Monday afternoon, Oregon football kicked off the week with more bad news. All-American offensive lineman Penei Sewell has decided to forgo the 2020-2021 football season and enter the NFL Draft. Although this move makes sense for Sewell and was expected, it’s still a big blow.
Sewell closed the door on his illustrious Oregon career, going down as one of the best offensive linemen ever to don the Ducks’ uniform. In a year where Oregon will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, Sewell was needed more than ever to be the leader of this O-line unit. The Ducks now have a glaring hole at left tackle, and someone is going to have to step up and fill this hole.
When one door closes, another one opens. Redshirt junior Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu from Hilo, Hawaii is in his second year with the Ducks, and is a viable option to replace Sewell. After attending Liberty High School in Henderson, Nevada, Aumavae-Laulu didn’t have any Division 1 offers. He then elected to play for two years at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas before coming to Oregon.
Navarro is a part of the National Junior College Athletic Association, and electing to play “JuCo” is not an unusual path. Former Duck LeGarrette Blount is the best-known player in recent Oregon history to play junior college ball before arriving in Eugene, while the best-remembered offensive lineman to come out of JuCo was Kyle Long. Both players later made their way to the NFL and became stars at their respective positions of guard and running back.
At Navarro, Aumavae-Laulu greatly improved his size and play. In a matter of two years, he went from being an afterthought to the number-one-rated offensive guard in junior college, and the fifth-ranked prospect overall out of the JuCo pool. The consensus four-star began to grab a lot of attention from all over the country. Oregon competed hard with some of the country’s best for his recruitment, including Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida and Nebraska. Inside the Pac-12, USC, Utah and Arizona were all vying for his attention. Oregon eventually won out when he committed only two days after his official visit to Eugene.
Aumavae-Laulu has a build most comparable to a WWE wrestler, standing at 6’7″ and weighing 345 pounds. He is more comfortable at right guard, but with his size, he could compete for any spot on the line other than the center position. Also, it is rare to have a player of this size who moves as well as he does.
Whole Flock of Ducks writer Chris Courtney describes Aumavae-Laulu as,“a tantalizing talent who is only getting better, and soon he’ll have the good fortune of playing under one of the most respected offensive line coaches in the country in Cristobal. The potential is sky-scraping.”
Aumavae-Laulu looks to be the front-runner to replace Sewell. But earlier this week, the Ducks got a huge commitment from Kingsley Suamataia, one of the top-ranked offensive lineman in the country. Depth at the offensive line is not going to be an issue, but at the same time, it’s nearly impossible for any replacement to match a player like Sewell. Suamataia is thought to have the potential to fill that role when he arrives on campus, but in the meantime, Aumavae-Laulu has at least the size and strength to jump in as a serviceable starter.
Mario Cristobal is going to have plenty of options when the season eventually kicks off, and there’s no doubt he’s already playing with line combinations. These incoming freshmen could very well be plug-and-play type players, but Aumavae-Laulu is going to be a tough player to keep from protecting your quarterback on week one. Although he only has 35 total snaps to show for himself, he still has two years at JuCo. If there’s one thing you can’t teach, it’s experience.
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Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
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