Yes, yes, we’re all going to watch Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers on Saturday against TCU. Apparently, the ESPN crews have shadowed him as the Four Lettered crews compile pre-game footage.
But if you’re looking for the one player who is just about guaranteed to play on Sundays next year look at the 6-foot-1, 311 pound monster who occupies the middle of Oregon State’s defensive line.
He’s good enough to be in the NFL today, but elected to return for his senior season. He’s projected as a high first round pick next year.
(Watch his workout here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aReOloBmRkQ )
A native of Auckland, New Zealand, Paea (pronounced Pie-uh) only began playing organized football in his senior year of high school. He had been a rugby player. He’s only spoken English for about five years. Paea didn’t come to the U.S. until he was 16.
He spoke with me on the phone on Wednesday to talk about the game on Saturday, his matchup against TCU center Jake Kirkpatrick.
ME: Oregon State is in a BCS conference so it doesn’t exactly need a beefy pre-conference schedule; were you surprised when you all added TCU to your schedule?
PAEA: We knew were playing Boise State already, and adding TCU on top of it was surprising. It was amazing. This is a hard schedule. But if we’re to have a chance at a national title you start from the preseason.
ME: What do you know about TCU?
PAEA: They have a pretty big offensive line; that is the challenge. Up front is the key.
ME: Do you plan on seeing a lot of Jake Kirkpatrick?
PAEA: Yes. That will be a tough matchup. Other than that, I should be OK for us.
ME: Do you expect to be double teamed nearly every play?
PAEA: I have no idea. I think if I get double teamed like last year it’s a good way for other defensive linemen to step up. We’re running a 4-3 defense that means the other three defensive linemen are getting one on ones. If they are a threat they can’t double team one person it will free me up. So I won't be surprised if I do get doubled.
ME: What was your first reaction to playing football?
PAEA: It was weird at first to play because you had to stop all the time. When the ball is incomplete the play ends. The thing that affected me was the facemask and the helmet. It’s weird running in heavy hats.
ME: What’s harder, rugby or football?
PAEA: I would say rugby as far as running a lot. The whole time you just run. As far as being physical, football. I had never experienced anything like that before.
ME: You’re native language is?
PAEA: Tongan. I didn’t speak English until five years ago. When I first got here I couldn’t explain anything. This interview wouldn’t happen six years ago. I think interacting with all the athletes and students at school and my friends helped because I practiced speaking a lot.
ME: Are you familiar with the Euless Trinity football team here in Texas that has a large Tongan presence?
PAEA: Oh yeah, I’ve heard of them.
ME: Do you do a Haka dance or anything like that at all, similar to what Trinity does?
PAEA: We do that little thing during our pregame warmups. Ours take about 30 seconds to get everybody pumped up. It’s nothing as big as the Haka, though. That would take a minute or two to do.
ME: You could easily be a pro right now playing in the NFL; why come back?
PAEA: I didn’t think I was ready for the pros. I know what the scouts say, but I didn’t think I was ready. Second, I wanted to get my degree. It’s going to be an honor to get that degree.