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July 24, 2013

Seumalo strives to be the best

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If you polled most major college football coaches, they would tell you Oregon State sophomore center Isaac Seumalo accomplished something last season that is virtually unheard of in the business.

Seumalo, a local product and graduate of Corvallis High School, started every Beavers game at center as a true freshman, anchoring an offensive line returning four of five starters in 2013 and earning Freshman All-America honors from several national media organizations.

Along the way, he became the first true freshman to start at center for OSU since 1978.

"It was tough because I was going up against guys that were physically the same as me," Seumalo told BeaverBlitz.com recently. "I got help from our older guys and our offensive line coach (Mike Cavanaugh) is the best coach out there. He helped me a bunch.

"Playing against Wisconsin in the first game was definitely an eye-opener. I didn't play well, but we won."

The kicker, though, is the 6-foot-4, 305 pound Seumalo had never played center until being thrust into the role from the first day of preseason camp last August. He played tackle at Corvallis High, where he was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 prospect in the state of Oregon for the 2012 recruiting cycle.

"I tried to come out with the same mentality I try to always have and that's be the best at my position," Seumalo said. "When they recruited me, they told me center was open and the five best guys will play. So, that's where I ended up being. I'm glad I got to play, so I was happy about that. Whatever I can do to help the team, I'll do it."

Many of Oregon State's opponents last season frequently lined up in a 3-4 alignment, putting a large nose tackle right in Seumalo's face. As a result, he often had to snap the ball and quickly shift his feet into blocking mode within a fraction of a second.

Encountering a tough, physical challenge every week convinced Seumalo that he had to quickly get back into the weight room as soon as last season ended in order to get bigger and stronger and enhance his conditioning for the 2013 season.

"I just had to get to the point of being able to play at 100 percent mentally and physically the entire game," Seumalo said. "As the season went along, I got the hang of things a little bit better. Hopefully, I'll do a lot better this year.

"Center is definitely a unique position. There are different things you have to learn from guard and tackle. I'm starting to get a hang of some of those things and being able to play a lot quicker off the ball. That's something I've been working on. Being able to read defenses and pick up on trends is important and allows me to play my best."

Joining left tackle Michael Philipp, left guard Josh Andrews and right guard Grant Enger as returning starters, Seumalo is an integral piece of a veteran Beavers offensive line with 90 career starts in the books, ranking 17th in the nation and first in the Pac-12.

Philipp, a senior and four-year starter, has the most starts of any Beaver on the current roster with 35.

Seumalo saw signs last year that the Beavers' offensive line was developing the chemistry possessed by all quality offensive fronts at the major college level.

"Expectations are pretty high," Seumalo said. "The offensive line wants to be able to run the ball and protect (the quarterback) and excel at it by doing things right. We want to have a tough-minded, physical personality and do our jobs and help win games.

"Our returning guys have started to gel very nicely. We'll prepare the best we can."

Haunted by a nightmarish Alamo Bowl when a swarming Texas defense collected 10 sacks - nearly one-third of the season total surrendered the Beavers - and four quarterback hurries, Seumalo contends two goals established by the offensive line for this season are reducing the number of sacks allowed (33 in 2012, six more than 2011) and improving a ground game that finished 10th in the Pac-12 (124.4 yards per game) in 2012.

"A lot of the sacks came from just a few games," Seumalo said. "If we can reduce by half the number of sacks in a couple of games, we'll be OK. We definitely didn't end the season the way we wanted to. I take that upon myself, as well as the other starters. Definitely, one of our key goals for this season is to better protect our quarterbacks."

Sparked by running backs Storm Woods (78.3 rushing yards per game) and Terron Ward (31.9 ypg), Seumalo senses Oregon State's rushing offense will undergo a renaissance in 2013.

"Storm and Terron are ready to break out," Seumalo proclaimed. "They are very good running backs. I want our running game to be something we rely on and something that is a reliable source of yardage in games. We think we'll do well there, certainly a lot better than last year. Last year was good, but we can do a lot better."

Riding the momentum from an impressive freshman campaign, Seumalo has reaped the rewards in terms of preseason recognition heading into the 2013 campaign with selections to the Watch Lists for the Rimington Award (one of five players from the Pac-12 Conference), honoring the nation's top center, and the prestigious Outland Trophy, given to the nation's top interior lineman.

"It's cool to hear about those preseason award watch lists, but I'd rather be on the lists at the end of the season than at the beginning," Seumalo said. "Right now, I'm just thinking about Eastern Washington."

Most analysts concur Seumalo is destined to become one of the top centers in college football by the time his OSU career is over. One West Coast based web site described the sophomore as "the best young lineman in the conference and could end up being the best center in the country by the time he leaves Corvallis."

Though flattered by the high praise, Seumalo insists the accolades will have little effect on his preparation for the upcoming season.

"My goal is to be the best at my position," Seumalo said. "What people say doesn't really affect me. I just want to go out there, ball out and help my team. I'm going to work my butt off to be the best. If that's what they say, so be it. If they don't, I just have to work harder."

Since Seumalo's father Joe is still employed as the defensive line coach at OSU, Beavers football remains the family passion, but older brother Andrew, a 2012 co-captain, exhausted his eligibility and plans to play pro football in Japan.

"Getting one season with my brother was pretty special," said Isaac Seumalo, who moved with his family from Hawaii to California and then to Oregon when he was 13 years old. "I just wish I could have helped him finish it off better. But me and my family are excited for him. He's getting paid to keep playing, which is cool. I'm happy for him."

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