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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Taua is a difference-maker for Lompoc defensive line

Southland's top players / This is the third in a nine-part series looking at the top high school football players in the Southland. Tomorrow: quarterbacks. For video of Ainuu Taua go to latimes.com/sports/highschool.

August 23, 2013|ERIC SONDHEIMER

If all goes well, 17-year-old senior defensive tackle Ainuu Taua of Lompoc will one day have so many shampoo companies offering him their products that he'll never have to spend another penny washing the hair he hasn't cut since second grade.

When his frizzy black hair isn't curled up in a football helmet, it falls to the middle of his back. An offensive lineman trying to block the 6-foot, 284-pound Taua might have a better chance trying to stop him by grabbing his hair and seeing if an official calls holding.

"It takes two guys to block him," Coach Andrew Jones said.

As a junior, Taua had nine sacks, and his presence enabled teammates on defense to have a much easier time.

"It's a good time to be a linebacker in our defense, because you're usually going to be unblocked," Jones said.

In a Western Division that is loaded with top teams, from Gardena Serra to West Hills Chaminade, Lompoc has a player who's a difference-maker.

"He's something else," Serra Coach Scott Altenberg said. "You can't coach the motor he has."

When La Canada St. Francis played Lompoc last season, opposing Coach Jim Bonds said the then-16-year-old Taua was talented beyond his years.

"He's doing everything and doesn't have his man strength yet," Bonds said. "He has an unbelievable set of skills."

Taua, who has Samoan roots and grew up in a family of football players, is more than just tough. There's a passion that comes out each time he steps onto a field.

"It's fun," he said. "You get to be out here with your friends. All of my friends from school are from football. Football is everything, pretty much. However my body holds up, that's how long I'll be playing."

His oldest brother, Vai, was a standout running back with Nevada. Another brother plays junior college football. He has a 12-year-old brother, Toa, who's

also considered a huge talent and has a YouTube video with thousands of views.

"He's doing push-ups, pull-ups, air squats," Taua said.

Physicality is what defines Taua.

"He looks like he's 35 years old and a six-year veteran in the NFL," Jones said.

"He's extremely talented. He's relentless."

But not everyone is convinced about Taua's future. Despite having more than 15 scholarship offers, Taua has seen some schools take a pass, questioning whether he's tall enough to play on the defensive line.

"I think anybody who doesn't recruit him because of size will seriously regret it," Bonds said. "He's a football player."

Taua is motivated by the skeptics.

"Some people are going to like it, some people aren't," he said of his size. "It doesn't affect me much."

Yes, he has been stopped on occasion, particularly when he's triple-teamed.

"All three try to push you backwards," he said. "Sometimes it works. Sometimes I get through somehow and make the plays."

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter.com: @LATSondheimer

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Defensive linemen to watch

*--* PLAYER SCHOOL HT., WT. YR. ERIC SONDHEIMER'S COMMENT Curtis Vista Murrieta 6-3, 220 Sr. Defensive end with Bolton quickness. Joe Paramount 6-5, 340 Sr. San Gabriel Valley League Brown defensive MVP. Malik St. John Bosco 6-3, 235 Sr. Lots of strength, Dorton quickness. Jason Long Beach Poly 6-1, 280 Sr. Let's see who can block Fao him. Jase St. Bonaventure 6-4, 260 Sr. Colorado commit is Franke powerful tackler. Greg La Habra 6-1, 275 Sr. Boise State commit Gaines powerful in middle. Rashee Gardena Serra 6-5, 270 Jr. Will be national recruit m in 2015. Green Keisea Orange Lutheran 6-5, 210 Jr. Has lots of athleticism. n Lucier -South Michae Mission Viejo 6-5, 245 Sr. Defensive end who's tough l to block. Mathew es Tyler Moorpark 6-2, 270 Sr. Defensive MVP in Marmonte Puccio League. Ainuu Lompoc 6-0, 284 Sr. Physical and tough. Taua *--*

On latimes.com/sports: Go to our website for a longer list of top Southland defensive linemen.

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