It’s hard not to miss Rogers High tackle Michael Fifita and his auburn-shaded locks cascading out of the back of his helmet and down his back — just covering his No. 74 jersey.
Or how his wild hair flows while he lunges himself into a head-on collision with linemen or while he brings down ball carriers.
With arguably the best hair in the Class 4A South Puget Sound League — to go with the meanest beard in Puyallup — the 6-foot-2, 309-pound Fifita will look to clog up the middle this season, allowing linebackers to roam free.
“It’s really about my teammates making me better, and I’m just trying to make them better, too,” Fifita said. “That’s just what I want to do — I want to make my teammates better.”
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Better known as “Big Mike” around the halls of Rogers High, the senior has turned into an invaluable piece to defensive coordinator Andy Armstrong’s 3-3-stack system, creating more flexibility to how the unit functions come game time.
“Having a guy like Big Mike frees up our linebackers to attack (the ball carrier),” said Armstrong during Rogers’ blue and white scrimmage on Saturday.
If he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing, then our linebackers will be making a lot of plays.
Rogers coach Gene Bowen
Fifita owned the Rams practice field during the scrimmage. The senior was just too much for the offense to contain.
Time after time, the nose tackle picked up, pushed back, and simply out-bullied two linemen at a time, wreaking havoc on the line of scrimmage with each snap of the ball.
“You know that teams are going to have to account for him with some kind of double-team or something to take care of (him). That then frees up your linebackers,” Rogers coach Gene Bowen said. “If he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing, then our linebackers will be making a lot of plays.”
Any guy with the ball narrowly escaped his outstretched hand only to be hit by a swarm of linebackers in the backfield on each occasion Saturday. With hair flowing out the back of his helmet, Fifita was too much to handle.
“It’s very different. This is the first time I’ve done a (three-man front), so it’s pretty fun,” Fifita said. “Mostly, what I do is take on two blockers. (But) it’s fun chasing the backers, trying to catch them.”
It’s very different. This is the first time I’ve done a (three-man front), so it’s pretty fun. Mostly what I do is take on two blockers. (But) it’s fun chasing the backers, trying to catch them.
The strong offseason performance from Fifita has come with an added bonus for Rogers offense, as the Rams and offensive coordinator Dane Looker have been working with the duo of Brydon Harlan and Makaio Gillespie to fill out the open quarterback slot.
Each week, opposing defenses are going to send their biggest and nastiest guys at the duo, so having arguably the meanest guy (Fifita) in the league playing scout should take away any anxiety Harlan or Gillespie could face this upcoming season.
“They will see a guy — or two to three guys — like (Fifita) every single week, so part of it is getting used to that, controlling your emotions,” Bowen said. “It’s not just Michael, but committing a little more to platooning. Our (No. 1) offense is going against our (No. 1) defense most of the time.”
No slack is given during practice, especially not when Fifita is around. Everything that offenses want to do against the Rams will have to be earned this season.
And when “Big Mike” gets going bulldozing linemen and pushing opponents around, it’s just going to make Rogers all the better.
“Watch out for our linebackers. They should be good,” Fifita said.
The first thing opponents will notice about Fifita may be the hair, but by the end of the game, they’ll be questioning whether there’s really a way to stop the giant nose tackle.
Rogersopens the season Friday (Sept. 2) on the road against new league adversary Bellarmine Prep.