LARAMIE, Wyo. >> Eddie Yarbrough stopped midsentence.
“I expect to see,” he began, pausing to correct himself.
“Actually, I’ve already been seeing it,” Yarbrough said of Wyoming teammate Siaosi Hala‘api‘api’s impact through four practices. “He’s already more of an explosive athlete. His pass rush is really coming along great, being more lean and being able to have that explosion and that get-off that you need as a defensive end. He turns corners a lot easier than he would last year.”
Since last season, Hala‘api‘api, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end, has shed fat and replaced it with lean muscle. In a year, he dropped his body fat from 22 percent to 15 percent.
“That was a long time coming,” he said.
So far in fall camp, Hala‘api‘api’s new frame is paying dividends.
“I’ve never really been effective on the pass rush,” he said. “That’s one thing that has really helped me with. I can think about my moves and stuff like that, getting off the ball quicker, being more explosive.”
Hala‘api‘api, a Kaimuki High School graduate, played in all 12 games last season, making five starts. He ranked second on the team in both tackles for loss (5.5) and sacks (3) while recording 20 total tackles.
As a freshman in 2012, Hala’api’api played linebacker and finished fifth on the team with 55 tackles. So he’s a known commodity, but he also could be primed for a pseudo-breakout season — increasing his stats and squeezing out every ounce of talent.
“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people this year,” defensive ends coach AJ Cooper said. “He’s doing our strength stuff and doing an unbelievable job. He’s really changed his body. He moves in space a lot better. He’s already a really smart player.”
In the past, UW coach Craig Bohl viewed Hala‘api‘api as an “also guy,” someone who split time at his position and wasn’t a marquee player.
Now, he no longer fits that mold. As his waist has shrunk, Hala‘api‘api’s role has expanded.
“He really dedicated himself in the winter, had a better spring and then really had an excellent summer, so his movements have been significantly better,” Bohl said. “He’ll be a force to be reckoned with. We feel good about our defensive end position.”
Wyoming’s line is undoubtedly the strength of an otherwise inexperienced defense.
Yarbrough, a two-time All-Mountain West Conference pick, anchors the left end position. Juniors Chase Appleby and Uso Olive will help bolster the interior, as both played in all 12 games last season and have starting experience.
Cooper said Hala‘api‘api and Yarbrough, the line’s two seniors, have been strong examples for their teammates.
“It sets a tempo with the other D-linemen that, hey, we have to be the best group on this defense right now,” Cooper said. “We’ve got the most experience, we understand what’s going on and we’ve got the most depth. We’ve got an even group that dominates and makes the linebacker and DBs’ jobs easier. … They’re excited about that type of challenge.”
Yarbrough, who will attract a fair share of double teams, believes he and Hala‘api‘api can wreak havoc on opposing backfields this season.
In just more than three weeks, they’ll get their chance.
“That’s the best combination is to have, the ‘Can’t go right, can’t go left, where do I go?’ problem,” Yarbrough said. “So that’s always a blessing. Osi’s been nothing but a great teammate and a great asset, having him on the right side. A lot of times I’ll get those plays dropped in my lap from him turning it back to me. He comes upfield and makes the running back cut back into me. That sacrifice that we have for each other really pays dividends.”