Sports

Teddy Bear or Grizzly? It depends

A flip of the switch.

That’s what Idaho offensive lineman Mike Iupati’s basically said when asked how a laid back, nice guy like him can be successful in football.

“I like to destroy a lot of people,” he said. “I just try to be competitive. As big as I am, I do not want to get beat. I don’t say much, but when I say stuff, I don’t usually yell. My friends listen very well.”

At 6-foot-5, 330 pounds, the native of Samoa isn’t going to get too many people offering differing opinions when he speaks.

Because of his aggressive nature, Iupati initially wanted to play defense when he arrived on the University of Idaho campus, but coaches had other plans for the athletic big man.

“I really love defense,” he said. “That’s my favorite passion of the game of football. I know I’m very physical and can hold up two gaps and take double teams, stuff like that. I always try to push my coach to make me a defensive player because I know I am pretty good at that. But they like me at offensive line.”

Iupati benefited from the decision. He earned consensus All-American honors this season after being named to the first team by The Associated Press, Walter Camp, American Football Coaches Association and the Football Writers Association of America.

Iupati also was an Outland Trophy finalist and first team all-Western Athletic Conference selection, helping lead the Vandals to the second bowl victory in the program’s history – a 43-42 win over Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl.

He did not give up a sack all season.

The Seahawks need offensive line help, and are hoping to get a top-flight tackle such as Oklahoma’s Trent Williams or Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung with the team’s No. 6 overall pick.

“I would say this group, this year – they would all fit left tackle,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said about the top-tier tackles available at the top of the first round. “There is a strong group in there and they are all athletic enough to play the position. No matter what happens, you still need a guy to be able to hunker down at left tackle and be able to play against big people. But you also have to have a guy that can play against the (Dallas defensive end DeMarcus) Wares of this world. That guy has a good move.”

But if somehow those two options are gone and the Seahawks can trade down to acquire more picks, Iupati could be a versatile option to be had later in the first round.

Schneider went on to say the team is moving forward as if cornerstone offensive tackle Walter Jones is retiring.

“We have a lot of needs on this team and we will approach it like Walter is not going to be here, quite frankly,” he said. “If he is here, that is just an added bonus.”

Although rated as the top guard in the draft, some scouts believe Iupati has the strength, quick feet and athleticism to play tackle as well.

“That’s where the money is,” joked Iupati about the possibility of playing tackle. “I’ve been playing left guard my whole career and it’s something I have to learn.”

When he was 14-years old, Iupati’s parents moved the family from Samoa to the United States for a chance at a better education.

They moved into his aunt’s house in Southern California. All five of them stayed in the garage for a year until his parents found jobs. The family then moved to a small apartment in Anaheim.

Iupati said the move was tough because his family was well off in Samoa.

“It’s been hard,” he said. “That’s why I always take advantage of every little opportunity I get and just try to seize the moment so I can have a better future for myself and my family.”

He started playing football in high school, and the game came naturally to him.

But Iupati was a non-qualifier in high school. He was slated to go to junior college at Cerritos College in Southern California, but at a barbecue function for the school, a coach from Idaho offered him a deal to come to Idaho as a Proposition 48 candidate the next day. Iupati initially refused, because his parents would have to pay for the first year of school, but he later accepted when his parents agreed to take out a loan to pay for the first year of schooling.

Now that he’s headed to the NFL, Iupati said his dream is to buy his parents a new home and land back in his native Samoa.

Iupati said he talked to Seattle, Atlanta, Buffalo and Miami during the scouting combine. He also had predraft visits with Atlanta and Miami, along with Dallas, Kansas City, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Tampa Bay.

Iupati has been working with Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater to improve his technique for his rookie season.

Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, said Seattle’s signing of veteran offensive guard Ben Hamilton from Denver fills a need Iupati could have filled for Seattle. However, Rang said he believes Iupati would be a nice fit for Seattle’s zone blocking scheme.

“He has the footwork that makes him a fit in Alex Gibb’s scheme, and you can’t say that for many guards, considering Seattle’s struggles running the ball and the fact that guards are what you need for the running game,” Rang said. “He is the top-rated guard for a reason. He is a dominating drive blocker with rare agility for the position.”

Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437

eric.williams@thenewstribune.com

blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks/

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