DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii defensive tackle Mike Lafaele washed the hands of 1-year-old son Anelu yesterday morning.
Family man a leader of Warriors
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Even though it's summer, Mike Lafaele spends 12 hours a day at the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus.
The senior tackle is the lone returning starter on the UH defensive line, and he's setting the example for his teammates. He and other veteran players are reinforcing that the results of football games in November can be determined by hard work in June.
Also, Lafaele and his wife, Teri, are raising three young children.
In this week's regular feature on Warriors players prepping for the 2007 season, UH football beat writer Dave Reardon profiles Lafaele's balancing act of family life, summer school classes, team leadership and learning his role in defensive coordinator Greg McMackin's 4-3 defensive formation.
"The change in scheme has potential for Mike to make more plays upfield," defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold said. "He relishes the challenge to show he can do more."
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For Mike Lafaele statistics is a class, not numbers to add up after each game.
The Hawaii defensive tackle's focus has always been on doing the best job possible at perhaps the toughest position on the field. Now, headed into his senior year, it's expanded to leadership since he will be the only returning starter on the Warriors' defensive line.
"There's a new level of commitment I haven't seen here before, and it's because Mike won't allow less," said defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold, who is headed into his third year at UH. "Since the start of spring practice, Mike has taken over and grabbed the leadership mantle."
Lafaele spends 12 hours of every weekday at UH, preparing physically and taking summer school classes.
"It's up at 5:15 in the morning and off to school, usually with Hercules (offensive lineman Satele) or another friend on the team," Lafaele said. "We're on the field stretching by 6:30, doing some yoga or tai chi. Then drills at 7 a.m., on the field until 8:30. Then weights for an hour and a half."
After that, it's two classes and study groups, plus an online course.
Then he battles the late afternoon traffic to head home to Aiea, picking up his three children from his in-laws' on the way. His wife, Teri, works evenings at Pearlridge.
"I don't see the family too much," Lafaele said.
Teri said she and her husband are used to the situation, and they view it as an investment in their future.
"It's a lot of dedication on his part," she said. "It works out fine. I work at nights 8 hours a day. We always find time for each other, however little it is."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lafaele tries to find time for wife Teri, daughters Tatiana (age 2) and Arieanna (5) and son Anelu (1)
Lafaele is one of UH's most respected players among teammates and coaches. He plays hurt (bruised heel all last season, as well as a broken finger), and he sacrifices personal glory to do a critical job. As the nose tackle in UH's 3-4 defensive alignment the past two seasons, much of the Warriors' success defensively depended on Lafaele's ability to clog the point of attack and take up blockers. That allowed ends Ikaika Alama-Francis and Mel Purcell (now in NFL camps) and the UH linebackers to make big plays.
Teri said her husband often goes unnoticed in public, despite all the media attention UH players receive.
"He's low-key. People see my name and they say, 'You have the last name of a famous person.' I'm, 'What?' It happened the other day at the hairdresser. She saw my last name and said, 'There's a real good football player with that name.' I had a big smile on my face after that," Teri Lafaele said. "A lot of people, when they find out who he is, it's weird, they're so surprised. He's not out there where people would recognize him. It's funny, they tell him, 'You're the heart of the defense.' "
Lafaele's status as the Unknown Warrior might change this fall as Hawaii shifts to a 4-3 alignment under defensive coordinator Greg McMackin. The new scheme will free up Lafaele to make more plays.
"It's a lot easier in the sense of responsibility since we have one more guy on the line," Lafaele said. "In the 3-4 the nose had to control several gaps. In the 4-3 it's one gap and you have more opportunities to blow the line up, breaking through into the backfield and creating havoc, disrupting the offense. When you play nose the goal is to control and disrupt the gaps."
Lafaele came out of Farrington High School in 2003 as an offensive lineman. He was switched to the other side in 2004 when the Warriors ran short of stout defenders.
"If you told me this would happen, I would have laughed. I never played defense," he said.
Reinebold said Lafaele "was born to play defensive tackle."
"He did some things last year you don't see very often, and he showed he can play against anyone," Reinebold said. "He clubbed a center to the ground, brought him to his knees. It's sheer violence, to be honest with you."
Teri said her husband is the opposite off the field.
"He's very sweet and humble. He's really caring about everyone," she said. "He's never like 'Oh, whatever.' He's not as tough as he seems on the field. It's hard for me to see him just throwing people around out there because I know that's not how he really is."
Reinebold said Lafaele won't wow pro scouts with his 6-foot, 310-pound physique.
"But the people that play and coach with and against him, they all know, and there's a tremendous amount of respect. Will he get a chance to play pro football? He's always played well against tough competition, and Mike is turning himself into a playmaker.
"He's not the prettiest guy on the team, and he's not going to be doing underwear commercials anytime soon. But he's a pure football player," Reinebold added. "I love that kid. He's a special one."