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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Huskies hope a smaller Ta'amu will make a big difference

Seattle Times staff reporter
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The lose-weight-fast hucksters won't learn anything useful from Alameda Ta'amu's story.
The UW's incredible shrinking man says there's no real secret to his success other than better eating habits and working harder.
"I eat some salad now," the junior defensive tackle says with a laugh. "Less steak, more salmon in there."
As Steve Sarkisian enters his second season at UW, what often continues to most impress practice observers is the team's improved condition. Those who needed to gain weight and get stronger appear to have done so. And those who needed to drop a few pounds also appear to have done so, some quite dramatically.
Ta'amu's transformation, however, may be the most striking.
Now a relatively lithe 330 pounds, he says he weighed 375 when he arrived at UW in the fall of 2008 out of Rainier Beach High (though the official rosters never listed him at more than 348).
"I was real lazy when I first came here," he said. "I got a scholarship and signed and thought I was set. But when I came in it was a different story."
Despite less-than-optimum conditioning, he was good enough that he was almost immediately thrust into the starting lineup as a defensive lineman, starting five games in the lost season of 2008.
When Sarkisian's staff took over, Ta'amu says he thought he was going to move to offense. When asked why, he responds frankly: "Because I was fat."
In fact, he says one reason he thought he could play at 375 was because he figured he'd eventually end up blocking rather than tackling.
"I was thinking 375 would be OK on offense," he said.
But Sarkisian's staff left him on defense, sensing the value in having a 300-plus hole-plugger up the middle, assuming Ta'amu could get in the shape necessary to pull it off.
Ta'amu says being forced to do extra running after conditioning sessions helped put him on the right path.
"They would constantly get on me about losing weight and I would go in there and run extra and it clicked in my mind if I lose weight, I wouldn't have to do that anymore," he said.
He got down to 345 last fall, when he steadily emerged as one of UW's more consistent defensive linemen, starting all but one game.
The transformation continued through the offseason, and now having lost 45 pounds in the last 20 months, he was proclaimed "a new man" by Sarkisian when camp started.
"I feel quicker, stronger, faster," he said. "I can last longer — more than five plays."
And through the first week of camp, that has resulted in Ta'amu emerging as one of the team's best defensive players.
While much of the defensive front remains in flux, Ta'amu's role as the team's nose guard is about as settled as Jake Locker's at quarterback.
"He's extremely powerful, as we all know, but I think what's happened now with him is he's become much more explosive," Sarkisian said earlier this week. "When the ball gets snapped, his ability to snap off the football, his get-off, and then the power that he has, he's able to adjust when he has to. He's a dominant player right now."
The Huskies are toying with a defensive-tackle tandem of Ta'amu and sophomore Semisi Tokolahi, who also has drastically cut weight and is now at 297, a duo that would give the Huskies one of the more sturdy fronts up the middle that they've had in years.
If Ta'amu and Tokolahi can handle the tackle spots, UW can then use senior Cameron Elisara — a starter at tackle a year ago — more at end, mitigating some depth and injury issues there.
Defensive end has been a question since the spring due to the graduation of Daniel Te'o-Nesheim — whose 30 career sacks were the most in school history — as well as injuries to the likes of Kalani Aldrich and Everrette Thompson, neither of whom is yet back to full participation in practice.
"That's allowed Cameron to move around and do more things for us in terms of what we are trying to accomplish with our defense and add depth," defensive-line coach Johnny Nansen said of the Ta'amu-Tokolahi tandem.
Ta'amu, though, says he doesn't think the line is really all that, uh, weighty of an issue.
"I feel we are strong," he said. "The guys that came back, we all got better. We'll be OK."

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