Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, October 24, 2001


Kimo von Oelhoffen had his best NFL game Sunday
against Tampa Bay. He made seven tackles -- six of
them unassisted -- and three sacks.

Von Oelhoffen survives
under NFL’s radar

By Nick Abramo

You need a machete to make your way through the jungle from Molokai to the National Football League.

It's no easy trip, but Kimo von Oelhoffen hacked his way from the tiny island to Boise State and on to Cincinnati where he banded with the jungle cats they call Bengals.

Most recently, he has been running with the pack in Pittsburgh, where they put a premium on the brand of smart, defensive football von Oelhoffen plays.

They call it Steelers football.

Von Oelhoffen, a 6-foot-3, 297-pound defensive lineman, is in his eighth NFL year. He's the furthest thing from a superstar, and that's just the way he likes it.

"My focus is to be the most consistent player I can be," he said. "If you can get in your gap 99 out of 100 times, that's what makes you a good player. You can get 10 sacks, but get killed (on every other play) the whole game. And you won't be around very long if you make one good play and then three bad plays.

"Being consistent (through the years) has been my biggest highlight. I'm never in the news, but I'm (still) around, because I do the little things. I'm not flashy. I play my role and nobody's going to notice me, but the coaches notice."

The Steelers are 4-1, having played four solid defensive games in wins over Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Tampa Bay after a season-opening loss to Jacksonville.

Von Oelhoffen turned in his best performance of the season Sunday in a 17-10 win over Tampa Bay. As a matter of fact, he was overpowering, with seven tackles, including six solo stops and three sacks.

He recently made the switch from defensive tackle to defensive end, but the more meaningful switch is when he came to Pittsburgh in 2000 after six seasons with struggling Cincinnati.

"When you're 1-7 and you mess up, all eyes are on you, and that's when people start playing to not mess up instead of playing to make plays," he said.

Von Oelhoffen knows many people rave about other defenses around the league, especially the Baltimore Ravens', but he's proud of the fact that the Steelers at one point last season went 21 straight quarters without giving up a touchdown.

The Steelers also finished among the top five defenses in the NFL last year, a fact that makes von Oelhoffen extremely proud.

So far this year, Pittsburgh ranks second in points allowed, averaging just 11.6 per game.

Coach Bill Cowher is well aware of von Oelhoffen's contributions, which included his career-high 52 tackles with 38 solo stops last year.

"Kimo has been a great addition to our team," Cowher said. "His blue-collar, no-nonsense approach to the game is what Pittsburgh Steelers football represents. His versatility in our defense (to play nose or end) has made him invaluable. He has been a very productive player and a fun guy to coach."

And von Oelhoffen is glowing about Cowher, too.

"Coach Cowher is, hands down, one of the best football coaches," he said. "He has resolve, he's consistent and he's a good disciplinarian. Everybody loves him because he's fair. It's not just an act, he has a purpose --he loves physical football and he coaches with that attitude."

For his career, von Oelhoffen has 203 tackles, including 162 solos and nine sacks.

Because of his lengthy stay in the NFL, he is able to teach some of the younger guys a thing or two.

"The biggest thing I bring is experience," von Oelhoffen said. "We're young. Other than me, the total experience on the D-line is four years. That's total. I got eight. I'm kind of the mentor, showing them little tricks here and there, things that work."

Von Oelhoffen is keenly interested in things that work.

"You have to know your roles and responsibilities, understand defenses, where you fit, where you gotta get to, find out who you're playing, how he likes to block, what the team's formations and tendencies are," von Oelhoffen said. "When you do that, when you play everything honest, that's when you take your shots. You recognize it and take your shot. It's not just a guess. Guessing should never be a part of your repertoire."

It's not easy to take the country boy out of the Molokai native. In the offseason, he and his family (wife Tondi, daughters Jalyn, 8, and Kamri, 3) live in Washington state.

"I'm real simple," von Oelhoffen said. "I drive a '66 Bronco and a '91 Ford truck. We have a three-bedroom house and we have a basketball court."

He keeps many athletic accessories around the house to remind him that he needs to constantly stay in shape.

One home drill is unconventional.

"I walk around the yard on my hands and my wife holds my feet up and one of my daughters sits on my back. I do 20-yard circles and then I gotta come back and catch my other daughter (who tries to run away).

"It's pretty funny. I'm a big guy and my two little girls are just kicking my butt," he said.

Von Oelhoffen gets together with teammate Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, a running back who also grew up in Hawaii, almost every day.

He believes "Fu" has the potential to be a high-caliber starting running back in the NFL some day.

"We play video games and are cooking and eating," von Oelhoffen said. "He's a good guy and he's got a great family back home."

Speaking of eating and family, von Oelhoffen's Hawaii ohana sends him food all the time --Portuguese sausage, poi and other local dishes.

"My wife actually makes a pretty good shoyu chicken and I eat rice every night," he said. "And whenever I visit my family in Hawaii, I gain 20 pounds in a week, easy."

Von Oelhoffen likes to tell a story about how Coach Cowher has never lost to a certain Steelers player in racquetball.

"Cowher's pretty good in racquetball and he gets really mad if this guy scores even one or two points on him."

Giving up points is bad. That's Cowher's life.

And Kimo von Oelhoffen has been schooled in Cowher's bruising Pittsburgh Steelers defensive system.

The team-oriented, highly regarded but unsung defensive end knows the finer points and complexities of it.

That machete is long gone.

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