When Andru Pulu talks about his Eastern Washington football teammates, it’s usually in future tense, as if he doesn’t want it to end.
“We have something special here, the offense can’t be stopped and the defense is getting better every week,” said Pulu, a senior defensive lineman who three years ago could only think of football in the past tense: the stellar high school career in Federal Way, then playing big-time college football as a true freshman at Washington in the fall of 2009.
And the colossal mistake that nearly ended it all.
At an off-campus party in Seattle the following spring, Pulu, then 18, beat another man and broke his nose. Pulu pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and spent three months in jail; soon afterward, he was cut loose by the Huskies.
But even as he hit the depths of despair in the fall of 2010 – “I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again, and I was ready to give up,” Pulu said – he got a second chance with FCS school Eastern Washington.
Promise and shame
Pulu was rare specimen on the football field at Federal Way High School, a 250-pound linebacker with 4.7 speed in the 40. “When he hits you, you’re hit,” a rival coach said in 2008.
His coach, John Meagher, saw Pulu’s potential even if the player didn’t, and sent film to colleges.
“I didn’t even know I was good enough to play in college until my junior year,” said Pulu, whose first scholarship offer came from Eastern Washington. But then came an offer from Washington, a high-profile Pac-12 program located just 15 minutes from the Pulu home.
It was an easy choice. Up to 265 pounds, he played at defensive end in 2009, earning a spot in the regular rotation and on the kickoff return unit. He appeared in all 11 games.
But on the night of March 7-8, 2010, at an alcohol-fueled, off-campus party, Pulu assaulted a member of the UW men’s soccer team. According to court documents, the victim attempted to intervene in a verbal argument between a friend and Pulu, when Pulu punched the victim in the face and stomped him with his shoe.
“I brought shame upon myself and my family, and I’m willing to take responsibility for everything I’ve done,” Pulu said in court.
During his incarceration, Pulu said he turned to faith and family. The names of his Samoan parents, father Logo and mother Seioloanai, are tattooed on the back of his hands.”
“My mom encouraged me to keep reading the Bible, and my family visited whenever they could,” Pulu said.
Even as the Eagles were driving to the FCS title that year, then-assistant coach Torey Hunter drove to Seattle after Pulu’s release and extended a scholarship offer.
“They still found time for me,” said Pulu, a 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive tackle, who was ineligible in 2011 and thus had gone two years without a snap going into the 2012 season.
“That just added to his hunger to come back and take full advantage of a second chance,” defensive line coach Ryan Sawyer said. “Not a lot of guys can handle that.”
On the field, Pulu is a presence in the middle whose impact can’t be measured by stats, though he does have 23 tackles so far this year, three for negative yardage.
After his collegiate career is over, Pulu, an interdisciplinary studies major, hopes to play professionally. NFL scouts have dropped by to assess him and with other Eastern players.
“What he does is disrupt plays by always demanding double teams, or by teams having to run plays away from him,” Sawyer said. “He’s very disruptive and very unselfish.
“He’s an absolute force, but what I really like is that he truly cares how his teammates view him. Being a part of this team means a lot to him.” That includes his younger brother, Jordan, a redshirt freshman who also plays in the defensive line, and nose tackle Will Katoa, another senior.
“It’s fun to play with another Polynesian,” said Katoa, who’s of Tongan descent.
“I feel like there’s a bond there that will help us out, and I feel like I have my brother next to me.”