New Jaguar Tyson Alualu Arrives in Tebow Town
And to the dismay of many a Jacksonville Jaguar fan, this God Squad rookie is not Tim Tebow.
He is Tyson Alualu (photo, left side), a former defensive tackle from the University of California, by way of Honolulu, and he made all of North Florida shout out a collective "WHO?" last weekend when the Jaguars made him the 10th overall pick in the draft.
"I was as surprised as anybody," Alualu admitted.
Yet Saturday, as the team opened minicamp in front of nearly 1,600 fans, there was no mistaking No. 93 for that No. 15 dude. The newest marquee Jag took the field to chants of "ALU, ALU! and left it to serenading autograph seekers, including three who wrapped Hawaiian leis around his massive neck.
"It's just like back home," Alualu said. "The lei is a show of love and respect. Hearing all those fans tell me they're happy I'm here, yeah, that was definitely a surprise."
Especially after the run-up to the draft and the initial fallout after it.
Tebow grew up here, was a record-setting state champion at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and went on to win a Heisman Trophy and two national titles 90 minutes away at the University of Florida.
With the Jacksonville franchise struggling mightily at the box office -- seven of eight games were blacked out on local television in 2009; six drew less than 50,000 fans -- the groundswell among locals to draft Tebow was semi-seismic. The club would have seen an instant bump in ticket sales and (at least temporarily) squelched rumors about owner Wayne Weaver contemplating relocation.
Then came the name few had ever heard or were even prepared to pronounce.
"It would have been great if Tim had been here," said 54-year-old Craig Austad, decked out in a Tebow jersey, alongside his son in a Superman Tebow T-shirt. "But I'm pulling for this guy. Hopefully, he'll be our Troy Pola-mala-ala-ala."
"I know it's the talk of the town," Alualu said of the Tebow chatter. "I just hope and pray that I can win them over by my actions and the way I play."
He's off to a good start, but sacks in September will be a truer measuring stick. The Jacksonville coaching staff obviously has big plans for Alualu and wasted no time implementing them. When the first-team offense lined up against the first-team defense for 11-on-11, Alualu assumed the under tackle spot in the Jags 4-3 front.
"I watched him a little bit," coach Jack Del Rio said. "Right away, you see some of the things you're looking for."
Like his explosion off the line; the footwork; and the powerful way he uses his upper body.
"I could have been a lot better," Alualu said of his first pro workout.
Some in the stands had a similar assessment of Jaguars general manager Gene Smith, who virtually all analysts agreed took a big gamble with the quick trigger on Alualu, rated by most as a late-first or early second-rounder.
"They made a bad choice," said Tony Taylor, whose Gator hat matched the Gator tattoo on his ankle. "This defensive guy, I don't know how great he's going to be."
Taylor shook his head.
"No way he'll be as great as Tebow would have been."
Smith, who's been with the organization since its expansion birth in 1994, was promoted to GM in '09 and delivered one of the best rookie classes in the league last year. All nine picks made the team. Four started all 16 games.
His second draft focused on rebuilding Del Rio's defense, not the club's fan base.
"I'm not trying to win a popularity contest," Smith said.
But in trying to win a Super Bowl, Smith used his first four '09 draft choices to beef up a defensive line that was part of a unit that finished with just 14 sacks, tying for the fifth-fewest in -- get this -- NFL history. There were certainly defensive players with more name-recognition out there when the Jaguars' number came up.
"I know that I'm getting a lot of questions about 'Who is Tyson?' And I completely understand it," Smith said. "But here's a guy that's 6-2 1/2. He's 295 pounds. He runs in the 4.8s. He verticaled 35 1/2. He has 33-inch arms. He has 10-inch hands. He has good core strength in the lower and the upper."
On the scout jargon checklist, Alualu probably tore up the 3-cone drill, has great trunk adjustment, tremendous upside and a motor to match, but the Mel Kipers of the world instantly labeled Alualu as one of the "biggest reaches" in the draft.
Alualu's response: "I agree."
The other big reach, of course, was Tebow, who went 25th to the Denver Broncos -- 15 picks after Alualu. If the Jags were going to reach, the pro-Tebow crowd figured, why not reach for one of their own?
Alualu understands. He knows Tebow. Likes him a lot, too. Their paths have crossed four times since their college careers ended. They were opponents at the Senior Bowl (Alualu sacked Tebow in the game) and shared a limo ride together during a pre-draft visit at New England.
"He cracked jokes the whole time," Alualu said. "He's a cool guy, man."
With a great story that everyone in Florida -- and beyond -- has heard ad infinitum (if not ad nauseum). But he belongs to the Broncos and their Mile High faithful now.
Alualu has a pretty good story himself.
One of nine children (including seven sisters named Taimane-Ruta, Tanya, Tasia, Tatiana, Timena, Trinity and Trust), Alualu spent the first eight years of his life bouncing from shelter to shelter in Honolulu running from his father, an ex-convict and drug addict prone to violence. Alualu was in the third grade when his dad, Ta'avao, found religion, got clean and started down a path of salvation through a career in the ministry.
Fifteen years later, Alualu will begin his new life on this faraway mainland with his wife and two young children. For it all -- and this is where Tebow and he find common ground -- Alualu gives all the glory to God. The game-day eye-black message he wore at Cal came comes courtesy of Philippians 4:13, a popular verse with that certain other Jacksonville guy, too.
"I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."
Turning Tebow Town in his favor wouldn't be a miracle, but it would be quite an achievement.
"That's not in my control," Alualu said. "What is in my control is how I carry myself here as a person and a player. And I'm definitely ready to work and show everybody what I bring to the table and what I bring to this team."
Circumcisions, though, are not required.