Powerhouse Paea could be Pac-10's breakout player

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Not to start a recruiting riot or anything, but Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea, whose combination of power and athleticism is going to earn him a job on Sundays in the not-too-distant future, says where he comes from he's just average.

Of course, Samoan and Tongan success in football is nothing new, though Paea's 50-50 blend -- Tongan mom, Samoan dad -- seems to have worked particularly well.

"I thought I was just an average Tongan guy," said the 6-1, 293-pound junior. "Then I came here, and I was pretty much stronger and bigger than the guys on the [high school] team. There are guys who are stronger than me down there."

When he came here -- as in Provo, Utah -- three years ago, he didn't speak any English and had never played a down of football before.

The transition was tough. No more ocean. No more year-round sunny, warm weather. Everything was unfamiliar. And the earnest student, who actually was ahead of many of his U.S. peers in subjects like math, struggled in class.

"It was hard to explain when I knew something," he said. "Sometimes I'd draw it instead of explaining it."

As you might imagine, football was the easy part.

"One of the coaches saw my size and said, 'Why don't you try out for the football team?'" Paea said.

Paea, then slightly over 300 pounds, didn't clarify whether the coach said that from his knees with a box of chocolates and bouquet of roses in hand.

He played only his senior season, but that was enough for him to become a prospect. After playing at Snow (Utah) Community College, he signed with Oregon State and was almost immediately penciled into the starting lineup last year.

He certainly passed the sight test. After only a handful of practices in full pads, he created a fairly substantial buzz.

"He didn't look like a JC guy coming in to play D-1 ball, he looked like an NFL guy coming back to play in college,'' former Oregon State defensive end Victor Butler told The Oregonian in the fall. "I told the coaches not only should this guy start, but put him on my side of the ball so he can draw some double-teams and free me up.''

Former Beavers guard Andy Levitre spent time during his interviews at the NFL combine telling scouts about Paea.

After recording five sacks and a 11 tackles for a loss in just his third season of football -- he also battled a sprained knee late in the season -- Paea might be the Pac-10's breakout defensive player next fall.

He's the Beavers strongest player -- and maybe one of the strongest in the nation -- with a bench press of over 500 pounds. He's also built like a linebacker, with no excess fat.

Dude is just one big muscle. And he can move.

Part of his athleticism comes from his first love: rugby. Paea was born in New Zealand and growing up dreamed of doing the Haka with the All-Blacks.

When asked now whether he'd like to play for the, say, San Diego Chargers or the All-Blacks, Paea chooses the NFL.

He seems as aware as anybody that his future in the sport looks bright.

"I was no body," he said. "Now I'm making a name for myself for me and my family. It would be a dream come true [to play in the NFL]. It would be perfect for my family because I come from a poor family."