During his church mission, Su'a-Filo spent two years in Tallahassee (Fla.) and in southern Alabama, "attending to people's needs and helping them find the Gospel, sharing the message." He had up to an hour of workout time each day, but even though he still weighed about 310 pounds he told the incoming coaches that, "I have lost some strength" during his time away from the game.
But Su'a-Filo also said the time away helped him "be more focused and really diligent in my work. That'll help me in football, where some days it's a grind, especially in practice."
Last season, 32 Mormons who had served on church missions were enjoying their time playing for a National Football League team. Seven other church members were also on various organizational practice squads.
If there was any surface rust on Su'a-Filo from the two-year layoff, it certainly did not show by the time the 2012 season started. While he would still see game action at left tackle, the junior would start all fourteen games at left guard, receiving All-American honors after he delivered fourteen touchdown-resulting blocks for a team that finished with a 9-5 record.
The team ranked third in the Pac-12 Conference in total offense (6,531 yards) and averaged 275.71 yards passing per game, a marked improvement from Neuheisel's last squad (198.29 ypg in 2011). Brett Hundley, UCLA's starting quarterback, raved about the blind side protection he was accorded by Su'a-Filo. He said the his versatile blocker was the reason for his success during his first year as the team's starting quarterback.
Su'a-Filo seemed fine being a candidate for any line shuffle the coaches deemed. With the Bruins plagued by injuries to the front wall during his two seasons back, playing multiple positions within the same game did not pose any problems for him. Still, he does not sound like a player who will ever have a particular preference.
"Tackle, you just have more space to operate," he said. "You have more space with your defender. And [as a] guard, you don't have so much. You have guys on either side of you. That's really the only difference."
His head coach must have liked what he said, because Mora inserted Su'a-Filo into the lineup seven times at left guard and in six others at left tackle in 2013. The changes proved quite effective, as the blocker not only earned All-American first-team honors, but he also registered 20 touchdown-resulting blocks, the most by a Bruin since Jonathan Ogden had twenty-three during his All-American 1995 campaign.
The versatile blocker was called by Mora the major reason that the young offensive line had stability during the last two seasons. Even when injuries hit and the Bruins were to deal with a variety of different lineups throughout the 2013 schedule, Su'a-Filo's leader-ship was evident, as they generated 5,825 yards in total offense and made sixteen fewer sacks than the previous season. The lineman would record forty-three touchdown-resulting blocks (1.08 per game) and 337 knockdowns (8.425 per game average) during his time in the starting lineup as a Bruin.
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins
Su'a-Filo has a very powerful upper body with long, thick limbs, big back, good waist and well-proportioned thighs and calves. He possesses a thick lower body frame with wide hips, good bubble, thigh thighs and a squat build that can carry at least another 20-to-25 pounds without any loss in quickness (timed at 5.04 seconds in the 40-yard dash). He has good arm length you look for in making reach blocks and comes off the ball with good leg drive and hand punch to shock and jolt. He generates good hip rotation when redirecting on the move and knows how to use his size to get leverage on the defender.
Su'a-Filo has outstanding power for a player his size. He shows good athletic agility getting out in front on sweeps and pulls and is very flexible when redirecting. He shows good knee bend and adequate quickness for a trap blocker and runs with a normal stride working into the second level. He demonstrates the fluid change of direction skills and proper weight distribution in space and has good body quickness in his kick slide. He also shows the foot agility, balance and body control to get out and stalk second level defenders. He maintains good balance on drive blocks and is quick enough when running long distances. In the short area, he shows good balance and a fluid running stride. He is quick in his retreat setting up in pass protection and has the functional overall flexibility to get back into the action on the move, taking proper angles to neutralize linebackers. He plays flat-footed with his hands properly inside his frame to gain leverage.
Su'a-Filo plays with very good field awareness and vision. He shows valid instincts and the ability to adjust on the move to different schemes and needs just normal reps to retain plays, evident by his ability to seamlessly switch to other line positions without having any drop-off in performance (on several occasions, he would play both guard and tackle spots in the same game). He understands all blocking schemes and options and is smart enough to be used in making calls up front. He has a good knowledge of the games, studies tapes and is well-prepared for his upcoming opponent. He has no problems digesting a complicated playbook or taking those plays from the chalkboard to the playing field. He makes good adjustments during game action and works well in unison with his other line mates.
Su'a-Filo has a lot of moxie and aggression in his play. He is a very consistent performer who plays with good urgency. He can simply dominate at this level of play and competes well vs. top-rated competition. He works hard to finish blocks and explodes with good force coming out of his stance. He plays at a high intensity level with tremendous aggression. He has this "search and destroy" attitude taking on level two defenders and plays with an attitude that he would much rather punish his opponent rather than just contain them (see 2013 Nevada, Colorado and Washington games). He plays until the whistle and there is simply no quit in him. He will not hesitate in throwing an elbow in putting his opponent down and shows outstanding tenacity in his overall play. His mean streak is evident throughout his play coming out of his stance, as he keeps his head on a swivel, looking for other targets to hit. He is known for his ability to look defenders up down field and attacks his man hard in every snap).
Su'a-Filo has good initial quickness to gain advantage, as he plays with a low pad level and shows good balance with his first step, generating suddenness and body quickness to leverage. He has the loose hips to make adjustments in space, but it is his pad level and hand punch that usually sees him gain instant advantage on a lethargic defender. He comes out of his stance with a wide anchor, good body control and keeps his hands inside his framework. He is best when used on short pulls, as his timed speed is just adequate when going long distances, though. He demonstrates good balance in his retreat setting up in pass protection. He gets off the ball with good urgency and pad level, and has the quickness to gain position off the snap and is very alert to movement, showing the nimble feet to redirect in the short area (see 2013 Southern California and Virginia Tech/Sun Bowl games). He shows good snap quickness in the shot gun and knows how to get into position to sustain defenders. He has the explosion and arm reach to consistently establish him self getting into his reach blocks and in maintaining position.
Su'a-Filo is quite effective getting in front on short pulls and traps. His initial quickness on the pull lets him land on targets when working in close quarters. He takes good angles in space and makes proper adjustment moving into the second level. He is very balanced utilizing his kick slide and when doing so he stays square while showing the ability to redirect. It is rare to see him revert to waist bending, as he shows good ability to flip his hips, sink his pads and flow with the play. He shows good agility in his kick slide and moves from side to side with good flexibility. The thing you see on game films (see 2013 Nebraska, Colorado and Southern California games) is his ability to execute the mini-pulls and traps with ease of movement.
Balance/Stays On Feet
Su'a-Filo shows good cover-up ability on the move, consistently finishing once engaged with the defender. He has those good, long arms to leverage and control and excels when trying to reach and hold his position or when rerouting his opponent. In the past, he would sometimes bend at the waist, and it would lead to him over-extending on reach blocks. But during his last two seasons, he has learned to compensate, showing better patience to let the defenders come to him rather than lunge at his opponent. He has a strong anchor and base to maintain position and has shown very good hand placement in his quest to defeat counter moves. He comes off the snap with good explosion and does a nice job of keeping his feet and staying in control when on the move (see 2013 Nevada, New Mexico State and Colorado games). He has good body control in his attempts to sustain and when he keeps his pads down, he does a great job of getting under defenders to leverage them during the running game.
Su'a-Filo might generate great initial explosion, but he is much more effective on the short pulls than when running long distances. He gets a strong initial surge on contact and is a classic mauler with a brutal hand punch to shock and jolt. He is especially effective helping out his center and is a dominating drive blocker at this level who combines strength and mass to sustain as an in-line blocker. His impressive upper body power lets him consistently shock defenders. When he sinks and rolls his hips, his explosion in the short area is excellent. He generates a strong punch in pass protection and maintains balance while showing he is quick to recover vs. speedy edge moves (see offensive tackle performance in the 2013 Colorado, USC and Virginia Tech games).
Su'a-Filo shows the loose hips and strong hand strike on contact to dominate the defender. He is a very good screen-&-wall off type who works hard to finish. He can punish his man when hitting and driving off his initial step and is a fine road grader who can drop his weight and drive through his blocks, thanks to above average leg strength. He is very good at using his hands to lock on (see 2013 Nevada, New Mexico State, Colorado and Washington games) and has a keen understanding for positioning. He has very good balance on the move, which is evident by his ability to land on second level defenders. He will struggle with balance when he gets his base too narrow, but that is rare to happen. He displays good consistency in attempts to seal and wall off while working in unison with his center, showing good ease-of-movement playing in space. When he gets position on a defender, he knows how to use his mass and hand punch to shock and jolt. He is also especially effective at gaining movement when he has an angle on people and works hard to maintain position and get movement at the point of attack.
Having allowed just one QB sack in his last two years, Su'a-Filo has done well in protecting his quarterback. He plays flat-footed and generates a strong anchor and power base. He uses his hands well to catch the defender and is quick to recover vs. counter moves. He has very good short area kick slide and hand usage, showing proper knee bend to quickly redirect. He is equally effective when anchoring and locking out vs. power as he is when sliding and adjusting to quickness (see 2013 Nebraska, New Mexico State and California games). He uses his hands well to set and hold off on contact and has more than enough strength to anchor (could use more bulk for the NFL level).
Su'a-Filo demonstrates good cover-up ability. He is a strong finisher once he engages a defender and does a good job of playing on his feet. He seems to be more comfortable blocking in tight quarters or on short pulls than when going long distances, as he has good initial quickness, but labors some when having to run long distances. He does show good balance and body control to take good angles in attempts to neutralize second level defenders. He has the loose hips to turn and get back into the action when playing in space. He can do a nice job of adjusting to movement and generally finds his targets, but is best when used on short traps and pulls than long ones. He also has improved his body control on the cutback. When he plays with his knees bent and over his feet, he is very consistent keeping his balance on the move.
Adjust on Linebacker Downfield
Su'a-Filo has good chip and land ability. He can get up on second level defenders, doing a nice job of gaining position. His field vision and instincts allow him to anticipate where the linebacker will be and he will not hesitate to go down field to land on targets. He is a patient blocker in the second level with a good concept for taking angles to the line-backers. He has good balance executing an open field block and is consistent getting out in front on short screens. The thing you see on film (see 2013 Utah, Colorado and Southern California games) is his ability to hustle and look up defenders down field, even though he lacks blazing speed to travel long distances.
Use of Hands/Punch
Su'a-Filo demonstrates very good hand usage and a strong punch. He uses his long arms well to lock on and control. He maintains proper hand position and is very good at extending them while maintaining inside position. He is physical and strong with his punch extension and has good lock-out ability, as he is quick to replace his hands. His is very effective at generating force and pop behind his hits to jolt the opponent. He knows how to use his hands to grab and gain control. He also has improved his hand quickness, as he works hard to get a piece of his opponent's jersey to lock on and control.
Su'a-Filo is very alert to picking up stunts and twists. He shows good patience waiting for plays to develop and is very reacts quickly to switching on stunts or picking up blitzes. He is better at locating and neutralizing interior blitzes, but even though he does not have great speed to run long distances, he is quick enough in the short area to isolate speed rushers. He has decent foot speed to mirror when working in-line by staying square to recover. He is good adjusting when changing direction, doing a better job the last two years in attempts to keep his weight back and stay under control to slide, shuffle and adjust his feet to movement.
MIKE IUPATI-San Francisco: Like Iupati, Su'a-Filo has been a model of consistency throughout his career and can play a variety of roles on the front wall. You can also see a little of Larry Allen (ex-Dallas and San Francisco) in his play, as he shows the same tenacity, brute strength and uncanny instincts to consistently be in position to lock on and control the defender. With a less than stellar crop of major college talent at the offensive guard position, and his experience playing in-line, Su'a-Filo could have much better success playing guard at the pro level rather than be utilized as a full-time tackle.