Stanford coach David Shaw: "This guy flips his hips and runs to make tackles down the field better than any defensive lineman I've ever seen."
When Tampa Bay flew in Vita Vea for a recent visit, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht was particularly struck by Vea’s answer to one of his questions.
What, Licht asked, is the most important job for a defensive lineman?
“To kick the crap out of the guy in front of me,” Vea answered.
After three years of doing just that for the Washington Huskies, Vea will now get a chance to do so for the Buccaneers, who selected the 347-pound defensive tackle with the 12th pick of the first round in Thursday’s NFL draft.
Vea is the fifth Husky since 2015 to be selected in the first round. He was the first defensive tackle selected in this draft and the first UW defensive lineman selected in the first round since 2015, when Danny Shelton also went No. 12 overall (to Cleveland).
“Man, this is a lifelong dream that just came true right now,” Vea told the NFL Network’s Deion Sanders.
Vea was in attendance at the draft in Arlington, Texas, with his family and UW coach Chris Petersen.
“This guy flips his hips and runs to make tackles down the field better than any defensive lineman I’ve ever seen,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, at the draft as an analyst for the NFL Network. “I found him after our game, walked across the field and gave this guy a big hug. This was my favorite player not on my team in our conference this year.”
As a junior last fall, Vea had 44 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, four pass breakups, one blocked kick and was named the Pac-12’s defensive player of the year.
Licht, during a press conference at the Bucs headquarters, also told a story Vea described to him during Vea’s visit to Tampa Bay. Vea joined a group of UW athletes on a trip to French Polynesia a couple years ago, and during the trip Vea saw a group of body builders at a field who were training by lifting some heavy boulders.
Intrigued, Vea went over and started to lift one of the boulders.
“Vita walks over to a huge rock and starts lifting it and everyone starts staring at him and mean-mugging him,” Licht says, relaying the story. “Then he found out there was only one guy on that island who could lift that rock for the last decade. So he’s an Excalibur, of sorts.”
Vea was worried he had initially offended some of the other body builders.
“So over there, their strongman competition is they have a tradition where they lift rocks. There’s a lot more to it than just lifting heavy rocks and working out,” Vea said in a conference call with reporters. “They say that in French Polynesia, Tahiti, the island I was at, they say the rock has a spirit that only allows you to pick them up.
“There was only one guy in the island that ever picked it up. I was the second one. I came in and I didn’t want to start any problems. I didn’t know if that was going to be offensive me picking it up. I tried apologizing to him and he ended up being a great guide to me for the rest of the trip. He really liked me after that.”
Tampa Bay entered the draft with the No. 7 overall pick but traded that spot to the Buffalo Bills. Before that trade option emerged, Licht said he was prepared to take Vea at No. 7.
“We would have been happy to take him there,” he said. “We took a risk … and fortunately for us we’re sitting here talking about Vita, so I couldn’t be happier.”
One of the reasons Tampa Bay was so high on Vea is because of the relationship between Petersen and Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, both former Boise State head coaches. They talked many times and Petersen had “not one bad thing” to say about Vea, Licht said.
“Coach Pete told me besides fact (Vea is) a fantastic football player, he’s the type of guy you want to marry your daughter,” Koetter said. “I know Coach Pete really well and for people that know him Coach Pete is not a BS’er. He is one of the most honest guys there is.”
Echoed what many said about Vea during his UW career, Licht described Vea’s “freakish” athleticism and said Vea would likely play three different positions on the Tampa Bay defensive line.
“He still has a huge upside,” Licht said. “No player is perfect. I like guys that play hard that are dominant players that still have huge upside, and he’s one of those.”