High School Sports

Hard-hitting Jamin Fa’alogo of Timberline catches coach’s eye and college recruiters

Timberline LB Jamin Fa’alogo previews 2018 football season

Timberline High School LB Jamin Fa'alogo talks about the upcoming football season and discusses his move from defensive back to linebacker on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018 at Timberline High School in Lacey.
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Timberline High School LB Jamin Fa'alogo talks about the upcoming football season and discusses his move from defensive back to linebacker on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018 at Timberline High School in Lacey.

Timberline High School football coach Nick Mullen first sensed what Jamin Fa’alogo was capable of in 2016.

The Blazers drew Eastside Catholic, then the two-time defending Class 3A state champions, in the opening round of the state playoffs that season.

Although Eastside Catholic won the game, capitalizing on three quick scores in the second half, a flashy play by Fa’alogo earlier in the game caught Mullen’s eye.

Then a sophomore, Fa’alogo gave Timberline its only lead in the second quarter when he muscled between two defenders, picked off Eastside Catholic quarterback Ze’Shaun Lewis and charged 64 yards for a touchdown.

“He just broke on a tunnel screen and went to the house,” Mullen said. “I don’t think he even knew what to do. He just went to the house and scored.”

Mullen knew then that Fa’alogo, who will anchor Timberline’s defense this season as a senior, would have a shot at playing football beyond high school.

“He’s a big kid who can move,” Mullen said of Fa’alogo, who is now 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. “You can’t coach size and speed. He brings his hips, he knows how to tackle, he plays rugby — it’s just how he moves.”

Fa’alogo has gained interest from Pac-12 programs like UCLA, Utah and Oregon State, as well as several Big Sky schools after having a breakout season as a junior and helping propel Timberline to the state quarterfinals.

He played primarily at cornerback, finishing with 74 tackles (10 for losses), six interceptions, five sacks and three fumble recoveries.

And he scored three defensive touchdowns on interception returns (3 and 31 yards) and a fumble recovery (28 yards), and scored two offensive touchdowns lining up as a fullback in short-yardage situations.

Fa’alogo quickly earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the Class 3A South Sound Conference, was named a first-team defensive back in the league and on The Olympian’s All-Area team, and was an honorable-mention all-state pick by the Associated Press.

“I started to realize the other players were trying to out-muscle me or outwork me, and I just didn’t like that,” Fa’alogo said of his physicality on defense. “As soon as I figured out I could outwork them, I was not going to let that slip away.

“I was just going to take it and use it against them. As soon as I outwork someone, I’m going to lay it on them. I’m not slowing down for anybody.”

That’s another characteristic a coach can’t teach, Mullen says — aggression and physicality on the football field.

“It’s just him,” Mullen said. “I really can’t explain it, it’s just in him. He’s not an aggressive kid off the field, but he likes contact, he likes to hit. He likes the violence of football.

“I think a lot of his contact is just from how he knows how to move, because he’s just so smooth. That’s what a lot of recruiters see is he’s a smooth athlete. He’s 235 (pounds) and can run.”

Fa’alogo will move into the role of middle linebacker this season after the Blazers graduated most of their heavy-hitters, including first-team all-state selection Mason Simeta, who was the 3A SSC defensive player of the year in 2017.

“For my position last year, I was a corner pretty much,” Fa’alogo said. “I had to just stay on the outside. I had to push everything back in.

“But my position this year, I pretty much eat everything that comes inside, and whatever goes outside, I follow and I’ll cut it off. ... I’ll be able to hit more people. That’s what I like. I like the physicality.”

Said Mullen: “He just runs so well side-to-side. When we would put him on one side, teams would run away from him. Now, you put him in the middle and he covers tackle to tackle, and he can run.”

Timberline tweaked its defense this season after graduating several of its standouts.

Reigning Olympian All-Area player of the year and 3A SSC MVP Michael Barnes, who played safety, is at Montana Tech. Last year’s 3A SSC lineman of the year Conner Warick is at Oregon State, and 3A SSC first-team lineman Chase Bowes is at College of Idaho. All three were first-team Olympian All-Area and AP all-state picks.

Fa’alogo will take charge of the defense with those players gone, along with starters like senior cornerback Colton Steepy, senior defensive lineman Pele Maiava and senior free safety J.J. Graham.

“Jamin leads by example,” Mullen said. “Kids will follow him. He’s not a big yeller or screamer, but he plays with a lot of emotion, and kids feed off of him. He’s going to play a big role this year.

“He’s such a good kid. You never hear a negative word about him in school. Teachers love him. He leads the right way, and I think the kids lean on him. He opens his arms to everybody.”

Fa’alogo said Timberline’s younger players have stepped up on the field and in the weight room to fill the void of players who graduated.

“I’m just keeping that brotherhood,” Fa’alogo said. “I’m trying to keep the defense together, keep them hitting hard just like I do. That’s what I’m looking forward to, is the defense and all of us getting closer than we are now.”

Timberline opens at home against Thurston County rival Tumwater at 7 p.m. Thursday at South Sound Stadium in Lacey.

The Blazers ripped through league play to earn a second consecutive 3A SSC title in 2017, and are aiming behind a three-peat this year behind playmakers like Fa’alogo.

“We have to set our path to success,” Fa’alogo said. “We can do anything if we work super hard and put our minds to it. We can do anything with all of our talent and our hard work ethic.”

Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473, @smithlm12