Better Know a Freshman: Trey Lealaimatafao

Student Sports

Is Trey Lealaimatafao the most underrated member of the 2014 LSU Signing Class?

Some men ring door bells. Others knock the door down.

It doesn't get much better than those knock the door down types on the defensive line. I've professed my love for DL many times before, but those men who live in backfields, those have a special place in my heart. For my money, there is no better way to eliminate the opposition than by disrupting the party before it can get started. DL penetrators, particularly on the inside, often prove the ultimate foil to any good offense. In fact, we just re-lived the beauty of a dominating, penetrating DL a couple weeks ago.

When you coach as long as John Chavis, you learn how to manufacture defensive production, even in the face of talent disparity. Sure, no one can win with marginal talent, but that won't be an issue in Baton Rouge. Instead, he knows to mask our weaknesses with clever scheming and asking players to only do things they excel at. I've made the case before, but the strongest, best defenses coached under Chavis all unquestionably feature a loaded defensive line. Building a defensive line is an investment, one that often takes years to realize a significant ROI. Yet, LSU's done a strong job continually returning to the well and adding talented bodies to the mix year after year.

Background

When Texas hired Charlie Strong, the word fallout doesn't do justice to the unraveling of their recruiting class. Courtney Garnett, Sione Teuhema, Zaycoven Henderson, Trey Lealaimatafao, Otaro Alaka, and Emmanuel Porter all reopened their commitments. None of them wound up signing with Texas. That was just the damage to the class of 2014. Maea Teuhema and another handful of 2015 recruits jumped ship as well. Charlie Strong worked hard to stitch back together a class deeply fractured by the poor transition from Brown to Strong and the ensuing uncertainty that remained.

Texas' loss proved a boon to the schools on the losing end of the All-American Game recruit-palooza. A slew of top tier prospects suddenly re-entering the market isn't a common occurrence in the month before signing day. LSU went right to work, luring Lealaimatafao, Porter and Teuhema for visits, and nearly securing another from Alaka. These are the throes of recruiting.

Lealaimatafao spent a week at the U.S. Army All-American game in his hometown San Antonio. Reports surfaced that he spent a good bit of time hanging with fellow LSU commits Davon Godchaux and Clifton Garrett. Yet, Lealaimatafao named a top three of Texas, UCLA and Oregon throughout the week. Though Lealaimatafao de-committed from Texas in November, he still took an official visit in December and maintained they were a contender for his services leading into signing day.

He took trips to Arizona State, Ole Miss and UCLA. New Offers began to pour in. First Oregon, then LSU and Notre Dame. His last official visit lingered. He batted around the idea of Oregon and then LSU. He initially scheduled a trip to Eugene, then reports surfaced he would instead trip to Baton Rouge. Lealaimatafao did indeed take a trip to Baton Rouge, but turns out as an unofficial visit. His older sister is a student at Southern University, so his family paid his way for him to take in Baton Rouge. A week later Lealaimatafao squeezed in his final official visit to Eugene on January 24th, leaving just one weekend before signing day.

Rumors swirled, but Lealaimatafao remained mum, opting to announce on National Signing Day at a ceremony for the USA Football team. Both sides felt strong about their position. Lealaimatafao ultimately chose LSU.

Lealaimatafao is a composite 3-star DT on 247Sports with an 89 rating. This puts him around the 30th best DT in the nation and one of the nation's top 500 prospects. His relative low ranking is interesting considering that he played in national All-American game and featured offers from Texas, LSU, Oregon, Notre Dame, Missouri and others.

110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.

100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career.

97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who displays pro-potential.

89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country.

79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.

Tale of the Tape

Height: 6'0"
Weight: 300

There's no testing times I can find readily available for Lealaimatafao. He's listed at 6'0", 300 pounds on the LSU site, but also the same height/weight at the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp, so the size may be legitimate. That was my ultimately question for him. 6'0" is a pretty short defensive tackle, but Trey is a stocky player, with a good build.

Film Study

Strengths: First Step, Leverage, Power, Relentless

Weaknesses: Overall Size, Lack of Polish, Hand Use

Strengths

First Step: Lealaimatafao displays very good get off. So much so that he was often able to win in HS simply by beating his man off the blocks. When he adds in his natural power to the quick first step, he becomes exceptionally hard to block. He's a 300-pound bowling ball punching his opponents in the gut. That's a combination that can be impossible to defeat. The play at :09 is a great example. If you freeze frame it right as it starts you can see he has a full head on the rest of his DL mates and the OL are barely getting up from their stances. :13 again his quick first step gets him into the backfield, ready to do damage. This results in a TFL. 4:50 again he explodes up the field, blowing up the field and getting another TFL. At 5:34 its again another amazing first step, which gets him in the backfield. Then the hustle all the way.

Leverage: It's not consistently evident in his his play, but the advantage of his height is that it's virtually impossible for him to come out super high. He, like most HS lineman, does go straight up out of his stance a bit too often, but when he comes out low and hard, he wins every time. Watch 1:05 and how he's able to get under the blocker's pads then shuck him off to go make the tackle. 3:31 you see his low leverage allows him to chew up double teams. The play at 5:42 might be my very favorite on the reel, though. Comes off low and hard, stands up the double team and congests the hole, which shuts the play down.

Power: I submit this:

Trey_medium

3:03 as well. You see how easily he can shuck people away.

Relentless: This article would be an extra 500 words if I told you about every clip on the reel that illustrated his hustle, but seriously, the play above is at :17 and you get to see him hustle to BODYSLAM SOMEONE. 3:10 he's on the punt return team and hunting people down to smash them into bits. 5:01 and 5:55 again. He does not stop until the ball carrier is down.

Weaknesses

Overall Size: At 6'0" he's still gotta stand by the giraffe sign to the get on the roller coaster. Seriously though, how many 6'0" DL can you think of dominating in the past decade? Nevis was a short guy and he was over 6'0". It's probably not a huge issue collegiately, but his pro potential really takes a hit at that height. It's not impossible, but guys like Elvis Dumervil are rare. I will say, he carries his bulk very well. J.C. Copeland was similarly short, but also much slighter, through the shoulders and even in the hips. Trey's a thick kid.

Lack of Polish: He's a bit of a bull in a China shop. You'll see the occasional swim move, but little else. He made his hay plowing forward and running over whatever stood in his way. The bull rush is an effective technique, but he'll need to develop some counters and additional moves to mix things up at the next level.

Hand Use: This goes with the above, but once he figures out how to consistently use his hands to control blockers he could really be a force of nature. Check out 2:27 to see a fine example of what he's able to do.

Summary

I keep wanting to not like him. You know me, the guy who loves the big, bad athletic freaks. Those are usually "my guys." But I'll be damned if Lealaimatafao just doesn't keep winning me over. Okay maybe it's just that he dropped Ruff Ryders' Anthem onto his highlight tape. Plus, how can you hate any DT that chases EVERY. SINGLE. PLAY. until completion?

Maybe it's reading an article like this one (ESPN Insider).

Trey Lealaimatafao thought about his future every time he climbed that hill.

For two months last summer, his father took Lealaimatafao, his brother and cousins out to steep hills near his home. They got there as early as 7 a.m. And then they ran.

Up and down the hill, at least 40 times. Every morning, six days a week.

Lealaimatafao talks about his height and how he knows other perceive it to be weakness. But he's not defeatist. Rather, he's just gonna be the guy that does the extra hill, puts in the extra time and figures out how to use it to his advantage. Perhaps that's what prompts Les Miles to say things like this on National Signing Day:

Lealaimatafao is not a player I would look at in this class as an immediate contributor, both due to the depth at DT and him seeming like a prime RS candidate. Perhaps I should reconsider? Godchaux is returning from injury and Valentine's academic issues will concern me until he gets the stamp of approval. Still, there's a heap of bodies ahead of him.

I'm growing bullish on Trey. I started this piece anticipating discussing the possibility of him being the next J.C. Copeland and now I'm thinking about him being the next Drake Nevis. Trey's got some unique talents, and I think he legitimately flew under the radar of the recruiting services. If you want to judge on tape, what doesn't impress you? My guess is they would hold his height against his overall potential. That's erring on the side of history, which is generally okay with me. Trey is also young. He's just 17, turning 18 in September. He impressed at the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp, being named to the All-Camp Team.

So he's short and he's squatty and recruiting services don't like him much. I get it, I really do. But then, I also get that he just keeps impressing me every time I revisit him.

High End: All Conference. I know, seems high, but I see some of that in him.

Low End: Rotational depth a la Marlon Favorite or casualty to depth.

Realistic: I think Lealaimatafao can be a starter for us. He does look a little soft in the middle, so if he can transform his body, we may have a bit of a underrated gem on our hands.

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