- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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Since Bill Belichick was hired as head coach in 2000, the New England Patriots have hosted hundreds of college prospects in advance of the annual NFL draft. One of this year's visitors has a story unlike any other.
Meet Tyson Alualu.
Projected as a late-first- to mid-second-round draft choice, Alualu had a solid career as a defensive lineman at the University of California. He's durable, powerful and versatile.
Performance alone has helped him stand above most of his peers in this year's draft, but when his unconventional life story is added to the mix, Alualu's rise is that much more impressive.
Alualu was born in Hawaii and has seven sisters and one brother. He's the fourth oldest of the group.
As a youngster, his father Ta'avao was in and out of prison for everything from drugs to domestic violence before turning his life around and becoming a pastor. Prior to third grade, Alualu remembers trying to avoid his father. Now Ta'avao is a driving influence in his life.
The 6-foot-2½, 295-pound Alualu can be a mauler on the football field, but he's a gentle giant in his home around his wife Desiré, their 4-year-old son Tyreé and 1-year-old daughter Dereon. They've been married since Sept. 11, 2005.
"I definitely get that a lot, people asking how I balance everything and manage it all," said Alualu, who turns 23 on May 12. "Many people say I have a lot on my plate, but it's something I wouldn't trade for the world. It's extra motivation for me to succeed, to create a better life for them."
Alualu's early years in Hawaii were far from an island fantasy. His family worked hard to make ends meet, and some of his friends made bad choices that derailed their athletic hopes.
One of his biggest breaks came when his dream of attending Saint Louis Preparatory School, the alma mater of current NFL players Olin Kreutz and Dominic Raiola, was realized. Attending football powerhouse Saint Louis gave him the best chance of following in the footsteps of his uncle Tupu, who played football at Hawaii, while helping him academically.
The family didn't have the resources to send him to Saint Louis, but the religious Alualu believes God helped open the door for him. His father had sought a sponsor for him, and a caring local family, which had created a scholarship in the name of their late son, stepped to the fore.
That ultimately led to a scholarship at Cal, where Alualu never missed a game from 2006-2009, appearing in 51 contests with 39 starts. He played every position on the line, including defensive end on a three-man line, which is one of the Patriots' most pressing needs.
Alualu credits the Cal coaching staff with providing the springboard to putting him on the cusp of entering the NFL. In addition to visiting the Patriots, he has been hosted by the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos. The Atlanta Falcons also have plans to put him through a private workout before the draft.
The trip to Gillette Stadium was his first and included meetings with Patriots coaches, a quick hello to defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, and plenty of film work. One aspect that stood out to Alualu was when coaches put him on the board, asking him to diagram a play they had watched on film.
"A big part was knowing the game and not just what you do, but what everyone else is doing as well," he said. "At Cal, I might know what the D-linemen and a few linebackers were doing. The Patriots, on the board, I had to know everyone's position and what they were doing at different times."
In many ways, Alualu sounds like the type of player the Patriots would target -- tough, passionate and grounded. He describes himself as a player who is never satisfied, which has been the case since his Pop Warner days, when Ta'avoa would tell him he could always do better.
Off the field, the Patriots had to appreciate that one of Alualu's biggest concerns prior to his trip was supervision for his children. With Desiré working toward becoming a nurse, Alualu turned to his deep family playbook and said his mind was at ease knowing his sister-in-law Tita was there to watch Tyreé and Dereon.
Saying this has been a lifelong dream and that he's excited to start a new chapter in his life, Alualu's journey to the NFL has been anything but typical.
Maybe the next chapter will unfold in New England.
Cal's Tyson Alualu has attracted the Patriots for his ability and his character.