The spring evaluation period is in full swing as college coaches are allowed to check in on recruits at their school. It is no different for the Arizona Wildcats as the staff has been making its way around the country recruiting.
Defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei started last week off in California and made a stop at West Los Angeles College in Culver City, Calif. While there, Uiagalelei met with defensive tackle JJ Liava’a.
I caught up with Liava’a to discuss his recruitment and more. Read on to see what the 6-foot-2, 280 pound prospect had to say.
AZ Desert Swarm: Arizona was the first school to offer you. How did your offer come to fruition?
J.J. Liava’a: “Yeah Arizona was the first team to offer me and still is the only team I have an offer from. My offer came after my freshman season of JUCO ball. I also had a very close relationship with (former defense analyst) Davy Gnodle. Before he moved to Arizona, he was my high school d-line coach back in 2016 when I attended Cathedral High School (in Los Angeles). After some time I started to grow a very close relationship with D-line coach Iona Uiagalelei. We’ve been close ever since.
AZDS: Are you hearing from any other schools? Are there any that you feel are close to offering?
Liava’a: “I’ve been hearing from a lot of other Pac-12 teams, some schools from the Big Ten, and a few from the SEC. As of right now I’m just keeping in touch with each of the coaches and just doing my part in the classroom and on the field.”
AZDS: What does Coach Iona like about your game and what you could bring to Tucson?
Liava’a: “Some things that Coach Iona likes about my game is my hustle to the ball and how I fly around the field for my size. He also likes the ‘go-getter’ mentality I have. I may not be the biggest, strongest, or fastest at my position, but I’ll for sure give everything I’ve got on every down to get the job done by any means necessary.”
AZDS: What are some of the things that interest you about Arizona?
Liava’a: “There are a lot of things that interest me about the U of A. First and foremost, I would have to say the education. Arizona offers a multitude of majors and degree programs that are considered some of the nation’s best. I also love how the coaches want what’s best for the players, not just on the field but off the field as well. The football team has a bond like no other. In fact, some of my family members played up at Arizona, so it holds a type of legacy for me. Also, the campus is just beautiful and all around just a great university.”
AZDS: What family members of yours played down in Tucson?
Liava’a: “To name a few: Apaiata, Vuna and Sione Tuihalamaka.”
AZDS: When it comes to a time frame for a commitment, when are you looking to make that decision?
Liava’a: “I’m not sure yet. I went over everything with my family and we just think it would be best for me to keep my options open since I have one more season to play.”
AZDS: With as strong of a connection as you have to Arizona, through your family, what are your thoughts on Coach Iona rebuilding the Polynesian Pipeline in Tucson?
Liava’a: “Yeah I’ve got some big shoes to fill up at Arizona. I think Coah Iona is amazing for not only trying to bring us Polynesians up there, but he’s a great coach as well. He could teach me a lot on and off the field.”
AZDS: Coach Iona made a stop by to see you earlier this week. How did that meeting go?
Liava’a: “It was amazing! Coach Iona and I had a wonderful talk. I finally got to meet him in person and it was just a great time.”
AZDS: What aspects of your game do you feel you need to work on this spring and summer?
Liava’a: “One thing I feel like I need to work on this offseason would be speed and stamina. These would help me last longer and play to my best ability all four quarters. To have that edge as a bigger guy with speed.”
AZDS: What aspects of your game do you feel are your strongest?
Liava’a: “I feel like I’m a natural leader, just by my actions. I also feel like my strong suits are flying around to the ball and really making use of my hand techniques effectively.”
AZDS: Do you have any visits planned for the upcoming months?
Liava’a: “I have an official visit set up for Arizona on June 21.”
Conditioning and some additional speed will definitely be things that Liava’a will need to work on, but he has a great skill set to build upon.
He didn’t rack up a ton of stats last season in his first year of JUCO ball, but that did not mean he wasn’t productive. He was a disruptive force along WLAC’s defensive front. He uses his hands effectively and violently to bypass would-be blockers and gets into the backfield in a hurry.
Liava’a plays with a high motor and a nasty side to his game. There are times that his aggression will cause him to over-pursue, but he doesn’t give up on the play and chases the ball carrier. He also has pretty solid awareness of what’s going on around him, sniffing out short, dump passes in the flat.
Below are his freshman JUCO season highlights.