Defensive lineman Ammon Tong, left, mixed it up at practice with an offensive lineman yesterday.

You don’t mess
around with Tong

The former Marine is walking on
and walking tall, trying to win a job
as a UH defensive lineman

Some walk-ons, you don't mess with.

Count Ammon Tong among them.

He's small for a defensive lineman at 6 feet and around 250 pounds. But when a starting offensive lineman gave Tong a few extra shoves at a recent Hawaii spring practice, Tong retaliated. He used a quick judo move to pin the bigger man.

Tong shrugged it off later.

"It's just something that happens in the intensity of the game," said Tong, who has practiced judo since he was a child, and whose sister, Amy Tong, competed in judo in the 2000 Olympics.

Judo is just one of the martial skills in which Tong is an expert.

When he graduated from Kaiser High School in 1999, the star two-way lineman and wrestler decided to enlist in the Marine Corps instead of going to college right away. He said a sense of patriotism was instilled in him by his father, Samuel, who is a Secret Service agent and served on details protecting presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton.

Samuel Tong was also a defensive lineman at UH in the 1970s, when he was a a teammate of current head coach June Jones.

Ammon Tong's active-duty enlistment ended July 7, 2004, without him having gone to Afghanistan or Iraq. Ironically, Tong was not sent to a combat zone because of his proficiency with weapons -- it was decided the expert marksman in rifle and pistol was more valuable as an instructor. He spent all four years at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, teaching others how to shoot.

Walk-on defensive lineman Ammon Tong, right, went through drills at Hawaii's practice yesterday.

Tong said he had mixed feelings when his comrades in the 9th Communication Battalion were sent to the war in Iraq.

"I wanted to go with my unit, but I was lucky enough to be left behind. I didn't look forward to combat, but I wanted to be with my unit -- that's where I felt I should've been," he said. "I just hope I prepared them enough for combat to use the training to effectively engage the enemy."

Every now and then, Tong would hear about a soldier he knew dying.

"It was a weird feeling," he said. "It was, 'I just saw that guy a few weeks ago.' "

After he got out of the Marines, Tong was invited to walk on at Nevada. He chose to return to Hawaii, though, and try out for the Warriors. He made the scout team last fall but did not play in a game.

With many veterans injured this spring, Tong has gotten lots of playing time at tackle and end. Today is UH's last day of spring practice.

"When some of the other kids get back, it might be hard for him to get in the rotation," defensive line coach Vantz Singletary said. "But he's got a lot of heart and works his tail off, so it's hard to bet against him.

"If he plays, it would probably be in nickel situations as a speed-rush guy, not against the run."

Tong could be one of the players who is cut as UH has to limit its roster for fall camp. If that happens, he won't let it stop him; he will work out on his own and return to the team once school starts.

"I feel like I have good discipline from judo and the Marines," Tong said. "If something has to be done, do it. That's the bottom line."

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