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Vandals’ Lavarias rushing to greatness

Idaho defensive end Aaron Lavarias gets past a blocker against Hawaii last year.  (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho defensive end Aaron Lavarias gets past a blocker against Hawaii last year. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Aaron Lavarias was just beginning an interview with a reporter Tuesday when Idaho football coach Robb Akey walked past the Vandals’ most productive defender and offered the simplest of compliments.

“Good work,” Akey told the fifth-year defensive end shortly after practice had ended.

It was apt praise for Lavarias, who goes all-out on the football field no matter the occasion. But Akey isn’t the only one who’s taken notice of one of the Western Athletic Conference’s marquee pass rushers.

“I think Lavarias, he’s big time,” Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore said Friday night, following the Broncos’ 52-14 beatdown of Idaho. “He’s a very good defensive end. We’ve seen him for a couple years. From last year to this year, you’ve seen a big change in him.”

Lavarias, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior from Woodinville, Wash., continues to shine after transitioning from a smallish defensive tackle into a high-energy end before the start of the 2009 season. He’s third in the WAC in sacks with eight and tied for fourth in tackles for loss with 13.

Lavarias has shown a knack for maneuvering into opposing teams’ backfields – albeit at a slower clip than earlier in the year – even while he’s become the focal point of Vandals opponents.

During UI’s current three-game losing skid, the team has given up 160 points to the WAC’s three top teams. Lavarias is more exasperated than anyone by the defensive swoon, but he remains a standout along the line.

Last week, he chased Moore around the field numerous times and had a sack wiped away by a personal-foul penalty after getting his index finger caught in Moore’s face mask. BSU has allowed just five sacks this season, so the missed opportunity still stings.

“After watching the film, I thought from the games we had on film, I thought we gave (Moore) the most pressure,” Lavarias said. “We were in his face for the most part of the game.”

Lavarias matured under Akey and his staff’s tutelage while maintaining what coaches and teammate describe as a good- natured, always-upbeat personality. He shared a laugh last week with Akey over the coach’s bobblehead doll – given away to fans before the Nevada game. Lavarias made sure his mom, Kerstin, came early enough to the Kibbie Dome to snag one of the bobbleheads for herself and her son.

“He’s one of those guys that just has fun on every play during the game,” defensive tackle Michael Cosgrove said. “He has a lot of competitiveness and a lot of compassion for it. He’s not one of the guys out there looking at the score.”

After redshirting in 2006, Lavarias began his career at defensive tackle because the Vandals were short on bodies up front. He still values those two years inside, even against interior lineman much bigger than he.

But Lavarias didn’t complain when the coaches made the switch last fall, putting him at end to take advantage of his speed and power on the edge.

“He has a deceptive speed rush,” defensive line coach Eti Ena said. “And he can go to speed to power fast. So his combinations and what he does, that’s part of understanding your position.”

His mixture of quickness and strength have caught the eye of NFL scouts. Lavarias – who graduated with an accounting degree last spring – has heard favorable things about his prospects for the next level, most likely as an outside linebacker.

Ena, among others, doesn’t doubt Lavarias’ potential.

“With the work ethic that young man has, he can do anything,” Ena said. “When you embrace things, when you’ve got a guy who’s going to work his tail off to do everything right, he’s going to succeed.”

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