IT all changed when he started to figure them out.
Singletarys brings best
out of kids on the D-line
Now they get game balls, books and chocolate candy. Words of wisdom by Vince Lombardi in hardcover. Inspiration. Motivation. "Who Moved My Cheese?"
Vantz Singletary is seeing a psychiatrist.
He's showing movies. Old classic films of Ravens and Bears.
He whispers words. An arm around shoulders. A quiet aside.
A trip to Subway. With cucumbers.
He's doing everything he can think of. And he's thinking of more things all the time. He's got 20 hanai kids, after all. He has to do everything he can.
"Each and every guy is so different," he says. Some need to be yelled at. Some can't be yelled at. They teach him a little more about themselves every day.
He's trying to reach them, teach them, connect with them. So he's studying. Reading books. Consulting sports psychologists. Doing little things to show that he cares.
"They can trust me," he says.
And it looks like it's working. Like everything has changed.
Because Singletary is Hawaii's defensive line coach.
And if you know your football, he looks like Father of the Year.
IT ALL CHANGED when Travis Laboy got into a sprinter's stance. When he started running down anything that moved. Started catching people from behind, started making impossible plays, and none other than June Jones himself said, "I thought I was watching Florida State."
He could play there. He's that good. That fast. Could play anywhere, the way he gets off blocks, the way he makes up ground, the way he makes a mistake, then jumps back and still, somehow, arrives at the ball. You sit there, blinking your eyes. Because he shouldn't be able to do that.
He was only supposed to be a pass rusher, use his speed, sprint around the corner, get the sack. He'd been injured. He'd never played. He was supposed to be a nice piece of the package. They'd hoped. But they didn't know. They didn't know what they had.
And then it was game time. They couldn't block him. Pass. Run. Option. Everything. Everything, and he did it like you're watching Florida State.
He came alive in the lights, fed on the emotion, and the defense loved it. They ate it up.
Soon he was an every-down guy. Eighty plays a game, a gifted, explosive player with unreal stamina. He wasn't coming out. They weren't about to take him out. "He plays as if he just doesn't have a heart," Singletary says. "Most guys would fall down. This cat has another gear."
And that changed everything.
IT ALL CHANGED when those two tackles got in there.
"In my opinion, our MVP has been Lance Samuseva," Singletary says.
Not of the line.
Of the entire defense.
Sure, he's biased. And sure, he says, there's Nate Jackson, and Chris Brown, and Pisa Tinoisamoa, and Jacob Espiau. But they all make the plays they do, he said, because of that big, stocky, smiling chunk of prime beef in the middle.
"He's taking on 600 pounds of flesh play after play," Singletary says. "He's just dominating."
Samuseva is doing the single most important thing on any defense: He holds the point. He makes his stand. He keeps guys off of Brown. He lets linebackers run to the ball.
Weeks ago, when the Hawaii defense first showed signs of life, coordinator Kevin Lempa was asked about the improved play of Brown. "No, he's always been that good," Lempa said. No, the difference was elsewhere. Hawaii's defense changed when it got better from the inside-out.
It's like on any good defense, like on the Ravens, where big Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams let Ray Lewis run free. Like on those Bears teams where the great front four let loose that bug-eyed, big-jowled Hall of Fame maniac ... hey, wait -- Singletary!
"My uncle (Mike) and I had a conversation about that," Vantz says, of the importance of the front lines. So he gets game films, of the Ravens, of the pros, of the old Bears, so his players can see how every piece fits, how a great linebacker comes to life, how a tough defensive tackle can make that happen.
"You need at least one guy," inside, Singletary says. "We're fortunate to have two guys."
Mike Iosua. The quick one. The playmaker, struggling through pain after pain, injury after re-injury. But he's in there. It all changed when Iosua got halfway healthy, when he grit his teeth and went. It all changed when Samuseva kept showing up in the films, kept showing flashes, kept coming back, and finally the coaches relented, decided to take a chance.
And Hawaii had its Goose and Sam, its McMichael and Fridge. And that's when it all changed.
IT ALL CHANGED when La'anui Correa buckled his chinstrap and made it a foursome. Intercepting passes, making plays, forcing on the run, making a difference. Raising his play to match the others. Now it was solid, now it was strong. Now it was complete.
It changed when Joe Correia started pushing, pushing, pushing, when Brett Clowers, Wayne Hunter, Houston Ala started playing, when they looked to the starters and said, It can be done. And the starters saw them coming.
It's all changed now, this defense that got better from the inside-out, change started by a unit that might just have secretly become the best on the team.
And every time you see them, Singletary is there, an arm around someone's shoulders. Soothing words in someone's ear. How much he cares for them. How much he loves them. How special they are.
"These 20 guys are my extended family," Singletary says. "They're just like my four kids."
Look at those guys in the front on the defense, there on the line. They're like his four kids.
Kalani Simpson's column runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org