USC Linebacker Ready To Learn

The Patriots may not have taken a linebacker early in the 2007 NFL Draft, but that wasn't because they gave up on the current group of prospects. One player they had their eye on, was USC's Oscar Lua. A teammate of Lofa Tatupu -- another LB the Pats thought highly of -- Lua's competition with the former Trojan linebacker put him on the team's radar. Now that he's here, he intends to make it work.

USC's Oscar Lua taking crash course in learning New England
By John Ingoldsby

FOXBORO, Mass. - Oscar Lua may be leaving the learning of USC, but he is getting a crash course in more than football here in New England.

The California native is in the Northeast for the first time, and is a quick study of two basic facts, "It's colder and it's tough to adjust to the time change," he observed.

Fortunately for the Trojan linebacker, he had the perfect teacher at USC to prepare him for playing football back east with the Patriots. No, not Pete Carroll, but someone even closer -- Lofa Tatupu.

"I was roommates with Lofa at USC, and we were great friends" reminisced Lua. "My sophomore year, I beat out Lofa, but had a knee injury, and then Lofa stepped in and did a marvelous job for two years."

No small issue beating out Tatupu, the son of ex-Patriot Mosi Tatupu, considering his college career and that he is now a star linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. But the competition at linebacker was nowhere near being over for Lua, as described below.

A USC contact characterized Lua as a good all-around guy and hard worker, who was always positive. He noted that when highly regarded middle linebacker Rey Maualuga arrived two years ago, Oscar helped tutor him while fighting to keep his own starting job. But Oscar was open about the competition and understood it would help the team, even as Rey's increased playing time was reducing Oscar's. Oscar just kept working to earn every snap he could get, be it on defense or special teams, and was a true team player, the Trojan added.

Sounds like a perfect pick for the Patriots, and Lua intends to continue his schooling. "I am in the process of learning and intend to keep my head in the playbook, which is as thick as the yellow-page phonebook.

"Coach Belichick is an imposing figure, but I will be learning from the best and surrounded by the best. I intend to listen, listen, and then listen some more. I already learned that on time is late and early is on time. I will adapt to the system," Lua added.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder almost assuredly understands already what Belichick values most -- versatility. "At USC, we play all the players, including special teams, like Coach Belichick, which gave me a better grasp of the situation."

Belichick also values big program-big game experience, and Lua proved his mettle with six tackles and a forced fumble in the penultimate national championship game against Texas. It's a safe bet that Lua and Patriot second-year tight end and former Longhorn David Thomas have already met, most likely between the lines in that epic Rose Bowl battle.

It was high-profile games like that has Lua glad he landed here in New England, where despite the unfamiliar surroundings, he recognized that "football is football." And he brings with him some words of wisdom from someone who knows.

"Pete (Carroll) said it was a great opportunity up here in New England, and that he loves the city, loves everything out here. But I haven't seen much, just the stadium and the locker room."

And in that locker room may be yet another familiar face. "I can't believe that my childhood idol, Junior Seau, has his locker only 15 feet away," Lua said looking just to his left at the former USC linebacking legend's locker. "I have met Junior, and I know he will be back," he said in reference to Seau returning from his broken arm that prematurely ended his stellar season last year with the Pats.

Yes, the California Connection continues strong here in New England, and Lua, the first pick of the seventh round obtained from the Oakland Raiders may prove that Randy Moss is not the only gift bestowed upon the Patriots by Al Davis this off-season.

John Ingoldsby is a free-lance sports writer based in Medfield, Massachusetts, who has written articles about the Patriots for various publications during the past five years. You can find John on the Patriots Insider boards under the handle Rudiee.

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