Federal Way's main man in the middle

Federal Way junior middle linebacker Andru Pulu is second on the team in tackles and already has Division-1 size. - Alex Carson, For The Mirror
Federal Way junior middle linebacker Andru Pulu is second on the team in tackles and already has Division-1 size.
— image credit: Alex Carson, For The Mirror

Andru Pulu isn’t too big on small talk.

That’s just not the Federal Way High School junior’s style. Pulu is the prototypical Pacific Islander — stoic and a man of few words, and is the definition of the old saying, “actions speak louder than words.”

And Pulu’s actions on the football field this season have been speaking volumes for the South Puget Sound League North Division champion Eagles.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound middle linebacker is a huge reason, both literally and figuratively, that Federal Way is heading into the preliminary round of the Class 4A State Football Playoffs Saturday night. Federal Way Stadium will be hosting its first postseason game since 1976 — the last time an Eagle team won an SPSL championship.

“He talks with his pads,” coach John Meagher said. “His size and strength are very special for a high school football player.”

And Pulu has been speaking loud and clear from his familiar middle linebacker position on the Federal Way defense. Pulu is second on the team in tackles behind outside linebacker Andre Barrington, despite missing a game, and has the Eagles ranked eighth in the state with an 8-1 overall record.

“I just like the team aspect of football,” Pulu said. “And that’s what’s fun about this year’s team. This team is a lot closer than we were last year. We knew we would be good, but we really didn’t know that we would be a contender.”

Pulu and the Eagles will take on the Cascade (Everett) Bruins at 7 p.m. Saturday night. Cascade enters the game as the third seed from the Wesco North League with a 6-3 record and features senior running back Lorne Bridgford, who has rushed for 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns.

And that means Bridgford will get a big dose of Pulu.

“He is the size of a (Division I) linebacker right now as a junior in high school,” Meagher said. “He has put on 20 pounds every year. But he’s maintained his speed. He’s getting some letters and a lot of college coaches have come in and taken a look at him.”

But the addition of weight might mean a move out of his accustomed and preferred position of middle linebacker when he gets to the college level in two years.

“We’ve toyed with the idea of putting him down on the line,” Meagher said. “But he is too valuable in the middle.”

“Andru is just continuing to grow up and out. I don’t think anybody wants to go in reverse order from linebacker to defensive line. But when colleges pay for your education, they make the decision. I’m sure he’ll do whatever the coaches think he will do best.”

“I hope that I can play D-I college football,” Pulu admits. “But I still have a lot of work to do before then.”

For now, Pulu is going to continue to punish ball carriers who run the ball through the middle of the Federal Way defense — something he’s been doing for years.

Pulu was always been the biggest kid on the football field since he started playing as a 120-pound fifth-grader. Up until his freshman season at Federal Way, Pulu was always on the offensive and defensive lines.

“Back then it was new to me,” Pulu said. “I really didn’t know how to hit.”

As a freshman, Pulu moved off the defensive line and into the middle linebacker position and promptly dominated on Federal Way’s freshman team against much smaller and less mature kids.

“I watched him play as an eighth-grader at Kilo (Middle School) and nobody could stop him. He would run through people,” Meagher said.

Although running through people might look good on film and get oohs and ahhs from the crowd, it’s not necessarily what a linebacker is supposed to do. And Pulu is starting to figure that out.

“He doesn’t shy away from contact and is a solid tackler,” Meagher said. “But he has come a long way since last year. He has made a lot of progress in ready plays and cutting off blocks instead of hitting the first guy that comes to him. He used to love when a fullback would come through in front of the runner. He would just attack the fullback and knock the guy on his can and the back would run right by him with the ball. Now he is using his hands and not making a big impact, shedding the blocker and making the tackle.”

Pulu freely admits that he wasn’t the most instinctive middle linebacker during his sophomore season last year and did most of his damage thanks to his unbelievable physical tools. But he made enough of an impact to be named to the North Division’s first-team and to a few preseason All-State teams before this year kicked off.

“Last year, I really didn’t know how to play the position,” Pulu said. “I didn’t know how to get off blockers. This year I’m the leader on the defense and have more responsibility. I really like it because it’s a challenge.”

Sports editor Casey Olson:

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