Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Tatupu finding
his own niche
in USC lineup

The son of Punahou star
Mosi Tatupu took a detour
before landing at his father’s
college alma mater

LOS ANGELES -- Like father, like son, right?

Ummm ... not quite.

Despite his pedigree and lofty high school credentials, Lofa Tatupu wasn't exactly on the wish list of many Division I college football coaches when he came out of King Phillip Regional High School (Wrentham, Mass.) three years ago.

art The son of Punahou School legend Mosi Tatupu, a 14-year NFL veteran and former standout fullback for Southern California, Lofa Tatupu had to take the circuitous route to USC. But the sophomore linebacker for the fourth-ranked Trojans is quickly making a name for himself.

Tatupu racked up 23 tackles and three sacks in his first two games against then-No. 6 Auburn and Brigham Young. Pretty solid performances considering Tatupu sat out last season after transferring from the University of Maine.

His run-stopping ability might not come into play as much Saturday when the Trojans host pass-happy Hawaii, but Tatupu undoubtedly has a nose for the football.

"He is a gifted football player and has great instincts," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "He didn't play as well in the BYU game (against the pass) so he has a lot of improvement to gain. We are really encouraged by him. He is absolutely in control. I don't think until he has been around for a while that he will be a true field general. He is trying to feel his way around and I think that's understandable."

Tatupu's knack for finding the ball helps him compensate for the size that he knows he doesn't have.

He is generously listed at 6-foot, 225 pounds in the Trojan media guide.

"They say you're born with (natural instincts), but I don't want to come off like that," Tatupu said. "But in my case, I'm happy I do have them.

"I'm not the fastest, definitely not the biggest. I lack both of those attributes as far as what my position requires. Other middle linebackers here are 245, I give up 20 pounds."

The redshirt sophomore was born in San Diego and raised in Massachusetts, where Mosi Tatupu spent 13 years with the New England Patriots and became one of the best special teams players in NFL history.

Lofa grew up playing Pop Warner football and being coached by his dad, who tried to steer him toward a different sport.

"I played football since I was about 6 or 7 years old," Lofa Tatupu said. "He wanted me to play soccer if you can believe it 'cause I was fat. There was more running in soccer. I was husky, I'll say, and he wanted me to play that and work my way into football.

"He actually wanted me to play baseball. He felt that it was my better sport. I played until my freshman year until I broke my wrist."

Tatupu found baseball too boring and devoted himself to his first love. But Massachusetts was hardly the hotbed of football recruiting. Tatupu's size (he was 20 pounds lighter) didn't tempt many college coaches even though he was an all-state pick in 2000 and an all-league defensive MVP. His initial rejection drove him to work harder.

One in particular could come into play Saturday.

"When I was sending out my tapes and stuff, I sent one to Hawaii," Tatupu said. "The defensive coordinator, I don't know who he was but I think he was a linebacker coach (Kevin Lempa), well, he told me I wasn't a Division I scholarship athlete. That's two years ago. I've come a long way, but I still remember it. You forgive but you don't forget."

With no Division I scholarship offers, Tatupu headed north to Maine where he started at linebacker as a true freshman in 2001. He was second on the team in tackles with 67 and was named the Black Bears' defensive rookie of the year.

But he wasn't happy and opted to head out west, hoping to transfer to Oregon or USC. Mosi Tatupu stepped in to give Lofa an assist. Tatupu took advantage of an inside connection to get his son to his alma mater.

A tape of Lofa's freshman year at Maine wound up in the hands of a USC assistant coach who passed it along to Carroll and offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Both were delighted with what they saw.

"His mother's in San Diego so we took a trip to visit with coach Carroll. Things just worked out," said Mosi Tatupu, now a coach at Division III Curry College. "He got his release, which we were waiting for.

"He wanted to go out West where he's closer to his family and they could see him play. Things worked out, the timing was good."


"It's been a beautiful marriage," Carroll said. "I think it couldn't have been sweeter for (Mosi), this is his alma mater. It's win-win all the way around. He's a great kid. He started off a great career here."

USC linebacker Lofa Tatupu, son of local legend and former NFL player Mosi Tatupu, found his way to his father's alma mater.


Injuries to 3 key Warriors
could force Jones to juggle
offensive and defensive lineups

Nagging injuries are becoming much more than a nuisance to coach June Jones as Hawaii's football game at Southern California draws near.

Hawaii at USC

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. Hawaii time
Where: L.A. Coliseum
TV: Live, Fox Sports Net
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
Early line: USC by 21 1/2

The Warriors (1-0) play the fourth-ranked Trojans (2-0) on Saturday, and three starters missed at least part of practice yesterday. That's not counting slot receiver Nate Ilaoa, who is definitely out of at least the next two games with a knee sprain.

Defensive end Travis LaBoy, slot receiver Chad Owens and wide receiver Jeremiah Cockheran were all sidelined yesterday with injuries. The Warriors are already 21-point underdogs with the three -- all among the team's biggest playmakers -- in the lineup.

"I'm disappointed right now," said Jones, as he prepares his team for a two-game, nine-day roadtrip that begins tomorrow with a noon departure for Los Angeles. "At this point right now Chad hasn't practiced (all week). He's probably real iffy for the game because I don't like to play guys that haven't practiced. And Travis may not be able to play in the game and Jeremiah's the same way. So we've got some problems."

LaBoy suffers from a painful recurring groin injury. He aggravated it again Monday, and spent most of yesterday morning's practice getting massage therapy from volunteer Cary-Hirayuki Tagawa.

"I popped the groin pretty bad. I don't know if I'll be making it or not," LaBoy said. "It's not looking good right now though. I need time, but I don't have time now. That's the problem. Me at 80 percent is not as good as someone else at 100 percent."

When he is healthy, LaBoy is very good. The 6-foot-4, 254-pound senior led Hawaii with three tackles for loss among his eight stops in UH's 40-17 season-opening victory against Appalachian State on Aug. 30.

Senior Kevin Jackson is LaBoy's likely replacement.

Owens missed a third consecutive practice with an infected cut on his left foot.

"It's one of those things where you've got to take care of it before you do anything else because it could lead to serious stuff," said Owens, who has sat out based on a doctor's recommendation. "It's an infection. You don't want to mess with that. I'm just making sure everything's all right before I start going again. I don't want to push it and be out longer than if I just rest it."

Owens amassed 177 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, punt and kick return) in the Appalachian State game. Second-year freshman Ross Dickerson is his backup.

Cockheran tried to practice yesterday, but after about a half hour he stopped.

"I'm going to try again tomorrow," said Cockheran, who caught seven passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns against the Mountaineers.

Walk-on Michael Miyashiro is listed as Cockheran's backup, but starting left wideout Britton Komine took reps at Cockheran's spot on the right yesterday. Komine was all over the place; he might also play some slot in Ilaoa's place, leaving the left wideout position to true freshman Jason Rivers.

Senior Clifton Herbert and junior Gerald Welch are also options at slot.

Receivers coach Ron Lee is optimistic everyone except Ilaoa will be ready to play Saturday.

"They'll be fine. Just a little tight. Chad will be back tomorrow," he said. "Meanwhile, Ross is getting some great reps, Jason's getting some great reps. Britt's moving around. Gerald Welch is really consistent. It's making us better and it's a long season."

UH 2003 schedule

Date Opponent Result or Time
Aug. 30 Appalachian State W, 40-17
Sept. 13 at USC 1 p.m.
Sept. 19 at UNLV 6:05 p.m.
Sept. 27 Rice 6:05 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Tulsa 6:05 p.m.
Oct. 11 Fresno State 6:05 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Louisiana Tech 2 p.m.
Oct. 25 Texas-El Paso 6:05 p.m.
Nov. 1 at San Jose State noon
Nov. 15 at Nevada 12:05 p.m.
Nov. 22 Army 6:05 p.m.
Nov. 29 Alabama TBA
Dec. 6 Boise State 6:35 p.m.


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