Sewell's star shines brightly
LOS ANGELES — Penei Sewell shared a New Year's resolution with reporters at the Rose Bowl.
"Try to be more dominant on the field," he said.
Yeah, and Brad Pitt wants to be more handsome.
Taylor Swift hopes people listen to her songs.
And, President Trump yearns to be controversial.
They don't come much more dominant than Sewell, the sophomore phenom at left offensive tackle for the Oregon Ducks, who'll play Wisconsin in Wednesday's 2 p.m. Rose Bowl at Pasadena, California.
He's a first-round NFL draft pick — No. 1 overall in 2021? — in the making.
He's Oregon's first winner of the Outland Trophy, and the first Polynesian to win it, which is remarkable considering all the great Polynesian players to line up for offensive and defensive lines for teams throughout the country. He was also named Polynesian College Football co-player of the year.
He's a unanimous All-American, joining LaMichael James (2011) and Marcus Mariota (2014) as the only Ducks to be unanimous, and a two-time Pac-12 first-team lineman. He was Associated Press co-offensive player of the year in the Pac-12.
He's a run blocker (ranked first in the country with a 95.5 grade) and a pass blocker (ranked second at 92.2).
He's given up fewer sacks than you have fingers on your hand, and commits a penalty as often as Phil Knight wears something other than Nikes.
Hype is already there for Sewell to become a Heisman Trophy contender in 2020. He's No. 58, if you want to watch him in the Rose Bowl and all of next season.
The 6-6, 325-pound Sewell, who was born in Malaeimi, American Samoa and played high school ball in St. George, Utah, has complemented veterans Jake Hanson, Calvin Throckmorton, Shane Lemieux, Dallas Warmack and (key contributor) Brady Aiello on the offensive line. But, as good as Aiello and the others are, there would be a gaping hole at left tackle without Sewell.
"It's just been surreal," he said. "It's been my dream. Every day coming out here, working out with all those guys, all these seniors, just making the most of the opportunity."
People have noticed.
"I think that by position he might be the best player in all of college football," said ESPN/ABC analyst Todd Blackledge, in a quote provided by the Oregon athletic department. "He's a combination of brute strength and athleticism. He has the strength of an offensive lineman, but he has the feet of a tight end.
"He's a very athletic kid who gets out in space and just demolishes people. We talk about quarterbacks having some 'wow' plays; there's about four or five plays a game, whether it's a pass block or a run block, where Penei Sewell makes you go 'wow' as well."
Wisconsin puts a pretty stout front seven on the field, and even the Badgers have made game plans based on Sewell's abilities.
"He's one of the most athletic tackles I've ever seen, ever got a chance to go against and watch on film," Badgers linebacker Zack Baun said. "What he can do is really big for their team, and he plays an essential part in what they're trying to do."
Sewell will be in the spotlight in the Rose Bowl as the Ducks hope to win and send all the key seniors — the O-linemen, QB Justin Herbert, linebacker Troy Dye, etc. — out on high notes. That's Sewell's focus: Win the game with his O-line brethren.
"It's been amazing the whole year, being able to play next to all those guys, all the other dudes on the line, just (absorbing) all the experience and all their knowledge and stuff," he said. "A little shadow following them, doing everything they do, just because they do everything right. ... They're my brothers for life."
Sewell has burst onto the national scene thanks to great talent and work ethic, and coaching and mentorship from coach Mario Cristobal, who also teams with Alex Mirabal to coach the offensive line.
Cristobal, back on the February 2018 letter-of-intent signing day, couldn't control his excitement over Sewell picking the Ducks.
Mirabal "is like my third dad, with my actual dad and then Coach Cristobal," Sewell said. "That third person I look up to. Just appreciate him and love him."
Sewell is grounded in family. Five-star prep linebacker Noah Sewell will join him with the Ducks next season. Sewell's other brother, Nephi, plays for Utah, and cameras caught a nice moment of Penei consoling Nephi after the Ducks routed the Utes in the Pac-12 title game.
"It was an emotional game," Penei Sewell said, "but we had to do the job."
He credits his father, Gabriel Sewell Sr., for teaching him the game.
"Dad's always been the head coach for the football team (in) American Samoa," he said. "And, I've always been around them, just watching the kids hit each other, be really physical with each other. And, that culture, the blood in me ..."
It's helped make him a great football player.
So, Sewell not only has a bright future but a bright today.
The next time the moon blocks the sun for a solar eclipse, think of Penei Sewell.
His type of player comes around about as often.
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