September 26, 2013 in Sports

Cougars’ Laufasa falls in love with game he once hated

By The Spokesman-Review
 
The Spokesman-Review photo


(Full-size photo)

COMING UP
Saturday:
Washington State (3-1) vs. Stanford (3-0) at CenturyLink Field, Seattle, 7 p.m.
TV: ESPN

PULLMAN – Open the newspaper, John Laufasa told his children, and find an NFL game that interests you.

Pick the team you think will win. Now sit in front of the television, watch the game, and if you’re right, you’ve earned yourself $5.

Easy enough, especially for a future college football player like Jeremiah Laufasa, John’s middle son and perhaps Washington State’s most pleasant surprise this season as a bullish, physical running back.

Except for one thing: Little Jeremiah didn’t like football.

“I’d never take it,” Jeremiah said of the easy money, “because I hated it so much.”

Today, he is a powerful, well-built, walk-on running back who has all four of WSU’s rushing touchdowns through four games. But as an adolescent, Jeremiah was a shorter, chunkier version of whom he is today, suffering through middle-school football as an undersized offensive lineman and hating every minute of it.

So dead-set against the sport was Jeremiah that at one point, he told his dad he wanted to be a video-game designer instead.

He might have quit if not for the wishes of his father, who raised all four of his children to be athletes – he also calls each of them every Sunday to make sure they’ve attended church – and all three of his sons to be college football players.

And it’s hard to say John didn’t know what he was doing: Jeremiah is a redshirt sophomore at WSU; his older brother, Corey, played linebacker for the Cougars after transferring from Army; John’s youngest son, Darrin, is a freshman fullback at UTEP; and his daughter, Theresa, is a volleyball player at Bothell High School.

“All I was good at was football,” John says with a laugh, “so until they came up with something they were passionate about, they were going to play football.”

It’s always been John’s passion. He was born in Long Beach, Calif., but spent much of his life in American Samoa, where he met his wife, Maria (Jeremiah and his brothers were born in Pago Pago before the family moved to the Seattle area when he was 4 years old).

“I grew up poor,” said John, who now works for the City of Seattle in the Public Utilities Department. “My only free time was to go play football with my friends. I played little league, high school, college. That was my way out.”

That’s why, as Jeremiah said, “before any of us was even born, he decided any boy he had, his plan was to make them an NFL player. It really was. So he decided that the best opportunity for that was to come up here and try to start that dream for us.”

But the dream didn’t fit Jeremiah as a kid. He found himself “dominated” by bigger players, and began equating football practice with torture.

Then he got to high school. He lost weight. He got taller. And he started taking dad’s bets and watching football, enamored with Ricky Williams and the fame he received for how well he toted the ball.

Jeremiah’s first carry as a high-school freshman confirmed his love. He was going to be a running back.

“I absolutely love this sport,” he thought. “There’s no way I could be a video game designer when I know this is out there.”

So he rushed for 3,682 yards and 39 touchdowns in his career at Juanita High School in Kirkland, Wash., eventually accepting a scholarship offer to play at Division-II Central Washington.

Exactly why he wound up at CWU, and not somewhere bigger, WSU running backs coach Jim Mastro isn’t sure.

“I don’t know who missed the boat there on that one,” Mastro said. “But I’m glad they did.”

The coach had seen Laufasa’s high-school film, and remembers remarking: “That kid’s pretty damn good.”

Older brother Corey was already on WSU’s roster when coach Mike Leach and his staff were hired. Shortly thereafter, John called and said Jeremiah, who played sparingly as a freshman at Central, wanted to walk on.

“I said, ‘absolutely,’” Mastro said. “I saw immediately his skill set. He reminded me so much of (former Nevada running back) Vai Taua. It was eerie how comparable they were at that age.”

Jeremiah had to redshirt last season after transferring, but immediately garnered praise from Leach as one of the most impressive players in WSU’s preseason camp this year.

The first carry of his career came in the Cougars’ opener at Auburn. It was a touchdown, exactly the kind of play Leach and Mastro envisioned for the 5-foot-10, 208-pounder – a 4-yard plunge up the middle.

Sitting at home, watching the game on television with his wife, John wept.

“I just know how hard my boy works and the stuff he’s gone through,” John said. “I just started crying, because he finally made it.”

The NFL is still the goal for Jeremiah, whose work ethic and dedication to the weight room have wowed WSU’s coaching staff. But his long-term plan is to eventually open a gym with Corey, and work with younger athletes who might not have access to a training facility otherwise.

“We really want to open up one in Hawaii, because there’s a lot of talent out there,” Jeremiah said, and some of it is going unnoticed.

He made others notice him, largely due to the urging of his father. It’s no wonder he wants to pay it forward.

“I do whatever I can to give my boys a chance, so they don’t have regret,” John said. “I tell them to do everything they can, so when it’s all over, they gave it everything they’ve got. They can’t say they didn’t give it a shot.”

Finally, Jeremiah is getting one, too.

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