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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Seattle PI: Alameda Ta'amu

Article on Rainier Beach's (Seattle) and UW signee Alameda Ta'amu from the Seattle PI.

By GREG JOHNS
P-I REPORTER

Although he was standing in Honolulu's Aloha Stadium, it hit him like a blast of cold arctic air. Surrounded by 50,000 football fans cheering wildly for the Warriors to remain undefeated with a victory over the Washington Huskies, Alameda Ta'amu reaffirmed what he'd figured all along.

The massive Rainier Beach High School senior was on a recruiting visit to Hawaii, but his heart belonged to the Huskies.

"I didn't like it when Hawaii beat the U-Dub," said Ta'amu, one of the state's premier football prospects. "I wasn't happy."

So the big kid came back to Seattle in early December, smack in the middle of all the questions about coach Tyrone Willingham's future, and told the Huskies he wanted to stay home.

Ta'amu, one of 26 high school seniors who signed letters of intent with Washington on Wednesday, could be a major figure in the Huskies' future defensive plans. He's listed at 6 feet 2, 348 pounds, a man-mountain of a teenager with enough athleticism to have played junior varsity basketball at Rainier Beach as a junior while also finishing fourth in the 3A state shot put finals.

Most recruiting services list him as an offensive lineman, a powerful guard who earned Parade All-America honors and competed at that position in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl at Miami's Orange Bowl on Jan. 4.

But the Huskies look at Ta'amu's combination of agility and tenacity and foresee a solution to their defensive line shortcomings. If new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell opts for a 3-4 alignment, Ta'amu figures as the prototypical nose tackle.

"Personally, I think any time you can get an immovable object on the field, that's pretty nice," Willingham said. "I'm hoping he'll be that immovable object right in the center of our defensive line.

"When I watched him in person, I saw a young man who had a desire to get to the football. If we can bring those two things to bear, I think we'll be in good shape."

Though Ta'amu could eventually be shifted to offense if things don't work out, clearly the Huskies are hoping for big things from the biggest player in their 2008 class. And Ta'amu, who played both ways for Rainier Beach, would be happy to oblige.

"Whatever gets me on the field faster," he said, "but defense is where I've always wanted to be. To me, on offense you're waiting to get hit. On defense, you're doing all the damage."

Rainier Beach coach Mark Haley said Ta'amu did plenty of that for the short-handed Vikings this past season. On a team that finished 3-6 in the Metro League, Ta'amu was credited with 10 sacks and was the Sound Division's player and lineman of the year despite missing the final three games with a broken foot.

"He's one of the best I've had," said the 15-year coaching veteran. "He's an exceptional athlete. Great size, speed and strength. The guy has it all. And he's a good kid, a solid student, real humble."

Haley, who sent cornerback Vonzell McDowell to the Huskies last year, said Ta'amu will get in better physical condition at Washington and should benefit from focusing on one side of the ball

He figures Ta'amu "will be successful wherever they decide to put him. But he wants to play defense and they want him there. He does both well."

Haley recalled a game against West Seattle when Ta'amu sacked the quarterback on one play, chased a running back 30 yards downfield on the next and then dropped the quarterback and recovered a fumble to end the drive.

"When he wanted to make plays, he made plays," Haley said. "He can be dominating. He's got all the tools to come in and play as a freshman (at Washington). Now it's the mental part. Does he pick up the schemes and what they're doing? But physically he's got the tools in mobility, size and strength."

Ta'amu, the youngest of six brothers and sisters, said the chance to stay home and play in front of family and friends was a huge factor in choosing Washington over Arizona and Hawaii.

It doesn't hurt that several longtime friends are joining him at Montlake, including former middle school teammate Johri Fogerson, an O'Dea running back who also signed on Wednesday.

Willingham also proved to be a major selling point for a player whose father is a preacher and whose mother works at a career center in Seattle.

"I hope we win enough games to show people to keep Willingham," he said. "He's another reason I'm going there. He's a coach who is straight up with you."

In his mind, the Huskies just need to add more depth and continue building with the incoming talent. Washington's coaches, knowing the need for better bulk in the defensive line, are eager to see where the big fella fits in. And they're not alone.

"I can't wait," Ta'amu said, "to be a Dawg."

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