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Panthers take guard in second round

Posted Apr 27, 2012

CHARLOTTE - A massive sign in the Panthers' offensive line meeting room pounds home a simple but strong message: "Good is not good enough. Dominate."

With the eighth pick in the second round of the NFL Draft, the Panthers grabbed a player in Amini Silatolu that did just that on the Division II level and that they hope can do the same in the pros.

"He'll drive a guy into a pile and just keep driving, and all of a sudden that pile will start to go forward. That's a nasty finisher," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said of Silatolu. "He dominated the guy he lined up against. That makes you think it's going to be a fairly easy transition to our level – not easy, but fairly easy."

Rivera said Silatolu, who played left tackle Midwestern State the past two seasons, could compete for the Panthers' starting job at left guard this season.

As an offensive lineman at a Division II school, Silatolu obviously isn't a household name, but most draft experts considered him one of the top three guard prospects in the draft.

The Panthers liked him at least that much.

"We weren't going to move back if he was there. I think we could have had some opportunities (to trade down), but we just felt strong enough about him to stay and make that pick," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said.

"When you're trying to evaluate a player that's playing on the Division II level, you look for him to dominate his competition. That's exactly what he does. When you put on tape of the guy, you see it."

Rivera first took note of Silatolu, a 6-4, 311-pounder, when Hurney was watching some tape of him late last season as he began to map out travel plans for his scouting staff.

"I asked Marty what he was watching, and he said, 'You've got to watch this kid finish,' " Rivera said. "He came down from the line and got on this linebacker and 'black-lined' him. He took him outside the black line of the screen. That was impressive.

"I was saying, 'I hope a guy like that is around,' and lo and behold, three-and-a-half months later, we're looking at this guy as a part of our football team."

It's a future that Silatolu couldn't have possibly imagined just a couple of years ago.

Silatolu, whose parents moved from their native island of Tonga before he was born, played football at San Joaquin Delta College after a solid high school career. He blossomed into a junior college All-American and signed to play at the University of Nevada. However, he did not qualify academically.

In the fall of 2009, he didn't even play football but soon got an opportunity at Midwestern State that would change his life.

"2009 was a bad year all around. I was out of football, and I lost my grandma and my uncle," Silatolu said. "It was a crazy year, but it motivated me.

"I just wanted to start playing. I had a great spring over there (at Midwestern State), and I just balled out my next two years. I started thinking about the pros after my junior year, after different scouts talked to me. I realized I might be able to play at the next level, and here I am today."

Hurney said that Silatolu, like first-round draft pick Luke Kuechly, brings a hard-working, hard-nosed edge that the Panthers want.

"Every game and every practice I've ever competed in, I've always played my heart out, played full speed," Silatolu said. "That's my fun – I like to have fun that way."