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Darryl Paulo’s time has come on Washington State’s defensive line

WSU defensive lineman Darryl Paulo, who toiled in obscurity for nearly four years, wants to make the most of every snap. (Associated Press)
WSU defensive lineman Darryl Paulo, who toiled in obscurity for nearly four years, wants to make the most of every snap. (Associated Press)

PULLMAN – Like most college athletes in the days of team-sponsored meetings, meals, study halls and bowling trips, Darryl Paulo has found that his life almost entirely revolves around the team.

Sure, Paulo has dreams other than football. He has passions for community outreach and law enforcement, and hopes to blend the two into a career with the FBI – he’s willing to move wherever the Feds might send him.

But for now, Paulo’s schedule and social circle are dictated almost exclusively by the Washington State football program.

“It’s kind of difficult to go out and make friends with other people,” Paulo said. “I definitely have conversations with people in my class and it’s nice to get to know people. But other than that, I don’t really get into deep conversations with people outside of the team.”

For nearly four years, that athletic persona was shrouded in relative anonymity as various undisclosed injuries and better players at his position kept Paulo off the field. Paulo did not see significant playing time until the middle of his junior year, making three starts at the end of last year.

He’s started both games for WSU this year, appearing to be a fixture at defensive end.

“These past two games alone I’ve taken probably more snaps than I did the whole season last year,” Paulo said. “I appreciate all these snaps and every time coach Joe (Salave’a, WSU’s defensive line coach) has asked me if I wanted a break, I say, ‘No.’ I’ve been ready for this. I’ve been conditioning really hard this whole summer so I could play entire games and not have to be spelled out of the game.”

Taking so long to contribute could indicate that a player was lacking in some skill or talent necessary to make an impact on the field. But through two games in 2015, Paulo has been one of WSU’s best defenders.

The redshirt senior from Sacramento, California, has two of WSU’s four sacks this season, and leads the team with 2.5 tackles for loss.

“He’s paid his dues and the thing about Darryl, he’s a conscientious kid, he’s constantly asking questions about our defense so it allows him to know the play fast,” Salave’a said. “He’s been productive every time he takes the field and he’s a guy we swing a lot because of his ability to play different spots for us on the line.”

Paulo blames some of his natural ability for preventing him from contributing sooner. While Paulo would occasionally show flashes during the early years, such as his sack and fumble recovery in the New Mexico Bowl as a sophomore, he admits that it took him longer than most to get used to the limitations a college defender must place upon himself.

In high school, Paulo was able to rampage around the field, causing havoc and leaving or sticking to his assignment at whim. If he wasn’t in the required gap, he could probably still make the play. And if not, the other members of his loaded Grant High defense such as 2015 NFL draft picks Shaq Thompson and James Sample could surely finish the play.

After that, it took Paulo a while to get used to the constraints of playing in a college defense.

“At this level, if you go out of your assignment the opposing team is going to take advantage of you not being in the right spot,” Paulo said. “That’s been a big thing for me to get used to, the discipline aspect of the game.”

That need for discipline is what Paulo tries to instill in redshirt freshman Hercules Mata’afa, a player who has similarly cruised by for most of his career by simply being faster and stronger than everyone else. Even as a freshman last season, Mata’afa routinely dominated the other first-year players during underclassmen scrimmages, but now he’s being asked to contribute in games against older players who are just as athletic as he is.

Paulo can frequently be seen in practice advising Mata’afa on technique so that he won’t have to wait as long as Paulo did to make use of his abilities.

“He has a ton of potential. The dude can play ball,” Paulo said. “His learning curve is quicker than mine was and it’s nice to see the future of the Washington State D-line is in good hands.”