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By Dennis Anderson
Two defensive linemen from Hawai'i will line up across from two offensive linemen from Hawai'i Saturday in the first Pac-10 college football showdown of the season. California (4-0), ranked sixth nationally in the media and coaches' polls, plays at Oregon (4-0), ranked 11th by media and 12th by coaches, at Eugene, Ore. (9:30 a.m. in Hawai'i on KITV).
Sophomore end/tackle Tyson Alualu (6 feet 4, 288 pounds, wearing No. 44), a 2005 Saint Louis graduate from Kalihi, and junior tackle Mika Kane (6-3, 305, No. 98), a 2005 Kamehameha-O'ahu graduate from Makaha, will start on defense for California's Golden Bears. Junior tackle Max Unger (6-5, 300, No. 60), a 2004 Hawai'i Prep graduate from Kamuela, and senior guard Pat So'oalo (6-5, 332, No. 66), a 2003 Kailua High graduate, will start on offense for the Oregon Ducks. "I play both defensive end and defensive tackle on the right side," Alualu said yesterday. "If I am inside at tackle, I might get a chance at So'oalo. He plays left guard. If I'm outside, I go against Unger at left tackle."
Alualu became the hero of every defensive lineman in the universe in the first quarter of last Saturday's game against Arizona when he scooped a fumble by the quarterback on the Arizona 4 and dived into the end zone for a touchdown. Defensive linemen live for that moment and few ever experience it, but Alualu did it once before, when he was playing for Saint Louis in a preseason game against Kaiser. "It's being at the right place at the right time," he said. Alualu and Kane are at the right place at the right time as far as Ken Delgado, Cal's defensive line coach, is concerned. "They both possess power and quickness, and present problems for an offense," Delgado says. "They are more athletic than you might think they are. Mika has exceptional body control and is one of the most powerful players we have. "The really good thing," Delgado adds, "is that both are very intelligent players. They can do a lot of things, they absorb and learn technique quickly."
Although 'Iolani grad Joe Igber set rushing records there from 1999-2002, Cal has not had multiple players from Hawai'i in years — maybe ever. Delgado, who recruits the Islands, said that changed after Abu Ma'afala (Kamehameha '02) transferred to Berkeley from the University of Hawai'i in 2004. Ma'afala wanted to go to the Mainland and Doug Tom, who had played for Delgado at San Diego State and was an assistant at Kamehameha, steered him to Cal. Ma'afala, who is now coaching at a high school in Indiana while his wife finishes her degree at Notre Dame, was the student host for Alualu and Kane when they made their recruiting visit in 2005. "It was sort of a package deal," Delgado said. "Having Abu here established a comfort zone for them. They both liked it. If one had not, it might have been different. ... It's hard to leave Hawai'i, but they have strong, supportive families." Alualu's enrollment at Cal was delayed a semester while he married the former Desire' Pomele, a Farrington grad, and they had a son, Tyree, who will be 2 in November.
He and Kane met on their recruiting trip and now are nearly inseparable. "You don't see one without the other," Delgado said. "When Tyson scored Saturday, Mika was the first guy there to pick him up and celebrate." "Tyson is really blossoming and coming into his own. He's getting better and better every game," said defensive captain Thomas DeCoud, the free safety whose hit caused the fumble Alualu recovered. "Tyson and Mika anchor our defensive line." "Right place, the right time," summarizes Alualu's feelings about Cal.
"We have great talent on this team," he says "It's an honor to play with them and with these coaches. I'm glad I came to this school." Alualu has a simple answer for his touchdown, his wife and son, and his presence at Cal. "I give thanks and the glory to God," he says. "He makes everything happen. If not for him, none of this would be possible." Kane, who has been starting since his true freshman season, says injury problems that kept him out four games the last two seasons are behind him and he is looking forward to "getting a few snaps against the Hawai'i boys" in Eugene on Saturday. "There are a lot of people from Hawai'i in the Pac-10 and it's been fun to play against them," Kane said. Some he has enjoyed battling, Kane said, were Jeremy Perry (Kahuku) of Oregon State, Brandon Rodd ('Aiea) and Shawn Lauvao (Farrington) of Arizona State, and Brennan Carvalho, his high school teammate, of Portland State.
The trickle of talent from Hawai'i to Berkeley that began with Igber and Ma'afala and gushed with Alualu and Kane is turning into a torrent. Three 2007 recruits are red-shirting, learning and saving their eligibility. They are defensive ends Solomona Aigamaua and Scott Smith, both from Saint Louis, and tight end Savai'i Eselu from Moanalua. "The redshirts are really quality kids," Delgado said. "They will be good players for us."