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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Washington State: Vaughn Lesuma

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COURTESY WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY
Vaughn Lesuma is the starting left tackle for Washington State after learning the game just two years ago.

Lesuma a nice Pac-10 beast

PULLMAN, Wash. » George Yarno, the part-time father figure and part-time raving lunatic who coaches the offensive line at Washington State, walked off the field after a recent practice and offered his opinion on La'ie natives Vaughn and Reed Lesuma.

"They're so raw," Yarno cracked, "they don't know if the football is inflated or stuffed!"

Yarno, as he is wont to do, then proceeded to talk at length about his admiration and respect for the Lesuma brothers as people and athletes -- most definitely in that order.

"They are both great people," Yarno said.

"They are just great to work with. They work really hard."

It is rare when 300-pound, meat-chomping, bone-crunching football players are routinely described as "polite," "really nice" and "just the nicest young men." However, those descriptions of the Lesumas have been made constantly by teammates and coaches since the brothers transferred to WSU this year from Mt. San Jacinto College, a junior college in San Jacinto, Calif.

"They are very nice kids," quarterback Alex Brink said. "You can tell they care about people and they care about what they're doing."

Another term often used to describe Vaughn is "amazing." Both Lesumas are playing football for only the third year in their lives, and while Reed is a little-used reserve at right offensive tackle, older brother Vaughn is starting at left tackle in WSU's explosive offense.

"The more he plays, the better he will get," Yarno said. "I really believe the sky's the limit for him."

"I can't wait to watch him next year," guard Bobby Byrd said. "He'll be a dominant force."

A former missionary, Vaughn Lesuma, 25, never played football until he turned out for spring practice two years ago at Utah's Snow Junior College. A relative talked him into transferring to Mt. San Jac in the fall, and after one year as a part-time starter at offensive guard, Lesuma blossomed into a second-team JC All-American tackle last year.

Now, after three starts for the 2-1 Cougars, Lesuma will go up against one of the best defenses in college football when Washington State opens Pac-10 play Saturday at top-ranked USC.

"SC -- wow!" Lesuma said in his routinely enthusiastic manner. "I have nothing but respect for that program."

Lesuma said USC offered him a scholarship after his first season at Mt. San Jac.

However, Lesuma attended BYU-Hawaii for one semester after returning from his mission in Orange County, Calif., and that meant NCAA rules required him to earn an Associate of Arts degree before transferring.

The Trojans did not pursue Lesuma after last season, but WSU was one of many suitors. In a classic case of opposites attract, the mild-mannered Lesuma -- who does not smoke, drink or curse -- chose to work with Yarno, whose obscenity-laced temper tantrums are legendary.

"He's a great, great guy," Lesuma said. "I have so much admiration for him. That right there can be a bad thing. Sometimes, instead of going out to play well, I go out to not play bad, because I don't want to let him down."

Yarno said Lesuma makes "rookie mistakes," but the coach raves about Lesuma's attitude, work ethic and athleticism.

"I know he's going to be a dominant player," Yarno said. "It's just a matter of when."

"I'm still clearing out the butterflies," said Lesuma, a social science major. "This is a huge step for me.

"I have this opportunity to play this Division I level of football and play in the Pac-10. I'm humbled by it, and grateful for it."

Yarno, an NFL offensive lineman for 11 seasons, says the 6-foot-5, 329-pound Lesuma has definite NFL potential despite his age. Lesuma said he dreamed of an NFL career while growing up in Laie ("I was a 49ers fan since birth").

However, he was too heavy to play youth football, and he spent his high school years in Fiji -- where football is not played -- due to a job change for his father.

The Lesumas moved back to La'ie in time for Reed to play football for the first time as a senior reserve for 2001 state champion Kahuku.

Vaughn honed his athletic skills by playing rugby and basketball in Fiji, and he said his mission toughened him mentally.

"I've been in some tight situations," he said. "There were some ups and downs."

Translation: Lesuma found himself in some rough neighborhoods in gang-infested Southern California. Lesuma said he was never threatened, though.

"It helps," he said with a smile, "to be 6-5."

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