Isaac Sopoaga often uses his Samoan heritage to bring a unique energy into the 49ers locker room.
Known as one of the team’s emotional leaders for his enigmatic personality, Sopoaga showed that liveliness to the media during a press conference on Monday.
Sopoaga entered the media tent at 49ers headquarters and stepped up to the podium with headphones in his ears. The entrance puzzled most of the media members in the attendance until finally a reporter asked the nose tackle what he was listening to.
Sopoaga ran with it to start by pretending he couldn’t hear the question, which drew a loud laugh from the media present before he finally responded that he was listening to a musical genre not likely to make the team’s pre-game playlist anytime soon.
“I love my Samoan church music,” the 6-foot-2, 330-pounder said. “The words are strengthening. They are some powerful wise words.”
The upbeat tunes seem to be keeping the Samoan in a positive frame of mind through more than three weeks of training camp.
His positive outlook could also be attributed to the physical condition Sopoaga has entered the 2012 season in.
Sopoaga’s off-season training program is not the most orthodox.
Each April, Sopoaga returns to his home of American Samoa to compete in an intense and physically taxing rowing race.
Sopoaga represents his village of Fagasa in the annual Fautasi Race alongside his father Tupuola Laniselota, the boat captain. A Fautasi race consists of 40 rowers in long fiberglass boats rowing seven miles offshore. The rowers then set themselves at a buoyed start point before racing back into Pago Pago Harbor.
“It is really tough what we do back home in Samoa,” Sopoaga said. “When I leave here to go to Samoa, I don’t relax. Joining in those activities is like my extra offseason while I am away from our own facility. I do it so I can prepare myself for training camp and then the season.”
“Rowing is not easy. You have to row four miles in the morning and then you row eight miles out, eight miles in four times . That is about 40-plus miles under three hours. Then you have to run two miles home and you only rest for four hours and then you do the same thing. It is like double days.”
The offseason cross training has helped Sopoaga develop into a pivotal member of the 49ers defense.
At nose tackle in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme, Sopoaga commands double teams, which allow defensive ends and outside linebackers to rush the passer and gobble up outside runs.
Sopoaga set a career-high with 75 tackles, while tying a career-high with 1.5 sacks in 2010. After earning the starting spot for all 16 games in 2012, Sopoaga backed up his previous season’s performance with 68 tackles in 2011.
He also saw action at fullback the past two years and notably caught his first career NFL pass from Alex Smith last season. The completion went for 18-yards on a pivotal third-and-three, which set up a David Akers 26-yard field goal to clinch a win 20-10 over Cleveland in Week Eight.
Sopoaga’s talents on both sides of the ball could serve the team well as he helps advise defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, who is making waves this training camp by seeing time at tight end.
“Dobbs is a professional athlete,” Sopoaga said. “He knows what he is doing on offense and also on defense. There are talented guys and I am pretty sure Dobbs knows exactly what he is doing when he is on the field.”
The Samoan music seemed to really be working to lift Sopoaga’s mood as he remained complementary of all his teammates throughout his time with the media.
Sopoaga took time to say good things about all his teammates on offense especially speedy rookies like A.J. Jenkins and Chris Owusu.
The big man’s Samoan flair is a constant presence around the 49ers, and his mood on this day was especially light, perhaps as a result of the music he was listening to.
“It is a blessing,” Sopoaga said. “I don’t know where this lighting strike mindset came from. I guess listening to my Samoan church music works. The words are really down to earth.”
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