Quick -- of the various players the Miami Dolphins started at the three linebacker spots in 2015, which one was ranked among the NFL's top 20 at his position by Pro Football Focus ? That's right: Koa Misi. The man whose full name (take a deep breath, folks) is Nawa'akoa Lisiate Foti Analesinoa Misi has been one of Miami's most enduring players on either side of the ball since being selected in the second round of the 2010 draft.
Going into that draft, the Dolphins, who, at the time, ran a 3-4 scheme, were widely reported to be looking at University of Texas outside linebacker Sergio Kindle. Kindle, however, lasted until the 43rd overall pick, when the Ravens drafted him, three spots after Miami selected Misi, in round two. While Kindle has been out of football for the past three seasons, Koa Misi has been one of the team's bright spots during his time with the Miami Dolphins. Over the past six seasons, Misi has efficiently and selflessly done whatever the team has asked of him, whether that be playing OLB, SLB or even MLB.
A defensive end during his collegiate career at Santa Rosa college, and later, the University of Utah, Misi made a seamless transition to outside linebacker in Miami's 3-4 alignment, and then to strongside linebacker, after the team switched over to a base 4-3 scheme a few years later. A typically unspectacular but crucial tackle Misi made, in a home game against Seattle, in 2012, exemplifies his value to the team, value that is often overlooked by the casual observer.
In the fourth quarter of a tightly contested game, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back to pass and looked for his security blanket, wide receiver Golden Tate. Against Miami's undermanned, patchwork secondary, Tate had been a reliable source of yardage and first downs all game, but this time, when Tate drifted into the flat to catch Russell's third down throw, Misi was waiting, and with no Miami defender within ten yards of the play, dropped Tate in his tracks, several yards short of the first down. Seattle was forced to punt, and on the ensuing possession Miami's rookie QB, Ryan Tannehill, hit tight end Charles Clay, on a deep pass down the middle to tie the game, and placekicker Dan Carpenter provided the margin of victory with a field goal in the game's waning moments to secure the win. In the papers the next day, Tannehill, Clay and Carpenter were rightly proclaimed the game's heroes, but without Misi's clutch tackle on that critical third down play, there's a good likelihood Miami would not have won that game.
Part of a growing contingent of NFL players of Polynesian descent, Misi owes much of his passion and love for the game to his father, who has followed his son's football career from the very beginning, back in little league. At halftime of one such game, Misi's father came down from the stands and confronted his young son, after a lackluster first half. Removing his son's helmet, his father head butted him and exhorted him to play harder, and with more fire. Today, with fellow 2010 draftee, strong safety Reshad Jones, Misi is the longest tenured player on the Dolphin defense, other than DE Cameron Wake (thanks for the correction, U-Neek) and, as has been the case just about every year since he arrived in the NFL, speculation abounds that he might be replaced.
There is a faction of fans who believe 2013 first round pick Dion Jordan will supplant Misi at the strong side linebacker position this Fall. Don't count on it. While there are better linebackers out there, until the Dolphins find one, they appear content to let Koa Misi fight the good fight.