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Thursday, August 13, 2009

ASU's Lauvao lets his play do talking

by Paola Boivin - Aug. 13, 2009 10:10 PM
The Arizona Republic


This is Shawn Lauvao, the wizard of the weight room, the former Hawaiian Strongman medalist who used to pull tractors for sport?

The guy has the cadence of a beat poet - "Dennis Erickson. Cool cat." - and spews more purr than growl - "I'm a lover, not a fighter."

"He doesn't say much," former Arizona State All-American Juan Roque said, "but he gets it done on the field."

On an ASU football team filled with question marks, left tackle Lauvao is the closest to a sure thing. He is one of the Pac-10's more-underrated players and the reason Erickson is breathing easier despite an unstable quarterback situation.

"He's taken that offensive line on his shoulders," the ASU coach said.

Not much is expected of the Sun Devils. They finished 5-7 last season and were tabbed fifth in the preseason media poll, a ranking many call generous. No unit was criticized more last season than the offensive line, and former quarterback Rudy Carpenter has the battle scars to prove it.

"They've all got a chip on their shoulders," Erickson said. "They can read."

The group was painful to watch last season. A lethal mix of inexperience and injuries prevented the offense from ever resembling a well-oiled machine.

After starting at left guard, Lauvao was moved to right tackle for the final third of the season to help ease the outside pressure on Carpenter. Lauvao made an impact, but breakdowns around him were frequent. If the Sun Devils hope to help likely starting quarterback Danny Sullivan along, they can't allow the middle blitz to be a deal-breaker again this season.

"Last season was a fluke," Lauvao said. "We're not going to get beat like that again. We've made great progress, and we've transformed our attitude."

With junior Jon Hargis joining senior Lauvao on the left side and five linemen back that missed part or all of last season, this unit appears to be in much better shape.

Lauvao is the biggest reason. He offers not only technical know-how but a leadership-by-example trait that has won over his teammates. Maybe it's because he's widely regarded as the hardest worker in the weight room, bench-pressing a cool 500 pounds and squatting 675.

"No one is a leader right out of the gate," Roque said. "Shawn has evolved into that role. He doesn't say much, but it's in the way he works and plays the game.

"And he should be at left tackle, because you've got to put your best player there. You've got to let Danny get in a rhythm and not have him get hit every play."

If Lauvao's name sounds unfamiliar, it's because of the anonymity that comes with playing on the line. He often has gone unnoticed, even when he won Hawaii's Strongest Teen competition in 2005 and earned all-state honors as a senior at Honolulu's Farrington High School.

In fact, colleges, including Hawaii, had minimal interest in him until late in his senior season. Lauvao took things into his own hands, sent out videos to college programs and suddenly became a hot commodity. Credit former ASU coach Dirk Koetter and his staff for being in the mix early, offering up the likeable Brandon Rodd, a former offensive lineman also from Hawaii, as his recruiting host and convincing him to commit just as Southern California and Miami were moving in.

"I didn't like it here at first when I visited," he said. "There was no one in town, and I was leaning toward Brigham Young because I thought I could stay out of trouble. But I looked at the people in the program and thought they could help me get to the NFL."

"Trouble?" Roque said. "He's the type of guy I could see serving soup in a soup kitchen but never being in the newspaper for doing something wrong."

Lauvao might be right about the NFL part. He already is listed on analysts' draft boards. Former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt projects him as at least a seventh-round pick because he likes Lauvao's "strength and work ethic."

High praise for a guy who projects a laid-back vibe off the field.

"Those are the kind you've got to watch," Roque said. "Dangerous. He'll smile.

"And then he'll knock you out."

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