It’s most apparent how important Lisala Manu is when he’s not there.
When the 6-foot-1, 245 pound senior defensive lineman missed two of West Salem High School’s games – most notably the Titans’ 35-34 loss to Greater Valley Conference champion South Salem – because of a knee injury, it showed.
When he is on the field, he spends a lot of time in the backfields of the Titans’ opponents and can be a terror to block.
“Especially in the last two weeks,” said West Salem defensive coordinator Damien Ramirez. “He’s really starting to dominate games like we thought he should.”
Manu was named first-team all-league on the defensive line for the second straight year.
Off the field Manu is a mild-mannered guy who you might not suspect has a mean streak.
“He’s a pretty mild-mannered kid,” Ramirez said. “He gets pretty emotional in a competitive environment. I think his maturity has been controlling that.”
When he puts on the No. 58 jersey for Friday’s first round game of the OSAA Class 6A state playoffs against Beaverton, the Beavers will have to pay attention.
With quick feet and a knack for finding the ball, he makes an impact.
“I get after it, I think so, I get after it,” said Manu, known to friends as Sala. “I’m able to get out there, make some plays, help our team out for the better.”
He was born in Hawaii and moved to the mainland at the age of 3 or 4.
Manu’s elder brother, Asipa Manu, was a standout defensive player at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, but Lisala never got to see him play.
Lisala didn’t pick up the game of football until the seventh grade.
“I did, but we kind of didn’t have the money to before, and then seventh grade is the time we decided we had to get me into something,” he said.
He says he wasn’t very good his first couple years of playing the sport, but what has been a major benefit to the trajectory of his football career has been wrestling.
He was third in the regional wrestling meet at 220 pounds as a sophomore and second at the weight as a junior.
“One of my friends recommended it to me, actually he goes to Central right now, he’s their quarterback, Douglas Clem,” Manu said. “He’s a great friend of mine. He recommended it to me to get me better for football. I took him up on it. It’s helped me.”
He admits that wrestling has taken a toll at times and believes his knee injuries came from the wrestling mat, but he also has reaped the benefits in the form of technique.
“He is very quick off the ball,” Ramirez said. “He uses his hands well. Wrestling has helped him with that.”
While Manu’s impact on defense is quantifiable – such as the eight tackles for loss and two sacks as a junior – his impact on the offensive line can’t be overlooked.
When he’s there he brings a spirit that other linemen absorb.
“For the most part a lot of the line guys need someone in there to get them going, you know, get the positive mood going,” he says of his influence. “We have a bad play and hey guys, let’s get this. Give them a little pep talk and we’re on our way.”
Though Manu has been one of the top defensive linemen around, he has yet to receive much interest from colleges.
Yes, he’s not the prototypical size for a defensive lineman at the college football level.
But the way the impact he can make on a program is undeniable.
“I think he could definitely be a college player at some level,” Ramirez said.
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at twitter.com/bpoehler
Beaverton at West Salem
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
On the air: Radio on 1430KYKN.com.
Records: Beaverton (5-4), West Salem (7-2).