HAWAII GROWN REPORT
OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY
Kahuku graduate Al Afalava's physical style of play has made him an intimidating force at Oregon State.
Afalava shakes off criticism
Al Afalava's reputation as a hard hitter is one he desires, even if others interpret it the wrong way.
The 2005 Kahuku graduate has become known in the Pac-10 as one of the most ferocious safeties in the league.
» Height: 5-feet-11
» Weight: 212 pounds
» Class: Senior
» Position: Safety
» Stats: Played in 37 games, 136 career tackles, 4 forced fumbles.
» Fun fact: Cousin Camilla Ah-Hoy is the starting setter on the Oregon State women's volleyball team.
He throws caution to the wind every chance he has to hit an opposing player, which is one of the reasons coach Mike Riley called him "one of the best players in our conference" during the Hula Bowl earlier this year.
But it's also caused controversy. A You Tube video of Afalava making a hit on Oregon's Jeffrey Maehl, which the poster calls a cheap shot, has received more than 10,000 views. He also was involved in a helmet-to-helmet hit on Washington quarterback Jake Locker last year that resulted in Locker leaving the field in an ambulance.
The term "dirty player" is a criticism Afalava concedes he's heard, and is one he doesn't agree with.
"I really don't know how to react to it," Afalava said. "What do you want me to do? If the runner has the ball, that's football. What do they expect me to do, to tag him? This ain't flag football."
His physical, punishing style makes him an intimidating force at the back end of the Beavers' defense. Afalava was the only true freshman to start during his first season at Oregon State and leads the team with 136 career tackles.
The reason he's avoided a redshirt season and made 19 starts in his career is the same reason he is criticized, even though he's only following his coach's orders.
"Our coaches always teach us that our defense is known for every man running to the ball and making plays," Afalava said. "That's what I do. I run to the ball I'm going to give it to him."
That won't change tomorrow when the Beavers play Hawaii for the second time in Afalava's career. He had two tackles in '06 when Oregon State beat Hawaii 35-32 at Aloha Stadium, the last time the Warriors lost a home game.
"It's not as big as when we went there and played, but (the game) is still a big deal because we've got to win," Afalava said. "I ain't trying to go home and hear it from anybody."
It seemed Afalava heard from everybody, however, after a drunken-driving incident in the offseason nearly cost him his senior season.
According to the Gazette Times, Afalava ran his vehicle into a bus shelter and then walked home. Police found the car registered to Afalava and tracked him to his house, where he was over the legal blood-alcohol limit.
He was charged with a DUI and felony hit-and-run, but reached a plea agreement a month later.
"I made a stupid mistake and I had to suffer the consequences," Afalava said.
He was suspended for the opener at Stanford, snapping a string of 17 consecutive starts. He tried to watch the game, but didn't make it through the first quarter.
"I just turned it off because I was hella mad I wasn't playing," Afalava said. "When I heard when we lost, it hurt even more."
His high school teammate, Suaesi Tuimaunei (Kahuku '06), started in his place at safety. One of 15 Hawaii high school graduates on the roster, Tuimaunei felt a sense of accomplishment in making his first collegiate start.
"There was a lot of hard work put into it," Tuimaunei said. "When it came, I just tried to take advantage of it."
Afalava followed Jeremy Perry (Kahuku '04) and Tavita Thompson (Saint Louis '04) to Oregon State, but it wasn't until the year after that the Beavers piled on the local talent.
Twelve other local players are on the team and many more have tried to go to Oregon State, but either transferred out for various reasons or been unable to qualify academically.
"My main reason for coming here was because (Perry) came here," Afalava said. "We've got something started here. Islanders from Hawaii are coming instead of staying home or going to Utah or BYU. Probably because they like try something new."
A lot of the guys have yet to make their name in the program, but this season marks the end of the road for the three guys who turned Oregon State into a haven for Hawaii talent.
Afalava will be the only one to make an impact on the field. Perry won't play, still recovering from a knee injury, and Thompson was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and has been ruled out of games until Nov. 1.
The Beavers, expected to challenge USC for a conference title by some, are 0-2 after a 31-point drubbing at Penn State last weekend, and can't afford to fall into a bigger hole if they expect to be one of the country's better teams by season's end.
"We have to get this team pumped up," Afalava said. "Penn State was a wake-up call for us. It's a must-win every game from now on."