

"It's good to take all those reps to get in shape," he said. "With Semisi out, and Chris Rob…I'm the next in line, so I have to step up and help the team out."

"It would be great to be able to spell Alameda and be able to rotate those guys a little bit and have a real force to come in and keep 'Meda fresh, so he can be dominant player in the fourth quarter as well," Sarkisian added. "So I've been very encouraged by Lawrence.''

While his body is going through a physical rebirth, his footballing mind is also experiencing a makeover of its own. At 'Aiea, Lagafuaina's game was 90 percent instinct, combined with an overpowering nature that could get him where he needed to go - which usually meant on top of someone in the opponent's backfield.

But now he's swimming in an ocean of terminology and football philosophy, having to absorb and excel with sudden change from a 4-3 to 3-4, or vise-versa. On one play he might have to hold his gap, while on the next he'll be asked to sniff out a screen play. He's working his way back to the time where he never had to think before he reacted. It was all about gut feel and intuition.

"I'm getting there," he said. "I'm not there yet when it comes to football intelligence. I'm working on it. I think I'm going up every day. As spring ball is going by, I'm learning new stuff, learning from my mistakes and not doing them again."

Every once in a while, Lagafuaina has a football jones; like that day at 'Aiea two years ago, he wants the rock in his hands. "I've been talking to (Washington Running Backs) coach (Joel) Thomas here and there, showing him my Dawg Claw," Lagafuaina said with a big smile. "He's always laughing at me. He's not taking me serious. I guess I have to give him my fullback highlights too! I keep bugging him, but he doesn't see it."

"It falls on deaf ears," Thomas said of Lagafuaina's request, a big smile smeared across his face. "Let's leave it at that."

Thomas knows that while the thought of Lawrence busting holes open for his running backs is intriguing, his future is set on stopping opposing ball-carriers at the line of scrimmage. And whether it's as a defensive tackle in a 4-3, or a two-gap nose in a 3-4, Lagafuaina has seen through the play of teammate Ta'amu what the future can be for him if he applies himself. After a year studying and working out, he has his mind and body on the right path.

"I think I'm ready for this season," he said, matter-of-factly. "I can't wait."

"He's getting better, and he's so strong," added Nansen. "But if we can get Lawrence back to where he was when he first came in here at camp, maybe a little stronger…you're going to look at a guy and say, 'Man, wow. He's got all the ability'."


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