Former UCLA defensive lineman CJ Niusulu is coming to Portland State next fall. He will be dragging behind him a criminal record, three injury-plagued seasons at UCLA and a final suspension that cost him the chance to finish his career in Los Angeles.
Viking coaches see a talented player who could be a force at the D-1AA level. But I see a problem not unfamiliar to Portland, or to sports in general for that matter.
The Viks desperately need help up front and Niusulu is an effective run-stopper. He also effectively broke someone’s jaw two years ago and served 120 days in a California prison.
But no one seems to care. That’s interesting. Because if no one cares that this kid broke someone’s jaw, then no one should care if other Portland area athletes have run-ins with the law.
Tell Damon Stoudamire he can light up a blunt again. Get Qyntel Woods back in town so he can fight his pit bulls. Find someone to throw a towel in Theo Ratliff’s face. Lure JR Rider out of retirement. Let the whole team drive without their licenses. Give Zach Randolph a gun. Who cares? More importantly, who knows?
I do. I care because misdemeanor battery charges don’t look good no matter what state you live in or at what level you play.
After Viking defensive coordinator Greg Lupfer informed me that a UCLA kid was coming to PSU, I did a little more research and found that CJ Niusulu is damaged goods at this point. But most fans probably only care to know about is his ability to stay healthy and stop the run. Which is question enough.
Niusulu accumulated 53 tackles in his abbreviated career at UCLA. Despite being a talented player he started only seven times in his career, all last season. Knee surgery, ankle injuries and a suspension limited Niusulu to nine games total, though as a sophomore he saw action in all 13 contests.
Maybe I’m being too hard on CJ. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and it’s sad that personal problems and injuries prevented him from having a great career at UCLA. He should be hungry by the time he gets to the south Park Blocks, and maybe a little angry too. After all, he’ll go from playing under the bright lights of the Rose Bowl before a packed arena to spending his Saturdays at PGE Park, hoping for 5,000 people to show up and praying it doesn’t rain.
That’s a sad fate for a D-1 athlete to suffer. But Niusulu isn’t the only washed up Pac-10 player to end up tooling around the Stott Center wondering where it all went wrong. Arizona QB/wideout Nic Costa and U of O receiver Jordan Carey are two more high-profile athletes that have both transferred to Portland State for next season. Costa couldn’t stick with the Wildcats due to problems with his coaches and Carey had some well-publicized issues with drugs.
But this is football, so different from real life where screw-ups have far more serious consequences. All three players should come in next fall and contribute, and the sins of the past will be forgotten or at least forgiven. Opportunity is waiting September 3 in Corvallis at Reser Stadium, a place that should be familiar for Costa, Carey and Niusulu.
Until that time all there is to do is wait and hope. Hope for a good team. Hope for a good season. Hope for redemption for three players who find themselves far away from where they hoped to be.