During the course of of our coverage of the 2014 NFL combine, I got the opportunity to chat with BYU defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna: who was not only one of the players I did a scouting report on prior to the combine, but made my list of the top 5 defensive tackle prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Cas: How old were you when you first started playing football?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: I was in the first grade playing flag football until the fourth grade when my brother and I started tackle football with the boys and girls club in Anchorage, Alaska.
Cas: Who was, or is your biggest inspiration?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: My biggest inspiration is my wife. My wife pushes me to be the best person, husband, father, and student in the classroom and the game. She sacrifices so much for me and our son by putting our time and interests first before hers. She is the backbone and pillar of our family that holds us strong together.
Cas: At what age did you decide you wanted to make it to the NFL?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: Ever since I was a child growing up around sports, I dreamed of playing in the MLB and the NFL. I actually wanted to play baseball more than football. But once I found out I couldn’t excel in baseball back in high school, that’s when I knew that it had to be football haha. True story.
Cas: You were a very high ranked recruit coming out of high school. Was it a hard decision to put your career on hold to go on a church mission?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: I wouldn’t consider being a two-star recruit coming out of high school high rankedÂ but I appreciate it! As for making a decision to serve a mission, it wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, it was easy for me to hold off my career to do it because I knew I was going to when I was only 8 years old.
Cas: Many scouts hold your age against you. Do you have any regrets for taking those two years off?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: I understand my age issue coming into this years draft plays against me, but I wouldn’t trade those two years that I served as a missionary for anything. I do not regret serving The Lord.
Cas: What did you learn over those two years that you believe could help you in life and in the NFL?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: I think it’s great that you asked this question. Going to be a rookie in the NFL goes parallel with being a “Greeny” in the mission field. A “Greeny” is a missionary who just got out into the field and all they want to do is work and serve without question. For me, I want to be an NFL “Greeny”, who puts everything aside and does nothing but devotes all they have to the work!
Cas: You were the starter when you injured your knee. What was going through your mind when you saw your former back-up (Ezekiel Ansah) get drafted in the top 10 of the first round?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: Nothing but love and respect. That guy has come a long way to where he is now, and that is an understatement. He deserves everything because he didn’t give up when it was easier for him to do so. I have the utmost respect for that guy.
Cas: Your coach at BYU (Bronco) made it a point to tell the media when he was answering questions that you started in front of Ansah and that’s how good you are. How did that make you feel knowing he wanted the whole world to know you were the better player?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: It felt good haha. But you have to remember, that Ziggy didn’t know football then. As he continues to know the game plus having his freak athletic ability that he was blessed with, he can become one of the best defensive ends to ever play the game.
Cas: How much of an impact has Bronco had on your life?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: A lot! He stresses to his players over and over again that if we want to be successful on the field, we need to show our gratitude to Heavenly Father, who gave us our talents and abilities. To show gratitude, we strive to live our lives the way He wants us to.
Cas: When we spoke prior to the interview, you mentioned you have a family. Would you mind introducing them and telling the readers a little bit about your wife and son?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: Of course! My sweetheart’s name is Vea and our little boy’s name is Benson, and he’s 16 months. Vea is Tongan and I am Samoan. We met at a singles ward (church) in Provo, Utah, where she was going to Utah Valley University and I at BYU. We got married in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple on July 29, 2011. She then gave birth to our son in October of 2012. We are very excited for what is next for our family.
Cas: Who was your favorite player growing up? Currently?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: I loved watching Junior Seau growing up. Although his position was different than mine, I loved his passion for the game. I wanted to love the game as much as he did! Currently, I don’t watch a particular player. What I do is watch the defensive line only, no matter what game it is. I watch for different techniques, first steps, get-offs, hands, and effort. I love to watch those things.
Cas: Do you prefer playing defensive end or defensive tackle?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: It depends. I prefer to play a 3-4 defensive end and/or a 4-3 defensive tackle.
Cas: Were you always a defensive lineman or did you start out at a different position?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: Until I reached the college level, I played both defensive and offensive line. Experiencing the offensive side in high school, I think it helped me be a better defensive player.
Cas: Which NFL player or players have you studied to improve your technique or tried to fashion your game after?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: At BYU, we watched a lot of Steelers tape, so I try to play passionate like Troy Polamalu, and fashion my technique like Brett Keisel.
Cas: If there was one defensive tackle in the history of the NFL that you could have as a personal trainer, who would it be?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: The defensive lineman who I would want to be my personal trainer would definitely have to be Reggie White. Although he was a defensive end, I would want to learn his style of technique and skill. I would want him to be my mentor off the field as well. Not necessarily for the religious aspect, but the way how he carried himself as a person, husband, and father.
Cas: leading up to the combine, what goals did you set while in training?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: To gain as much lean mass as I could but strive to keep my agility and quickness. I weighed in at 296lbs, and ran 5.1 40yrd dash with a 1.6 10 yard-split. Not too bad but I’m hungry to get faster and better!
Cas: Who did you train with?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: I trained in Davie, FL at Bommarito Performance Systems. Their coaches and medical staff are phenomenal!
Cas: What drill do you feel you did the best in?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: The day we ran and did field drills went by so fast, I can only remember doing well in a couple. The drill where we popped up from the ground, stepped over the bags and then weaved thru. Also, where we punched the top and bottom bags while moving laterally. Those two are the drills I remembered doing well in.
Cas: I noticed you mentioned in a tweet that you were unhappy with your performance in some of the events at the combine. What were you referring to? I thought you had a pretty good showing.
Eathyn Manumaleuna: Thank you, but I really wanted to run a faster 40. I wanted to be at a sub 5. I’m currently working on that for my pro day.
Cas: Which of the coaches involved with the combine do you think you learned the most from?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: I received a lot of great advice from a lot of coaches as far as transitioning from college into the NFL. Can’t really say which ones.
Cas: You were among the strongest players on the bench press. How much do you squat?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: I don’t squat a lot of weight, but I would say around 460-490 lbs.
Cas: Who is your favorite NFL coach and why?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: Mike Tomlin. Because he’s collected and confident in his decision making and he’s a coach I can see myself learning a lot from.
Cas: Overall, outside of the track stuff: which defensive player impressed you the most in the drills?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: For a big man who can move really well, I was impressed with Rasheed Hageman.
Cas: What do you feel is your strongest asset as a defensive tackle?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: My strongest asset would be my feet and agility. I feel like I’m quick in my steps.
Cas: What do you think you need the most work on?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: I would say using my quickness and hands to move up-field in my pass rush.
Cas: Correct me if I am wrong, but I think I heard you had a relative in the NFL. If so, is there anything he told you to help you on your journey?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: My cousin Brandon Manumaleuna was a TE for a long time in the league. I’m not sure if he’s going to make a comeback, but he told me to enjoy what I do and make every moment count.
Cas: What do you remember as the best and/or most important play you ever made?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: Other than the field goal tip that saved our bowl game my freshman year, I would say my interception that almost made it to the end zone my sophomore year after I served my two-year mission.
Cas: If I was the GM of an NFL team and asked you why I should draft you, what would you tell me?
Eathyn Manumaleuna: I would tell you that you would not have to worry about my character or any off-field issues. Also, I love to learn and challenge myself to be the best player, which shows how committed I am. Also, no one works harder than I do. I would be a great addition to the program.
Cas: It has been an enjoyable experience chatting with you Eathyn. I will be following your career closely and wish you the best of luck at the next level. You will make the general manager who decides to draft you a very happy man. Personally, I hope it’s Jerry Jones, but I am biased. All kidding aside, I think Rod Marinelli is exactly the type of coach you need for your skill set. You are built for a Tampa 2 defense at the next level.
There you have it sports fans! These are some good answers that solidify my opinion that Eathyn Manumaleuna is a high character, fully motivated, top 5 defensive tackle prospect in the NFL!