Circling back to our OL group with an unexpected addition to the 2023 class we have Kahlee Tafai out of Leuzinger HS, CA. Check out the rest of our Recruiting Notebook Series where we’ve run through the rest of OL class and all of the blue chips that we’ve received verbal commitments from, such as Vincent Holmes, Anthony James II, and Curley Reed.
Kahlee Tafai (OL, 6’6” 300, Leuzinger HS, CA)
Just when I thought I could circle back to the rest of the recruiting class, Coach Huff lands one more offensive lineman in Kahlee Tafai. Like most UW fans, Tafai’s commitment caught me by surprise. Tafai hadn’t made it up to Seattle for an official visit, and while most folks I talked to had thought that we might take up to 5 offensive linemen in the 2023 class, they also thought we were done after the first four made their commitments. We didn’t seem to be in the running to land more prominent OL prospects that were still uncommitted, so we collectively had moved on to the 2024 class. However, just because Tafai was overlooked, it doesn’t mean he should be.
Listed at a burly 6-6 and 300 lbs, as well as touting offers from Oregon, Utah, Oregon State, Arizona, and BYU, Tafai has definitely drawn the attention from a number of solid OL coaches, and regardless of how high he was on their boards, they all thought Tafai has the talent and potential to play for their teams. Talent and potential are exactly what makes his commitment worth the scholarship. He’s a raw talent that has primarily played DL to date, but the size, strength, and athleticism that made him a good HS DL could make him a great college OL.
Tape & On-Field Performance
I’m not going to lie. Tafai’s film study was a bit of a challenge because of how much projecting I’m having to do. As I mentioned, Tafai’s primarily played DL in HS, and the handful of OL reps on his hudl tape were all run plays, so I started with that. Right off the bat, you can tell that Tafai has some serious strength. At 6-6(ish) and 300 lbs, it can be tough to separate his strength from his sheer size advantage on most HS opponents, but there were a couple of plays that put it front and center.
@KahleeTafai_ vs Bosco pic.twitter.com/ruRo3b7zow— Kahlee Tafai (@KahleeTafai_) September 4, 2021
Lining up at NT against St. John Bosco (a high-quality opponent) in a 4th & short situation, Tafai stood up a double team from their guard and center and stuffed the run for no gain. Unless a DL uses speed and quickness to split a double team, the double team should move a DL 99% of the time, and the DL definitely shouldn’t be beating the double team to make the tackle. There aren’t many prospects out there playing at his level of HS competition who have the mass to beat a double team just with size, let alone stand both offensive linemen up at the LOS. On the flip side of the situation, its very rare for an offensive lineman to square up with a defensive lineman and move them vertically off the LOS without the assistance of a double team (not talking about down blocks, traps, etc. that are designed to move DL laterally). Once Tafai learns better techniques and consistently uses them, he could be a road grader in 1v1 situations.
In the next clip we see just how good Tafai’s short area burst is. In a first down situation where he’s lined up at 1-tech, Tafai explodes off the line, shoots the A-gap on the backside of a zone play to the field, rips through the guard’s attempt at a block, and makes the TFL.
@KahleeTafai_ pic.twitter.com/RZShuPCqmi— Kahlee Tafai (@KahleeTafai_) September 4, 2021
What’s impressive is that Tafai had the kind of straight line explosiveness to win position on the guard on this play, and he also had the core strength to fight through the block and make the play. I always talk about RBs needing to have good contact balance so they can fight through arm tackles and get the hidden extra yards, but this applies to linemen as well. For an offensive lineman, core strength is important in both pass pro and run blocking. Good core strength helps an OL control defenders as they try to stack and shed blocks, and in pass pro it helps them absorb impact and anchor against a bull rush.
On the topic of pass protection, I had to do a lot of hunting to find clips to analyze. I was able to find the video below of him working pass pro 1v1s at a camp, and he’s a bit better at pass protection than I was expecting for having limited in-game pass protection reps on tape. As one might expect, Tafai’s style of pass protection is all about strength and power.
Kahlee Tafai— Allegiance Athletics (@AllegianceOL) March 30, 2022
Kahlee was voted OL MVP by defensive linemen who attended.
Kahlee spent last season on the DL and has been focused solely on OL this off season. He could hold down the edge as an OT, as well as bump inside to OG. @KahleeTafai_ pic.twitter.com/xw0Y5ECjt3
As you can see, Tafai’s a pretty good athlete for his size, but he’s not a fluid lateral mover like Jackett. Taking reps at OT, Tafai is quick enough to get into position for first contact, and he has plenty of length and strength to stone pass rushers who try bull rushes, rips, and long arm moves. However, I don’t think he’s quite quick enough to match wider pass rush angles or bendy pass rushers who can take wider loops to the QB. Additionally, his change of direction isn’t good enough to give him much of a margin of error to recover if he doesn’t lock up his opponent on his initial punch. His biggest room for improvement will be in keeping his eyes and his feet synced. He has a tendency to lean on his upper body strength to neutralize opponents, but that leaves his feet idle after contact, and he becomes susceptible to inside counter moves against a soft inside hip, holding penalties against wide technique pass rushers, and possible stunts in a game scenario.
Fit, Position & Projection
Fit, position, and projection is critical for Tafai. In my opinion, if Tafai is destined for the offensive line, it’ll be at guard. I think his 6-6 listing might be a tad generous, but even if he arrives at a legit 6-6, his skill set and athletic profile fit better on the interior where he can be a road grader and not be asked to deal with more athletic pass rushers in space. A usual prerequisite for Huff’s OL recruits is pulling, and Tafai doesn’t have any pulling on tape, so it’s tough to get a feel for how he moves in space other than picking off LBs at the second level. His experience on both sides of the ball and athletic traits should help him pick things up quicker than a guy like MJ Ale, but it’s still far from certain.
The key to Tafai’s commitment is his potential versatility. Usually when I talk about versatility for OL recruits its referring to inside/outside versatility, but In Tafai’s case, I think his versatility is between OL and DL. When I was coaching HS football and was sorting out positions at the start of fall camp, we always assigned defensive players based on athleticism. The most athletic guys were at CB, the next group went to safety, then LB, then DE, but then the rest were thrown at OL. This was because coaching up a lineman to play OL takes time, and not everyone picks it up. One time we had a new kid sign up that checked every athletic box for an offensive lineman, but he just couldn’t pick up the lateral footwork, hand technique, and working in unison with the other 4 OL. We put him at DT, and he was a monster. He was able to pick up DL quickly because its a much more intuitive position, and we were able to breakdown his individual assignments at DT more easily than OL. The key takeaway for me was that you have to try as many guys as you can at OL, and if it doesn’t work, you can get a serviceable DL relatively quickly because of the nature of the position.
Obviously there’s a pretty big difference between HS and college football roster building, but the idea that OL projections are a gamble and that you want to take as many high upside guys as possible still applies. For Tafai, his body type and experience playing DL mitigate the risk of him being a total bust because I think he could be an excellent DT if OL doesn’t work out.
Huff looks like he landed himself a great project player that a lot of other teams had an eye on. It looks like Tafai is set on playing more OL next year, so I’ll be keeping an eye on his continued development on that side of the ball. With as much athletic upside as Tafai, we could have ourselves our next road grading offensive lineman, or maybe our next NT.
Let me know what you think in the comments below and on Twitter @Coach_808, and show Kahlee some UW love on Twitter @KahleeTafai_.
I want to first thank my mom for supporting me in everything.Lastly I want to thank the coaching staff at uw for believing in me. With that being said I’m excited to announce I am now committed to UW #godawg @GregBiggins @Leuzinger_FB @UW_Football @BManu86 @recruitcoachmc pic.twitter.com/wgUma4rV5h— Kahlee Tafai (@KahleeTafai_) July 28, 2022