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Meet the NFL draft's biggest freak: 350-pound DT Vita Vea

From ESPN - April 16, 2018

SEATTLE -- Vita Vea's position coach at Washington, Ikaika Malloe, had seen the massive defensive tackle pull off all sorts of improbable athletic feats for over two seasons. So he was used to it when he saw Vea, covering a punt in his final college game, sprint some 40 yards to take down the returner with an open-field tackle.

At 6-foot-4 and 347 pounds, mind you.

"By that time, there's not really anything he can do to shock me anymore," Malloe told ESPN.com last month. "You kind of just shrug your shoulders and say, 'Yep, I am not surprised by it.' He does things that normally people of his size should not be doing. But he does it with such ease that you take it for granted. You kind of get used to him doing those types of things. He's got footwork like a linebacker or even a DB. He can backpedal with the best of them and change direction and flip his hips. In the beginning, maybe a year ago ... that's kind of when I was in awe of things, just of what he can do and that type of stuff."

Vea, a projected first-round pick in this year's NFL draft, showed during his three seasons at UW that he's much more than just an athletic marvel. He started 27 games and in 2017 was voted the Pac-12's defensive player of the year and the conference's top defensive lineman. His 9.5 career sacks are proof he possesses the pass-rush ability that can separate good defensive tackles from great ones.

"When you are 6-4, almost 350 pounds and you have incredible strength and you have got unbelievable quickness for your size, that is a rare combination," ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "That's why he's drawing comparisons to Haloti Ngata. That's why I am projecting him to go in the top part of the first round."

Kiper and ESPN's Todd McShay each had Vea going No. 13 overall to the Washington Redskins in their dueling two-round mock.

So just how freaky and dominant of an athlete is Vea? From outrunning a sprinter to jumping as high as cornerbacks and more, here are some tales told by those who have coached him and those who have played with him.

Chasing down a sprinter

Vea's first sport was tennis, which he played in after-school programs while growing up in Santa Clara, California. He was too big to play Pop Warner because of the league's size restrictions, so his first real taste of football came at Milpitas High School, where he spent four years on varsity. He played all over the field for the Trojans, including running back -- he scored 11 touchdowns as a senior -- and even some Wildcat quarterback as a 6-4, 240-pound freshman.

Kelly King, who coached Vea at Milpitas, on a play from his junior season: "We were down ready to score on the goal line against another team and the sprint champion from the other team [Delshawn Mitchell of Wilcox High School], we had fumbled the ball and he picked it up and was running down the sideline. Vita ran him down and caught him. The look in the guy's eye's that that guy had caught him was priceless. Unfortunately, we fumbled, but ... [Vea] probably tracked him down about 50 yards and caught him. ... He was the sprint champion of the league, so he was supposedly one of the fastest guys in the league, and he got caught from behind."

BYU running back Squally Canada, a teammate of Vea's at Milpitas who was on the field during that play: "Vita had 150 pounds on him and not only that, Delshawn had like a 30-yard head start and Vita came across the field. That was probably the craziest thing I have ever seen Vita do in my life. ... It was a toss right, I dropped the pitch, got tackled ... Delshawn happened to pick it up and Vita was on the other side of the field, and I just remember looking down from the ground and I am seeing Delshawn and the crowd cheering and what not. I am like, 'Oh yeah, it's over. It's a touchdown.' Next thing you know, here comes Vita. He grabs him and just pushes him out of bounds. And it was one of those things like, we all looked at each other like, 'Did Vita just catch Delshawn Mitchell?' We looked and we started wondering, 'How fast is Vita?' That was the question ... At 6-4, 285, he just caught a known track star. It was crazy, man. It was one of those things you had to see and be there for."

'I ai not never been hit like that in my life'

'Him being able to do that is just very, very rare'

'Unbelievable power'

'That's what blew me away'

'He's still got a huge upside'

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