Few high school football players are capable of eliciting a buzz of anticipation — that feeling that something special is about to happen — whenever they get a ball in their hands.
What’s even more rare is when a 6-foot-1, 285-pound defensive lineman creates such a rise.
But for Mariner alum and soon-to-be Central Washington University Wildcat Windy “Bubba” Isaia, it comes with the territory of possessing a freakish blend of size and athleticism.
He’s developed a wow-factor reputation given the amount of carnage he leaves in his wake — whether it be lead blocking at fullback, bulldozing his way to a big gain on a handoff or flattening the poor soul, usually souls, whose job it is to tackle him after an opposing kicker leaves a kickoff short.
Isaia, who was named Windy after the grand chief of his Samoan village but now goes by Bubba, is best known for his dominance along the defensive line. A first-team All-Wesco 4A selection and a member of The Herald’s All-Area first team at defensive tackle, Isaia recorded 63 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and five sacks his senior year, helping Mariner to a 7-4 record and a postseason berth.
But his athleticism was most evident when he showcased it in the open field.
“I don’t think I will ever coach another 285-pound fullback that can run the ball and catch the ball and do those things with it,” Mariner coach Mark Stewart said. “He can go out and be the best player on the team and physically dominate. He physically sets the tone and gets after you.”
Isaia gets one last opportunity to showcase his rare ability at the high school level during the 53rd annual East-West All-State football game at 7 p.m. Friday at Lions Field in Moses Lake.
Isaia didn’t always possess the agility, power and speed he owns today. In fact, he was hardly a coveted player when he first starting playing football in fifth grade.
“I was the most uncoordinated kid on the team that no one ever picked,” Isaia said.
That began to change in middle school when his uncle started working with Isaia and his cousins on conditioning and quickness. But what truly catapulted Isaia into a class of his own was when he began playing rugby in seventh grade.
Isaia recalled watching one of his cousins play for the first time. That night he went home, typed in “Samoan rugby” into YouTube and saw a wide array of big, strong athletes with cat-like quickness and power.
The next day his mom signed him up, and he’s been playing ever since.
“Rugby has helped develop my skills, cutting-wise and being more humble, too,” Isaia said. “When rugby kicked in, it helped me run and get my running mechanics down.”
Isaia was involved in the Mariner offense for the first time last fall, but he and his teammates had been lobbying for him to play a fullback, H-back type role for a couple years. They had witnessed his rugby ability and were excited to see how it would transition to lead blocking or carrying the ball.
“We kind of missed out on having him (on offense) the year before,” Stewart said. “This year we said, ‘Let’s get him over there,’ and he had a great year.”
Isaia consistently set a physical tone for Mariner with big hits early in games, but for as physically dominating a player as he was, he was also one of the first to extend a hand to help up an opposing player.
That humble attitude contributed to what made Isaia a unique football player and person at Mariner. He was well-respected not only among his teammates, but also by his peers in the classroom. Stewart recalled several times hearing about altercations at school that were stemmed because Isaia stepped in and squashed them.
“More importantly (than skill), he is just a big, fun-loving guy that is great with his friends,” Stewart said. “He’s great with everybody he meets. He has a lot of personality. When something was going on at school, he was always there trying to calm down the fight. A couple times, the principal told me he was there and if Bubba wasn’t, those guys would have gotten into it. He’s just a great peacemaker. It’s hard to pick anyone around school who had that.”
Such a grounded attitude, which Isaia credits to his mom, combined with his skill, has given Stewart every reason to believe Isaia will succeed at the next level.
Isaia will arrive in Ellensburg for CWU football camp on Aug. 6, but first he’ll share one more high school moment where he can showcase the glowing reputation he earned during his years at Mariner High School.
4A/3A all-state game
The 53rd annual all-state football game pits Washington’s top seniors against one another in a matchup of East vs. West.
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Lions Field (Moses Lake)
Local players selected to play in the game:
Oliver Dilts, OL/DL, Kamiak
Michael Kirkman, RB/LB, Lynnwood
Jacob Laban, OL/DL, Lynnwood
Darius Brown, RB/DB, Mariner
Windy “Bubba” Isaia, RB/DL, Mariner
Quinton Bourgette, TE/LB, Meadowdale
D’Andre Bellamy, OL/LB, Oak Harbor
Sam Zook, OL/DL, Oak Harbor
Josh Johnston, WR/DB, Snohomish