The Huskies will no doubt miss the massive defensive lineman, but the draft experts say he has the measurables that will have NFL teams throwing money his way.
In the midst of his brief acceptance speech Thursday for winning the Morris Trophy, Vita Vea addressed retired announcer Bob Rondeau, sitting in the audience at the Washington Athletic Club.
“Bob, I know Husky Nation is going to miss ‘Touchdown, Washington’ at Montlake,’’ Vea said.
To which Rondeau shot back, to laughter and applause, “Not as much as they’re going to miss you.”
The giant chasm that Vea’s departure to the NFL leaves the Huskies — about 340 pounds’ worth on their front line, for starters — was driven home at the ceremony, filled with glowing accolades sent his direction. The Morris Trophy is emblematic of the best offensive and defensive lineman in the conference, as voted by the players themselves. Oregon’s Tyrell Crosby received the offensive award, while Vea was the obvious choice on the defensive side, the first Husky D-lineman so honored since D’Marco Farr in 1993.
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You have to go back to Steve Emtman in 1990 and ’91 to find a two-time Washington winner, but Vea forfeited that chance when he announced recently that he was foregoing his senior year to turn pro. As much as Husky fans might have yearned for Vea’s return, it’s impossible to second-guess that decision in light of Vea’s status as a surefire first-round pick and possible top-10 selection.
In fact, Hall of Fame lineman Walter Jones, the keynote speaker, had an anecdote that speaks to Vea’s frame of reference. When he was a mammoth freshman who had not yet turned out for football as a youth in Alabama, Jones remembers the high-school coach seeking him out and saying, “You are a million dollars walking around broke.”
The loot will soon come Vea’s way. He contemplated coming out last year but changed his mind partly because he realized that, with a breakthrough junior season, his second-round projection could be raised to the first round, with the attendant rise in salary and bonuses.
And that’s exactly what happened. Rob Rang, the draft expert for NFLdraftscout.com, addressed the crowd with scouting reports on both Vea and Crosby — each of whom, by the way, would look awfully nice in Seahawk uniforms. Rang said Vea had as much raw force as any player in the country and added, “I’ll say this in the most respectful way possible: Vita might just be the biggest freak I’ve even seen in college football.”
It’s his combination of size, strength and speed that has college scouts drooling, and which made Vea’s decision to come out inevitable.
“It’s definitely tough to leave this place,’’ Vea said. “It’s kind of like leaving your family again when you come to college, kind of stepping into the real world. It was definitely a hard process and a hard decision. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I can’t look back now, but I miss all the guys, miss all the coaching staff. Things were good when I was there. They were amazing. I wouldn’t ask for anything better. I loved everything how it was.”
Especially difficult, Vea said, was letting Chris Petersen know he wasn’t coming back, though the coach — off recruiting so not in attendance — no doubt had a strong inkling.
“It was definitely sad saying bye to him and letting go of this whole thing,’’ Vea said.
Vea said he took a week off after the Huskies’ Fiesta Bowl loss to let his body and mind rest. Since then, he has been working out zealously in Phoenix to prepare for the NFL combine in February. Rang predicted that Vea’s measurables will blow away NFL personnel. Husky head strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha, who was in attendance at the WAC, saw that develop firsthand through hard work and diligence.
“His strength was off the charts,’’ Socha said. “He was one of the few guys I coached that he got to a certain point where he was strong enough, so we were able to start doing some different things with him. You don’t see guys like that every day in your career. It was great to see him grow and develop.”
It should also be noted that Vea, whose attendance at UW was initially delayed because he wasn’t academically eligible, grew and developed in that realm, too. He leaves as a Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention in his major, anthropology.
Asked what drew him to Washington out of Milpitas High School in the Bay Area, Vea said it was love at first sight.
“Long story short, the UW was the first place I ever took a visit to,’’ he said. “I came here, and if you’ve ever been to the stadium, you know it sells itself. After stepping out there, I knew this is where I wanted to be.
“That’s basically how I ended up here, and now I’m here getting the Morris Trophy.”