Pili happy to be at Snow
Neil K. Warner
The crowd was so loud that Thor Pili couldn't hear what his teammate was saying when he stood next to him.
The sold-out crowd at Autzen Stadium of 59,129, the largest crowd in Oregon history, was in a frenzy.
Oregon led 13-10 at the half.
The Ducks defense had done a remarkable job keeping USC quarterback Matt Leinert in check and so far running back Reggie Bush wasn't looking like a Heisman Trophy winner.
Pili remembers the USC game well. He remembers the atmosphere. He remembers how USC came back to beat Oregon 45-13. He remembers watching it all from the sidelines.
At Oregon, Pili was part of a program that had earned national prominence. He played on a team that lost just one regular-season game and played Oklahoma in the Holiday Bowl. He was in the Pac-10 and following in the footsteps of defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, who was also from Utah and was the 2006 first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.
Life was good for Pili, who was a 2004 graduate of Timpanogos High School, but there was just one problem.
It's not much fun if you're not playing.
In two years (one redshirt season) at Oregon, he played in just one game.
He was a fan dressed in a helmet and shoulder pads.
So in the summer of 2006, Pili opted for a drastic change of course. He transferred to Snow College in Ephraim.
"I could deal with getting beat out by a guy who was making more plays than I was. I could handle that, but I never got the chance," Pili said. "I didn't feel like I was given a chance to compete and that's all I wanted. I want to have the chance to play at the next level (NFL) and to have that chance I needed to play."
The adjustment from Division I football in the Pac-10 to football at Snow Junior College, a member of the Western States Football League, has been a shock to his system.
When asked about the differences between the two schools Pili laughed and said, "It's shocking. I didn't really realize that until I got here. At Oregon, you get used to getting things whenever you want them. It's been pretty humbling."
How do you compare Eugene, Ore., to Ephraim?
Let's see, at Oregon, he put his gear in a bag and left it at practice. The next day it was washed and ready to go.
At Snow, he does his own laundry and takes home his gear.
At Oregon, when he wore a pair of cleats that were uncomfortable, he got a new pair.
At Snow, if the cleats you're wearing are uncomfortable, too bad. If you don't like it, buy your own.
At Oregon, the team flew to all games except its rivalry matchup against Oregon State.
At Snow, they bus to all games. Those trips will include one to New Mexico and four times to the Phoenix area.
At Oregon, in Pili's last game as a Duck, they sold out their 44th straight game (59,000).
At Snow, the Badgers are fortunate to draw 1,000.
Oh, and there's one other difference. At Oregon, his father, Junior Pili, couldn't be there to watch him play. At Snow, his father is an assistant coach.
Despite the adjustment period he has gone through, Pili is happy with his decision. In order to reach the goal of playing in the NFL, he knows he needs to play. He knows you don't improve as a player by standing on the sidelines on Saturday.
"It's been hard, it's different, but it's something I was happy I did," Pili explained. "I definitely made the right decision. D-I and JC is a big difference. It's just something I had to do. It was either I stayed there and sat the bench or come here and then transfer somewhere at the end of the semester."
Pili has started all eight games and has been an anchor on the defensive line for the No. 6 Badgers, which lost their first game of the year this weekend at Eastern Arizona.
"Thor has been a great asset to us," said Snow coach Steve Coburn. "He's a mature player. He's been in the Pac-10. Nothing really razzles him because he's been through those issues before. He brings leadership to the team. He brings size in that spot where we we're weak at.
"He brings some great and ability to us. With Coach Pili being here as well, he has been a great asset to us. Those two together has really added to the program."
Having a pair of Pilis in one program is nothing new. Junior Pili played for BYU as an offensive lineman. Thor's uncle, Ifo Pili, played at Mountain View High School and then made an impact at BYU as a defensive lineman at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds.
Ifo signed with the Houston Texans in 2004 as an undrafted free agent and was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he remained through Super Bowl XXXIX. He then signed as a free agent by the New England Patriots the following year and won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots.
So naturally, Thor, who is the oldest of six children, not only played football, he excelled at it. His three younger brothers have followed his lead. Tolu is a freshman at UNLV and is currently redshirting. Jordan is starting as a sophomore at Timpanogos and Thor says his youngest brother, Dallin, could be the biggest of them all. He's already 150 pounds at 10 years old.
With such a rich football tradition it was no surprise that Thor was highly recruited during his senior year at Timpanogos.
Pili's former high school coach, Frank Bramall, has fond memories of Pili's playing days at Timpanogos.
"I call him 'Thor the Hammer' Pili, because he'd lays the hammer on people," Bramall said. "I have a sketch of him that a student drew that is hanging above my desk. I had him sign it because I think he's going to be in the NFL one day.
"As far as player, the thing I admire most about Thor was it didn't matter where it was -- the weight room, seven-on-seven or drills -- he always went hard. He was very intense. His motor was always going. He was always pushing himself. He's one of fiercest competitors there is, but off the field he's such a gentle giant. He's one of the nicest kids there is."
Oregon was just one of the many schools who agreed with Bramall's assessment and tried to sign him out of high school. Originally, Pili narrowed his choices to Oregon, Utah and Kentucky before settling on Oregon.
As he looks back on his career, he doesn't regret his decision to play at Oregon, just as he doesn't regret his decision to leave. Soon he'll be ready to take the next step in his football progression, back to a Division-I school.
Now the 6-4, 285-pound defensive lineman is on a winning team and he's playing a key role. There's even talk of winning a national championship and that could help get Pili additional exposure as more doors open to his future and scholarship offers come in.
One possibility is going to UNLV to play with his brother Tolu.
"Yeah definitely, that (playing at UNLV) would interest me," Pili said. "I've talked to a lot of schools. I'm just not sure yet. I've talked to a couple of Pac-10 schools, a couple of east coast schools and most of the Mountain West teams."
Wherever he goes, whoever he chooses, he just wants the chance to do one thing -- play.
More difficult than the adjustment from a plane ride to a bus ride, from a capacity crowd that tailgates most of Saturday to a sparse crowd that shows up at game time, from playing USC to playing the Rhino Raiders, it is being a spectator on your own team.
If there's one thing Thor Pili doesn't do well, it is watch.