Joe Salavea's recruiting of Polynesian athletes has been one of the key reasons for the rise of WSU football under Mike Leach. We found more evidence of this on Wednesday when two Cougars were nominated to the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year watch list for 2016. Only Utah had more nominees from the Pac-12 conference. The two honorees were S Shalom Luani and DE Hercules Mata'afa. Previous winners of the award, which started in 2014, were Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley, both top 10 NFL draft picks. So this is a big-time award.
Luani recorded ninety tackles and four interceptions last year after transferring from the City College of San Francisco. He was a key part of WSU's defensive improvement under coordinator Alex Grinch and was named second team All Pac-12. Luani is getting some pre-draft hype as well.
Mata'afa had an outstanding redshirt freshman season in which he recorded seven sacks. For his efforts, he was named a freshman All-American.
The Pac-12 had the most nominees of any conference with 16. The watch list will be narrowed from a group of thirty-eight to five finalists on November 17th by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. The winner will be announced on December 7th.
Always fun to see more national pre-season hype for our Cougars!
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Sixteen of the 38 players on the Polynesian Player of the Year watch list hail from the Pac-12, representing eight conference programs.
We're looking at every week in the Pac-12 and picking the can't-miss game. First up, USC's showcase against defending national champion Alabama.