August 4, 2008

Big help is on the way for the OL

With the off-season losses of Daron Rose (academics) and Evan Bellamy (injury), the depth situation on Florida State's offensive line has gone from scary to desperate. Based on the preseason depth chart released a couple weeks ago, the starting line was slated to consist of two sophomores, two redshirt freshmen and one true freshman. Having all underclassmen up front is hardly a recipe for a successful offense.

While the prospects for offensive line coach Rick Trickett looked bleak for awhile, there is some last minute help on the way that could potentially salvage his unit.

Despite the first day of practice being just days away, the Seminole coaching staff was able to find a diamond in the rough and did so by going all the way across the country.

He didn't receive much attention from recruiting services over the past year, but Mt. San Antonio Community College two-year starter Joe Tonga has become a wanted man the past few months. Even though the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder has the talent to compete at an elite level in college football, a lingering eligibility issue scared off most programs, but FSU wasn't one of them.

"He had that NCAA issue and he got cleared. I'm happy for both parties." Mt. Sac head coach Robert Jastrab told Warchant.com. "Joe wanted to show the loyalty to Florida State and that's where he wanted to go from day one. You would think he would want to go back to Utah or (California) or somewhere like that but it sounded like this was his dream school."

For most of this year, there was a big question about whether his college eligibility had expired. Until the NCAA recently cleared him, it was uncertain whether Tonga, who went to high school in Utah, would have two, one or zero years of eligibility left.

"I had calls from everywhere - Kansas, Cal who offered, and Utah offered - but nobody pursued it like Florida State did to help him get his years back," Jastrab said. "All the top Division two schools offered as well but obviously it worked out for him to go Division one... He was going to Snow (College in Utah) right out of high school and I guess they enrolled him as a full-time student. In the Tongan culture you are really close to your family and when his uncle got real ill he had to go run the family business for a couple years. That's where they petitioned it, and they looked through the doctor's notes and everything else, or his clock would have started earlier."

Now that Tonga appears to be free and clear to suit up for Florida State the next two years, his former head coach has very few doubts that his star tackle will be able to compete at the highest level of college football.

"He was our starting left tackle and we ended up playing for the state championship this year out in the Mission Conference," Jastrab said. "He's a great role model, a great leader and a great person; I can't say enough about him. I always tell everybody if he needed a place to stay I would let him stay with my family, that's how I feel."

With nothing but true freshmen currently on the depth chart at left tackle; it's likely that Tonga will compete for a starting spot during preseason practices. Based on his size and experience, there's a good chance that the JUCO transfer could become FSU's primary starter at left tackle for the next two seasons.

"With (him having) two years of experience, that's huge," Jastrab said. "Mount SAC isn't Division one, but he went against one of our guys that played at Michigan (Eugene Germany), he went against him every day in practice, and he (Germany) ended up re-signing with Arizona State. He's constantly going against that caliber of athlete. As far as what I've heard, left tackle is where they are looking at him."

To prepare to play in Rick Trickett's system, Tonga has been working hard this summer and down to 305 pounds. Even though he will have to get himself in even better shape and will have get used to the Florida heat, his former coach doesn't think that will be a problem.

"He's been working out a lot with one of his best friends who is a defensive end for Seattle Seahawks, he's on the practice roster, and they were working out every day," Jastrab said. "He will have to get used to the humidity but I think he'll be fine."

Jastrab isn't sure whether Tonga will have two years of eligibility to play two, or three to play two.


Gene WilliamsGene Williams is the founder and administrator of Warchant.com and writes stories and features covering all of FSU's sports with an emphasis on football and football recruiting. For seven years, Williams hosted a weekly sports radio show in Tallahassee. He currently appears as a weekly guest on 1010 XL Sports Radio in Jacksonville and 1270 The Team in Tallahassee during football season. Williams is also a former ACC correspondent for College Football News (weekly national newspaper), and contributes to The Osceola. Story about Gene Williams & Warchant.com.

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