LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- Benning Potoa'e walked out of the locker room wearing a bright red beanie. His hair, twisted in tight braids, dangled just above his shoulders.
Wearing a pair of dark-rimmed glasses -- simply for style -- the sophomore defensive end’s look belied his age.
Only 15 years old, Potoa’e (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes) is already 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds. His motor matches his size. And his talent trumps anything Lancers coach Dave Miller has ever seen.
“He’s probably as good as we’ve had right now,” Miller said.
Young, talented and tough, Potoa’e is already an uncovered commodity among college coaches, a man-child with a high football IQ. He has proven himself to the point where Miller can’t project what the future holds for his sophomore standout.
“It’s going to be fun to see,” Miller said. “Does he grow a little more? Does he get thicker? He’s pretty strong right now. I can’t project, because he’s better than anybody at that position that I’ve ever had.”
After watching his older brother, Sione Potoa'e -- a junior defensive tackle at Washington -- go through the recruiting process, Potoa’e knows what to expect. He understands his talent and size will lead to added attention at an early age.
He doesn’t worry about it. Right now, he just enjoys playing high school football.
“I’ve adapted to football to the point where it’s something I don’t do just to stay in shape, just to have fun,” Potoa’e said. “I treat it like my life. If it’s not football, then it’s nothing.
“I know I sort of have an advantage on people my age and a few who are older, but it’s not something I brag about. It’s just there. I like speaking with my actions on the field.”
Potoa’e started playing football in third grade. Even as a child he had a size advantage. He enjoyed “rag-dolling” people.
“I enjoyed being good at something,” he said. “The more I learned, the more I got closer to the sport.”
When he wasn’t playing football, he wrestled with his older brother, who was a blue-chip recruit when he signed with the Huskies in 2010.
“We wrestled a lot on the bed, just everywhere,” Potoa’e said. “We got into a few fist fights. I wouldn’t win. He took it easy on me sometimes, because he’s way stronger than me.”
Potoa’e took every opportunity to learn from his brother. He took tips on football. He figured out how to work in the weight room. He started to understand that success in the classroom was as important as accolades on the field.
“He always helped me out with the things I needed help with,” Potoa’e said. “He was somebody I could tell anything to. He’s the closest family member to me. I can tell him something I can’t tell my sisters, my parents.”
Always active, Potoa’e is rarely inside. He enjoys working in the weight room, but also writes poetry.
When asked about his future, he talked about graduating high school with a 3.4 grade point average before securing a scholarship. His football future will sort itself out as he gets older. Until then, he is committed in the classroom.
With his brother playing for the Huskies, people are already asking Potoa’e if he plans to follow in his brother's footsteps. Right now, Potoa’e said he really likes USC, LSU and Alabama.
But, with a few years to make a decision, he has all the time he needs. His current concern is a strong sophomore season.
“If you’ve got the right mindset, a big heart and you’re ready to go, then big things will happen,” he said.