Misaalefua on the move

1 09 2010
Joe Imel/Daily News
WKU linebacker Orlando Misaalefua runs through a drill Tuesday afternoon during the Hilltoppers’ practice. The team will open its season Saturday at Nebraska.

By NICK BAUMGARDNER
The Daily News
nbaumgardner@bgdailynews.com/783-3239

Orlando Misaalefua has been around the block a time or two.

Actually, seven times to be exact.

A child with two military parents, Misaalefua had living stops in Germany, Washington, American Samoa – twice – Panama, Texas and Kentucky, all before finishing high school.

Misaalefua is quick to explain that moving at such a high frequency is just a way of life for a military family. But at the same time, it didn’t come without difficulties.

“Moving around like that was tough because you had to be good at meeting new people,” he said. “And I was always a shy kid back then so it was pretty tough for me. I didn’t talk much to anybody really.

“So it was hard, always moving schools, moving overseas and then back to the United States. Making friends was tough.”

A shy kid with no tangible home to speak of, Misaalefua really didn’t know what to make of football when his father introduced it to him as a middle schooler in Texas.

The game that featured boisterous enthusiasm and over-the-top personalities just didn’t seem like the right fit. But Misaalefua, who finished his prep career at Fort Campbell High School, did what any good military child would do – he listened to his parents.

“It was just something my parents wanted me to do to keep busy, so I really didn’t have much of a choice,” Misaalefua says. “But football got me to open up. It helped me become more vocal, and it really helped me start talking to people. And when you play football, you have teammates, so there were always people around and it was just easy to start making friends.

“So it really just kind of grew on me.”

Having had a home on the football field for years now, the Western Kentucky senior is on the move again, but this time he won’t have to change addresses, just positions.

Misaalefua is slated to start at outside linebacker this season after spending the previous two years in the defensive backfield. And for once, this move won’t send him into unfamiliar territory.

“I’ve always felt like a linebacker at heart,” Misaalefua said. “My dad always agreed, and I feel like it’s just the right spot for me to play.”

First-year WKU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen agrees, saying it didn’t take him long to realize that the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Misaalefua has the physical tools to be a factor on defense and some qualities that can’t be taught.

“The best thing about Orlando is that he’s a very instinctual guy that really understands football,” Bowen said. “Now I know you say, ‘all these kids are Division I football players, they all should be like that,’ but that’s not always the case.

“Things slow down for him easier and he’s one of those guys who you ask ‘why’d you do that,’ when he makes a good play. And he’ll say, ‘I don’t even know.’ He just does it, and those are the type of guys that always seem to have success.”

Despite possibly playing out of position, Misaalefua recorded 48 tackles in eight games at safety last season. Though he’s changing spots on the field once again, some things never change.

“He’s a quiet guy, the same mannered kid every time you see him – not a lot of juice, never really down,” WKU coach Willie Taggart said.

“But he’s a really good kid and a good competitor who is really happy with where he’s at now.”

Misaalefua is undecided about his future. He’s majoring in physical education at WKU, but the call of civil service is something that’s been in his blood since birth – and something he may take a shot at after graduation.

“I’ve talked a lot about it with my parents,” Misaalefua said. “My dad’s retired now and he was in the Army for 20-plus years. My mom is also retired and had 20-plus years in. It’s kind of hard for me to stray away completely from that military lifestyle because when you grow up around it, it’s hard to think about living life any other way.”

Before any further life decisions are made, however, Misaalefua has one last season on the football field – a season that he hopes will be more fruitful than the Hilltoppers’ 0-12 campaign of 2009.

However things turn out on the field this season, the shy army kid who really never wanted much to do with football in the first place, will always have a home inside the game that’s been a complete contrast to his personality.

“It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time now, and I guess it’s just attached to me now,” Misaalefua said, laughing. “Football’s a part of me now and I love it, it’s become a passion of mine and it probably always will be.”

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