Man of Steel: Lavaka Shifts from Respondent to NFL Prospect with Selfless Work Ethics for Weber State | News, Sports, Jobs
Sherwin Lavaka describes his upbringing with down-to-earth simplicity.
The soft-spoken Weber State linebacker grew up in Kearns, Utah, as one of 10 members of the Lavaka family.
“It was tough. We struggled a lot, but we kept moving forward. I just tried to make the most of what I had,” Lavaka said.
In Kearns High School, Lavaka ran on track, wrestled, and played football and rugby – the latter sport that connects many Polynesians to islands where there is no football. He was the best at football, however, and he knew it gave him the best opportunity after high school.
It wasn’t a straight into college for the lean wide receiver and running back, who also played the occasional safety at Kearns. With her two brothers on mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, money was lacking in the house.
“He is very selfless. He’ll always be thinking of others, ”WSU linebacker coach Matty Ah You said of the all-conference linebacker. “There were times last year where we maybe had a lead into the fourth quarter, he’s the kind of person who calls out other guys to come in and play.”
So instead of pursuing college football opportunities, Lavaka went to work cutting and welding for a steel company in western Jordan. He says he usually worked about 60 hours a week.
His brother, Gus, returned from a mission and signed on to play for Oregon State. So Lavaka found his crampons, traveled to Ephraim, Utah, and walked to Snow College in 2017.
He had grown quite a bit during his year away from football, so Snow’s coaches moved him to linebacker, a position he had never played. He used his raw physical talents to make a name for himself and was a scholarship recipient before his first call camp ended.
Rick Bowmer, Associate Press Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) throws a pass as Weber State linebacker Sherwin Lavaka (13) falls during a college football game on September 2, 2021 in Salt Lake City.
In his second season at Snow, Lavaka totaled 45 tackles, two for a loss, one sack, with a forced fumble and a recovery fumble. He signed with Weber State ahead of the 2019 season and got what he felt like his first real tutelage from linebacker Matt Hammer and junior linebackers Noah Vaea and Conner Mortensen.
“It was a great learning experience,” Lavaka said. “Noah took me under his wing and taught me all about mike linebacker… everything just started to click.”
By the time of the spring 2021 season, Lavaka was the next man behind Vaea at center linebacker and Mortensen on the outside. At 6-1 / 1, 225 pounds, he had become a Division I linebacker.
“Sherwin is a guy who plays 110% every game. In practice, I often try not to give him as many reps because he doesn’t really need as many as maybe the guys behind him, and he just can’t stand that. He wants to be on every game, every rep, every special team, ”said Ah You. “What it does for our defense is it gives them a mindset of no matter who you are… you’re supposed to play a certain way, you play as hard as you can.
“He’s the type of player you build your culture around. We have several of these players on our team.
Vaea broke his arm in the Spring opener and never returned as the six-game season was too short for a comeback. Lavaka took his starting spot in the middle, totaled 26 tackles and two sacks and was named the All-Big Sky second team at the end of the season.
After graduating, Vaea decided to quit football despite the year of free eligibility granted to all athletes due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
So, Lavaka changed his number from 55 to number 13 from Vaea.
“I took his number just to remember him, because I admire him,” Lavaka said.
Ah You added, “Of course we miss Noah, but Sherwin stepped in and did a great job. He was all-conference for a reason, he’s a great player.
Last week in the loss to James Madison, Lavaka totaled seven tackles, one for loss, behind just eight tackles for Mortensen. Halfway through the first quarter, Lavaka visibly filled a ceiling on a run game against JMU’s Kaelon Black, stopped Black in his tracks near the line of scrimmage with a pop, and battled him for the tackle.
“He had so many good plays in this game,” said WSU head coach Jay Hill. “He was physical, he was downhill, he did a good job on the cover. And, he had one of those key missed tackles we’re talking about that really cost us in the third quarter.
“What’s cool about Sherwin is that I guarantee you he’ll watch more movies this week, come back and train like crazy, because it hurt him. The reality is he’s one of the best linebackers in the country. He’s going to be an NFL guy, he’s got NFL scouts starting to really like him.
Not bad for a guy who entered college after a year of working in a steel mill.
“I’m just thankful they took a chance on me. I’m just a kid from Kearns, ”Lavaka said. “They welcomed me with my family. (Ah you), he teaches me everything, a bit like a big brother does. And all of our guys, our bond is so close, we complement each other… I’m glad they took a chance on me.