by Doug Haller - Aug. 11, 2010 10:42 PM
The Arizona Republic
The Arizona Republic
Saia Falahola's path to Arizona State started on a different path. It started with teammate Gerald Munns.
"I met (Falahola) when we were at an
All-Star game in Louisiana," Munns, a senior linebacker, said Wednesday.
"He hadn't had any Pac-10 scholarship offers or any Big 12 offers. And since I had already committed to ASU, I was asking some of the defensive linemen, 'Who's really been standing out?' "
Several mentioned Falahola, an offensive lineman on a Texas team that had won the Class 5A state championship. It just so happened that Falahola and Munns were roommates that week.
Right away, Munns called former ASU assistant coach Ted Monachino and said, "Hey, you better get on this guy right now."
According to Munns, Monachino replied, "Falahola? I've been trying to get ahold of that guy for the longest time."
Not much later, Falahola headed to Tempe, where he has switched to defensive
tackle, becoming a two-year starter on what should be one of the Pac-10's better units.
Although he stands 6 feet 1 and weighs 300 pounds, Falahola is easy to overlook. All-Pac-10 candidate Lawrence Guy lines up beside him. At times, All-America candidate Vontaze Burfict creeps from behind. Still, it's Falahola, one of only 12 ASU seniors, who serves as the defense's anchor.
"Saia's such a steady player," coach Dennis Erickson said. "He's physical. He's the point against the run. Lawrence is a good player and makes a lot of plays, but Saia's really kind of the guy in that front that's really stable at what he does. He had a good year last year, he had a great spring, and he's having a darn-good camp right now."
Here's what you need to know about Falahola:
• He has perfect comedic timing, always delivering a funny line on cue.
• His daughter, Vea, turned 1 in May, and every time Falahola comes home and hears "Hi, Daddy," he practically melts. "It's changed me big-time," he said about fatherhood. "I think it's humbled me, not only as a player, but as a person."
• He loves to jam on the ukulele. "I don't know if you remember some of the other Polynesians that have played here, like Paul Fanaika," Falahola said. "But we try to get together and have a little jam session every so often. We try to get some White boys involved, too. You know Gerald Munns? G-Money's my man."
On the field, teammates insist Falahola is different this camp. More intense, more vocal.
The reason is simple.
"This is my last go-around, and I don't want to have any regrets, so I'm out there more emotional, more fired up," Falahola said. "And it's not just because it's my senior year. It's because I want to see this program excel."
It's been a long journey. In 2006, Falahola played guard, center and tackle for former ASU coach Dirk Koetter. After Erickson moved him to defensive tackle, Falahola suffered a triceps injury that limited him to three games as a redshirt-freshman.
Since then he's played a significant role in ASU's defense, starting in 15 of 24 games, but the Sun Devils have won just nine times in two years.
"I don't think it's going to hit me until I walk through the tunnel (on Game Day,)" Falahola said of his final season. "It's gone real fast, but I want to have a good ending. The last two years, with no bowl game, it's been kind of hard. That's why I want it so bad this season."