Nov. 20, 2007
By Brian Tom
While some big-time athletes are overly-scrutinized and play under the proverbial microscope, Husky defensive lineman Wilson Afoa has led a relatively anonymous existence at Washington and before.
Afoa has quietly carved out a nice football career for himself at Washington. Behind only Greyson Gunheim, he is second among active defensive players in career starts and tackles-for-loss. Considering his quiet off-the-field demeanor and the reputation of players from Hawai'i as being laid back, it is little surprise that Afoa has went through his football career with little fanfare.
It isn't the first time Afoa has went unnoticed. He wasn't on many college's radars and received relatively little recruiting attention until November of his senior season. Even then, Afoa wasn't considered the most highly sought after defensive lineman from his team. That honor went to his cousin, Tolifili Liufau, who was considered the state's top recruit.
When college coaches would come to see Liufau play, they quickly started taking notice of Afoa and began asking `Who is that guy wearing No. 87?' What they found out was that Afoa was a hungry, talented football player that was humble, both on and off the field.
"Wilson has a quiet-on-the-surface personality, but if you take the time to get to know him you see that he is much deeper than that and that he has the respect of his teammates," says Husky Head Coach Tyrone Willingham.
Afoa also began earning the respect of college coaches after leading powerhouse St. Louis High School to the state championship and earning the 2002 Honolulu Advertiser's Defensive Player of the Year during his senior year. But typical of Afoa, he found it hard to believe that he was getting all the attention.
"It was a surprise that I got a football scholarship," says Afoa. "No one was really looking at me coming into my senior year and even then recruiting didn't even pick up until after the season was over. But, it was an even bigger surprise that I won defensive player of the year for the state of Hawai'i.
"I was in class when one of my coaches said `Congratulations Wilson' and I was like `What are you talking about?' and he just laughed and didn't tell me what was up. I ended up reading it in the newspaper and I was shocked. But, that was the best feeling in the world that my hard work paid off."
It was at about this time that the University of Washington took notice. They offered Afoa a trip to Seattle and it was on that trip that Afoa was sold on being a Husky.
"Coach (Rick) Neuheisel was a real players coach," remembers Afoa. "The thing that really got me was that I was in the football offices talking with the coaches when he just came out of nowhere and tackled me to the ground. I was pretty surprised and he said to me `Maybe someday if you come here you can get me back.' It was a combination of the coaches and the Polynesian players that made me feel comfortable."
Fellow Hawaiians' Brandon Ala and St. Louis alumni, Joe Lobendahn, were Afoa's host during his visit to Seattle. They didn't push Afoa to come to Washington, but they defi nitely helped in keeping the Huskies' pipeline to the 50th state open.
It used to be that because of Washington's proximity to Hawai'i, the Husky football coaches could swoop into the state and nab several of the top recruits with relative ease. They were able to grab the likes of Bern Brostek, Siupeli Malamala, Olin Kruetz, and Ink Aleaga in the earlier days and continued having recruiting success in the following years. Hawai'i trails only the state of Washington and California in its level of importance to producing future Huskies.
But, with the revelation of the deep talent pool from the state, developments of national scouting services and advancements in technologies that allow coaches from all corners to keep in contact with recruits despite distance, it's now a dog-eat-dog world for the top Hawaiian talents.
Even with the increased competition, Washington is still mining the Hawai'i islands for recruiting riches. And often the Huskies strike gold, which is exactly what they did when they unearthed Afoa back in 2002. Now, as Afoa's Husky career rapidly comes to a close, he recognizes the importance of fellow Hawaiians following in his footsteps.
"I would hope that other kids growing up on the islands would want to have an experience away from the islands," says Afoa. "Coming to Washington was pretty much my fi rst experience of leaving the islands and it was a great experience. I would want other Hawaiian kids to come here and experience the same things that I have."
With that said, there is still no place like home. Afoa couldn't be happier to make a return trip to the islands for his last regular season game of his career on Dec. 1 against Hawai'i.
"Having the chance to play the last regular season game of my senior year in my hometown, that is just such a special deal for me," says Afoa. "That is where I played the last game of my senior year in high school. It's just a great feeling to play my last game in my home state against the home school."
You can bet that Afoa will get a lot of attention in his return to his home state. Afoa and walk-on Jay Angotti are the lone Huskies that hail from Oahu, while Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Kalani Aldrich are from the big island of Hawai'i. After leading a career mostly out of the spotlight, it will be a fitting finale to Afoa's career to finally be under the microscope, in an environment where he can shine brightly among family and friends.