PULLMAN – Jonathan “Pono” Lolohea, a junior college transfer who was competing for Washington State’s starting nose tackle job, has left the Cougar football team for unspecified reasons, The Spokesman-Review learned Sunday.
Following a shortened practice in Pullman Sunday evening, WSU coach Mike Leach said he hasn’t “seen (Lolohea)” or “heard from him” recently and couldn’t provide further explanation as to why the defensive lineman had elected to leave.
“I don’t know what he’s thinking or whatever,” Leach said. “It sounds like he’s going to transfer and so I assume he is. He hadn’t been here so he’s pretty much off the team anyway.”
Lolohea wasn’t in attendance for the Cougars’ scrimmage Saturday afternon and posted a cryptic message from his Twitter account Sunday evening, writing “Sometimes you gotta move forward without looking back.”
The 6-3, 295-pound defensive lineman also posted the following tweet on Friday: “The dirt that’s been thrown on my name is false #TwoFace.”
“I thought he was playing fine,” Leach said. “It was a little bit of a surprise that it was him, but it would be a surprise if it wasn’t somebody, you know?”
A coveted junior college prospect who’d initially committed to Kansas, Lolohea signed with the Cougars in December as part of the early signing period and arrived on campus in January in time to participate in spring camp. The Copiah-Lincoln Community College (Miss.) transfer was a three-star prospect according to ESPN.com, Rivals.com and 247Sports.com and chose the Cougars over Kansas, Arizona, Boise State, Kansas State, Oregon State, Maryland and Colorado to name a few. Per 247Sports.com, Lolohea had 23 total FBS offers coming out of junior college.
Although Comfort, a redshirt senior former walk-on, had been working primarily with the first team defensive line, Lolohea had also spent time with the No. 1 unit and had shown significant progress from when he arrived in the spring.
Lolohea had also made a conscientious effort to transform his body over the summer and cut unnecessary fat. He was listed at 300 pounds on the spring camp roster, but came into fall camp at 295.
“I tried to trim up as much as I could,” Lolohea said after WSU’s practice in Lewiston on Aug. 8. “Try to be as nimble for a big guy. I kind of stayed the same weight, just lost five pounds, but I lost six percent body fat during the summer. So I went from 26 to 20.”
Lolohea hails from the same town in Maui – Lahaina – as former WSU defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa, who wrapped up his college career last season as a consensus All-American.
An acquaintance of Mata’afa’s, Lolohea said the success of the three-time All-Pac-12 pass-rusher helped influence his decision to play for the Cougars.
“It did, it did,” Lolohea said. “And plus I wanted to be back on the West coast after Mississippi, be closer to home for my family to come see me.”
The Cougars’ defensive front has already been razor-thin this fall camp. Junior defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo, a six-game starter last year, and junior rush linebacker Derek Moore, a four-game starter, haven’t attended practice in more than two weeks, although WSU coach Mike Leach said following an Aug. 10 scrimmage, “They’re doing exactly what we want them to and expect to see them shortly.”
On either side of Comfort, defensive tackle Nick Begg and defensive end Will Rodgers III have been the Cougars’ other starting defensive linemen most of preseason camp.
It’s unclear who will fill Lolohea’s void, but junior college transfer Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei spent time working with the No. 2 defense at nose tackle during Sunday’s practice.
“He’s been playing pretty well,” Leach said of Aiolupotea-Pei. “The thing is figuring out how to get Misi on the field because he’s done a lot of good things and he’s been playing well and he’s a real strong, explosive guy.”