HAWAII GROWN REPORT
COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF OREGON
Max Unger, left, and Pat So'oalo took different routes to positions on Oregon's offensive line.
Hawaii natives Unger, So‘oalo beef up Oregon’s O-line
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Every week seems to feature a big-time marquee game in the Pac-10 conference.
Tomorrow is no exception, as No. 5 Oregon hosts No. 9 USC in a college football showdown where the loser sees its national title hopes go by the wayside.
The Ducks are riding a huge-wave of momentum after totaling a school-record 465 rushing yards in a 21-point victory over rival Washington last week.
Junior Max Unger (Hawaii Prep '04) and senior Pat So'oalo (Kailua '03) helped the cause by anchoring a beefy offensive line.
While Unger's road to becoming an Oregon standout came a little quicker than expected, So'oalo's quest to become a Duck nearly took him to Kentucky, instead.
A win tomorrow may lead the two to the Superdome in New Orleans, sight of the 2008 BCS national championship.
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The timing of Max Unger's arrival at Oregon couldn't have worked out any better.
During his redshirt year in '04, the Hawaii Prepatory Academy graduate watched the Ducks finish below .500 and not qualify for a bowl game for the first time in seven seasons.
Oregon brought in a new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in the offseason, and they decided to start fresh by going with more of their younger players.
"It kind of wiped the slate clean," Unger said of the coaching changes. "It gave me an opportunity to start, but it was pretty rough."
Unger was one of eight linemen new to the team and might have been the least hyped. He came to Oregon as a one-star recruit, according to the Scout.com recruiting services.
Now 6-feet-5 and 300 pounds, Unger is one of the premiere offensive linemen in the Pac-10. He has made 32 consecutive starts for the Ducks and is a two-time all-conference selection and a first-team freshman All-American.
Not bad for a kid who accepted the only scholarship offer he received out of high school.
"I kind of wanted to get (the recruiting process) over with anyway," Unger said. "But they were the only ones (who offered)."
Oregon has been reaping the benefits ever since. Unger and senior Pat So'oalo (Kailua '03) contribute to an offensive line that has been putting up record-setting rushing numbers.
In a 55-34 victory over Washington last week, the Ducks set a school record with 465 rushing yards. The win propelled them to a Top-5 ranking in the most recent Bowl Championship Series poll.
Oregon's only loss this season came in a nail-biting 31-24 loss to then fourth-ranked California who has since lost two conference games.
The Ducks still have national title aspirations, but face their biggest test of the season tomorrow when they face five-time defending Pac-10 champions Southern California in Eugene. Ore.
The Trojans haven't looked like the powerhouse team that was ranked No.1 in the preseason. Their one loss came to perennial Pac-10 cellar-dweller Stanford.
"They are still the team to beat," Unger said. "They are the five-time champs and until somebody beats that, it doesn't really matter."
It will be the first time in the 41-year history of Autzen Stadium that it hosts a home game between two teams ranked in the Associated Press Top-10.
It's the perfect clash of strengths as Oregon owns the best offense statistically in the country while the Trojans have the top defense.
The matchup is just another brutal game in a schedule that in addition to the Pac-10 slate, has seen Oregon play Fresno State and Michigan. Both of those teams haven't lost since playing the Ducks.
"It's unreal how crazy it has been this year," Unger said. "Even more so than in years past, every game was been a battle. No game is a slouch."
Unger's road to stardom at Oregon has been pretty straight forward. The same can't be said for his teammate from Kailua.
So'oalo originally committed to the Ducks out of high school, but spent two years earning his associate's degree at Fresno City (Calif.) College.
At first it was disappointing," So'oalo said. "But then as I went there, I just met a lot of people and it opened up more college opportunities."
The biggest opportunity came from SEC member Kentucky, who really persued So'oalo hard at Fresno. He nearly gave in and became a Wildcat before finally deciding to honor his original commitment to the Ducks.
"I figured Kentucky was an SEC school and all the hype is in the SEC so I almost committed," he said. "At the last minute I decided to stay on the West Coast."
As a junior, the 332-pound beast from Waimanalo played in nine games, but was still considered a guy with immense potential yet to be realized.
Citing the motivation of it being his final year, So'oalo has improved his play this season and has earned three starts at left guard, despite injuring his hamstring in fall camp.
"It kind of set me back a little bit," So'oalo said. "But definitely, this could be the last time I ever put on pads so I have got to give it all I got."
He is one of eight Polynesians on the team and his family is primarily responsible for the after-game Hawaiian style barbeques.
"They always are bringing all kinds of stuff," Unger said. "I don't even know where the food comes from half the time."
The main thing is that there's plenty of food to go around. The starting offensive line averages around 315 pounds a person and is one of the biggest in college football.
"Yeah, you could say we've got a little bit of girth," Unger said.
Not to mention plenty of talent as well.