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Remembering the Seniors: Will Ta'ufo'ou



TwistNHook: We thought we should go senior by senior and take a gander at their Cal career.  Some photos.  Some videos.  Some stats.  And if HydroTech has any personal stories of his time with the team, he'd share them.  We did Nate Longshore months ago, because Twist screwed up the scheduling.  Also, he's so dreamy!  And we just did Alex Mack

Today, we do Will Ta'ufo'ou.

TwistNHook:  Honestly, Will T is one of the unsung heroes of Cal football.  The FB inevitably toils in near-anonymity, only really recognized when he misses a key block or after his yearly touchdown reception.  But unlike Arizona's Will T, Cal's Will T really fulfilled his potential. 

Read this from a Chron article a few months back:

Ta'ufo'ou has spent his college career shunning praise. He arrived as a non-scholarship player, has performed through major injuries and has done his best to hide his face while the holes he has created have induced dancing in the end zone.

Ta'ufo'ou was offered one scholarship - to Portland State - although he was the West Catholic Athletic League Player of the Year while at St. Francis in 2003. He was a feature back in high school, but was told he wouldn't carry the ball in college.

He accepted it all, and his quiet significance might have proven best last season.

He was supposed to accept a spot on the bench when he tore his posterior cruciate ligament in training camp and was predicted to miss 3-6 weeks. He was supposed to miss another three weeks when his medial collateral ligament faltered in Week 4, and his high-ankle sprain in Week 8 was supposed to end his season.

Instead, he played.

To really understand Will T, you don't need to look at his numbers, which include a peak of 11 attempts in one season:

Year G-GS No. Yds. Yds/C TD Long
2005 11-0 0 0 0.0 0 0
2006 13-1 1 2 2.0 0 2
2007 13-4 11 52 5.8 0 14
2008 13-8 4 26 6.5 0 21
Totals 49-13 16 80 5.0 0 21

You really have to look at the RBs overall numbers.  Marshawn.  Forsett.  Best.  Vereen.  All great running backs, but all great running backs who owe Will T a lot of credit.

Avinash:  Football to war analogies aren't my favorite (just because it feels so serious), but it's the best I could come up with: A fullback is like the guy who provides cover fire while the other guys go off outflanking and doing hero shit. He'll never take you down directly, but he opens the path for others to take you down. It's inglorious, but unselfish. That's Ta'ufo'ou for you. Being great without many noticing he's even there.

TwistNHook:  So far, Avinash, you've given us similes, metaphors, and analogies.  What other turns of phrases can we expect from you?

Avinash:  I had good English teachers. The system works!

HydroTech:  I wish Will got more TDs, or at least got more touches  He was such a tireless worker and never complained.  He did his job, did his job well, and was a team player.  For all that he's done, I would have really liked to have seen him rewarded with more TDs or perhaps a few more carries.  But of course, if Will was running with the ball, then we'd have one less blocker out on the field, and one less great blocker.  So the fact that Will got so few carries makes sense, although I'm sure we all wish he got a few more touches.

Avinash:  One of the things with Will was how his teammates raved about him. Usually when there are cancers in the locker room you don't look at what guys say about their teammates, you look at what they don't say, or the hidden meaning behind their statements.

There was no hidden meaning behind the way players raved about Will.

TwistNHook:  We'll definitely remember Will T, because the drop off at his position might be the largest.  There are DLinemen to take over for Rulon Davis and QBs to take over for Nate Longshore.  But our new FB or FBs is slash are going to be brand new to the position.  Nobody expects that they will make us forget Will T, but hopefully they will minimize our wistfullness somewhat.

HydroTech:  Let's talk pro prospectus.  I think Will is probably a 7th round pick to undrafted free agent.  It's possible that one out of the 32 NFL teams will value Will enough to use a small 7th round pick to secure his rights.  What do other people think?


Avinash:  Undrafted. Fullbacks are a dime a dozen. And no one likes to commit to them until they're sure they have a winner.

I shouldn't say they're easy to get, but no one wants to pay them unless they're a sure thing.

I'd love to see him get drafted though. Maybe he'll get the Tedford Bump.


Yellow Fever:  It's difficult to project a fullback getting drafted if he hasn't shown that he can at least carry the ball on occasion or catch the ball in the flat every now and then.  Willie T hasn't shown he can do that - of course, he hasn't been given the opportunity to do that, but even Chris Manderino used to get the odd handoff up the middle here and there when Marshawn was around.  There's a reason for the disparity, and it's not a good one.

HydroTech:  Keep in mind there are like 60 picks in the 7th round of the NFL draft due to compensatory picks.  Furthermore, spending a draft pick on a player, especially a low draft pick, is hardly binding or expensive.  I wouldn't be surprised if Will doesn't get drafted, but then again, I wouldn't be surprised if a team throws out a lowly 7th round pick to secure his rights.

Avinash:  From a Cal Pro Day Analysis (subscription) : "Fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou does not suffer from a lack of talent, but could go undrafted, because not that many teams use a fullback on a consistent basis"



That's the main problem that he faces. Fullbacks are not in high demand in the pros.

HydroTech:  I agree completely.  And unfortunately, I don't think Will has much value outside of fullback - such on special teams.  I don't recall him participating on Cal's special teams very much at all if at all.

Avinash:  Yes. However, if teams are interested in a specalist, someone who can provide one particular function (great downfield and power blocking), they should consider him. Cal's running game, regardless of wins or losses, was always at the top of the country (13th, 14th, 5th the pass three seasons), and he was one of the biggest reasons for it. Him and Mack will be missed.  13th/14th/5th referred to YPC.

This is a good sign.

Danzig's Highlight Video:


HydroTech's memories of Will Ta'ufo'ou:

My first big memory of Will Ta'ufo'ou occurred during the summer of 2006.  It was the off-season and the team was conditioning with Coach K (Krasinski) around the stadium.  Some days they would run the benches in the stadium.  Other days they'd run the small concrete steps at the top of the stadium, or do agility drills on the field.  Every once in a while they'd also run 40 yard dashes on the inclined loading ramp on the north side of Memorial Stadium.  It was there, at the loading ramp that my first memorable moment occurred.

Like most summer days, it was hot but with all the trees around the loading ramp on the north end of the stadium the players stayed cool in the shade.  The players were practicing running 40 yard dashes in pairs.  Two players would line up on the narrow loading ramp, and upon the word of Coach K, would burst off the line and race 40 yards up the loading ramp incline.  Most of the players would match up against players of similar positions.  Thus, LBs, TEs, FBs, and QBs raced each other.  CBs, WRs, and safeties raced each other.  DL-men raced OL guys. 



On this day, there was only a small group of players - not more than 10.  And on this day, there was an odd number of players. 

I was by the starting line with the team trainer, and Coach K watching him give the players the word when to go.  Pair after pair went off the ramp in 10 second intervals.  Finally, Will Ta'ufo'ou stepped to the line all by himself.  Coach K asked him if he was ready and was about to yell "go" when Will said he had nobody to race.

Normally, when there are an odd number of players the odd man just goes by himself.  But I guess today Will wanted someone to race.  He then turned to me, and said "[HydroTech], come on!" 

I was a bit unsure.  Never has a player invited me to really join in the training.  I looked to Coach K for approval.  He shrugged, didn't seem to care and said to get on the starting line. 

Now as I was approaching the starting line, I was going through in my head this matchup.  Here we had Will Ta'ufo'ou, a hefty 240 pounds or so versus me - a person more resembling Robert Jordan or Desean Jackson.  Any reasonable person would probably say that Will Ta'ufo'ou had no chance.  But while my body type resembled the speedy Robert Jordan or Desean Jackson, I definitely wasn't nearly as fast or even remotely as fast.  Sure I played sports a lot as a kid and as a teen, but that was a while ago.  I wasn't a football player or had been training pretty much all around the year like the Cal Football players.  So as I stepped to the line and got into a two point stance next to Will crouching in a three point stance, I knew this would end with me losing.

When Coach K gave the word, I did my best to "burst" off of the line.  In my peripheral vision, I saw that Will didn't move when Coach K the word.  He paused for perhaps half a second to give me a head start.  How kind of Will. 

With my head start, I could feel myself putting space between me and Will as I was approaching my top speed and Will was still getting up to his top speed.  After passing the first 20 yards, I could hear Will laboring behind me and catching up.  For a moment, I thought there was a good chance I might hold him off for the final stretch.  But then slowly, I could see Will to my right peripheral right next to me... and then pass me up.  It was then, that I was started laughing at myself and pulled up short.  Will finished out the 40 and was also laughing at the comedy of the situation.  Here we had me, someone who was easily outweighed by Will by a good 80 pounds or so, get beat handidly on a 40 yard dash with a half second head start or so.  I mean, by the time I had run 30 yards, Will had already caught up to me and surpassed me.  Embarassing?  Some might say yes, but I wasn't embarassed or ashamed at all.  



It was then that I realized how in-shape so many of these players were.  Sure they looked big, muscular, and slow when you're watching from the stands but as soon as you get into their world and play against them (or in my case merely "run" against them), you see how fast they really are. 

So that's my big memory of Will Tau'ufo'ou.  I raced him in a 40 yard dash.  He gave me a half second head start and by 30 yards he had already passed me up. 

My second big memory of Will Tau'ufo'ou occurred during the spring practices.  During practices, there are a pair of periods ("period" meaning one time block of 5 minutes or so during the entire practice which can consist of 25 periods or so) where the walkon QBs, TEs, RBs, and FBs practice offense against the LBs (the scholarship QBs are off working with the OC). 

This is a slightly less intense period with lots of offensive players rotating in and out for those few snaps thus there are a lot of players just standing around and watching. 

Will wasn't in this particular rotation for a moment so I walked up to him.  I had a question about some of Cal's offensive terminology.  I figured I'd ask him since he wasn't doing much other than just watching the players in the rotation.  So I went up to him and asked him what's the difference between [term redacted] versus [term redacted].  He explained the difference to me. 

Nearby I could see now-graduated Cal runningback Marcus O'Keith listening to our conversation and giving me an inquisitive look - presumably because he was surprised I knew some of the terminology.  Will, apparently, had that same surprise.  He asked me how I knew what those terms mean.  I explained that it was pretty easy to pick up on those things since they have the playcall terminology on a whiteboard for the entire offense to view when they're not on the field in the play (thus those players know what play is being run and can take a mental rep). 

Then, who else bounded and bounced over was BEAST MODE (Marshawn Lynch) himself.  He had just gotten out of the rotation and had overheard some of the conversation.  Will called him over, "Hey, Money, check it out he knows some of the terminology."  I gave a quick glance over at Coach Gould.  He apparently had heard Will.  I was a bit nervous because I wasn't sure what one of the coaches would think if someone other than the players and the coaches knew the terminology.  Coach Gould gave a glance over towards us but then looked back down at his script to set up the next snap. 



BEAST MODE came up to me and in his goofy high pitched voice asked me, "You know what that means?"  He nodded towards the white board with the terminology of each snap on it.  I nodded.  BEAST MODE wanted to test me.  "What's [terminology redacted] mean?"  BEAST MODE was looking over at the white board with the upcoming plays terminology.  I answered, "playaction left, fullback running a [name of route redacted] right."  BEAST MODE gave out a long high pitched expressive "Oooooo-eeeeeee" in surprise then laughed, and bounced off somewhere else only to return a moment later.  "Hey, you're hella smart, huh?  You're some genius, huh?"  I laughed and said that I wasn't.  BEAST MODE didn't seem to believe my answer.  "You're some sort of genius," he again asserted.

During the rest of the period BEAST MODE seemed truly impressed with the revelation that I knew some of the terminology.  He bounded around the rest of the period from various small groups of other offensive players in this drill telling them the news.  Finally, BEAST MODE bounded over to me one last time.  "Hey, what's this mean?"  and giving me a hand signal.  It was one of the numerical digits hand signs that the QBs use to signal in plays.  I couldn't remember if it was for the number five or six.  I told BEAST MODE I didn't know.  He responded, "It means five," then gave out a playful laugh and teased, "See, I know something you don't!"