With Keiaho now plying his trade with the Indianapolis Colts and Martin trying to earn a spot with the Baltimore Ravens, it is Laolagi's turn to become the man in the middle of San Diego State's linebacking corps.
“I understood when I came here that I was going to have to wait my turn,” Laolagi said. “That's the way it was with Freddy and Joe.”
Keiaho, who is expected to crack the Colts' starting lineup, seldom saw the field at SDSU when playing behind Kirk Morrison, who has become one of the top linebackers in the NFL with the Raiders. When Morrison departed, it was Keiaho who inherited the middle linebacker spot, a position that has produced SDSU's leading tackler each of the past three seasons. Martin, who had 81 tackles at outside linebacker in 2005, finished with 109 last year after taking over for Keiaho.
Now comes Laolagi, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound sophomore who was one of the most decorated players of SDSU's 2005 recruiting class. At Birmingham High in the San Fernando Valley, Laolagi was tabbed first-team all-state by CalHiSports and the Los Angeles City Section 4-A Player of the Year.
None of which necessarily translates into a coronation at the college level, but it can be argued that Laolagi has been biding his time behind the best.
“It's been the key position here for a while, and guys like Freddy and Joe taught me a lot,” said Laolagi, who appeared in 10 games last season at both linebacker and as a special teams player. “There's pressure that comes with it, but it's also why I chose to come here. Coming in when you're young, you want to play, but you also realize how talented the guys are that are ahead of you.”
Laolagi, coming off surgery for a torn labrum suffered against TCU last season, concluded his high school career as the leading tackler in Birmingham history with 412. At SDSU, he needs just 397 more to catch Whip Walton (1974-77), the school's career tackles leader with 407. Morrison is second with 396.
“Luke is a pretty quiet guy, but on the field he can be very intense,” said Aztecs coach Chuck Long. “He's got a great demeanor, kind of a free spirit who really has a nose for the football. And that's the kind of guy you want at that position.”