How do you bench press 500 pounds?
If you’re Boise State senior defensive tackle Justin Taimatuia, you use your imagination.
That isn’t a bar he’s lifting. It’s the opponent he keeps in the back of his mind — a person he declined to identify.
“I’ll keep that to myself,” Taimatuia said Friday on the Broncos’ second day of fall camp.
The 6-foot, 298-pound native of American Samoa was a strong candidate to start last season until he redshirted because of surgery to remove calcium deposits from a heel.
He returned to the field in the spring and is one of the reasons the Broncos’ line is considered so fierce and deep this fall.
“He gets under the bench and it seems like he can just throw around the world,” junior defensive lineman Sam McCaskill said. “He’s a big, strong dude. It’s good to have him inside.”
Taimatuia played in all 13 games in 2013 after transferring from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. He made 29 tackles, tied for the sixth-most among Boise State linemen.
He immediately impressed defensive line coach Steve Caldwell in the spring of 2014, Caldwell’s first year in the program.
“He really had a shot at being the starter because I thought he had a fantastic spring,” Caldwell said.
Armand Nance won the job with Taimatuia on the sideline and excelled. Nance recorded 36 tackles, including six for loss, and became a team leader.
As camp began this week, their roles were reversed. Nance is out with an injury — he is expected to return soon — and Taimatuia is the man in the center of the defensive line.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill,” Taimatuia said. “Armand did a really good job last year.”
Taimatuia grew up in American Samoa, Hawaii and Southern California and still has family in each. He considers all three spots home.
He picked up football in high school in American Samoa and was recruited to Fort Scott. That’s where he realized how big college football is.
“I wanted to be out there,” he said.
Boise State found him at a time when the Broncos were in need of an impact tackle. He fit the mold of Mike Atkinson, the stocky nose tackle on the 2012 team.
“I knew they had a good program,” Taimatuia said of the Broncos. “I wanted to win. That’s why I came here.”
And he went to college in the first place because he wanted to play football, something he was unable to do all of last fall. He watched alongside another injured lineman, Tyler Horn. They analyzed what was happening on the field and discussed what they would do to correct errors.
Now both are back in uniform.
“I’m eager,” Taimatuia said. “I can’t wait to play. I’m happy to be out there with my brothers.”
His impressive summer in the weight room taught him how to become “relentless,” he said. He credits strength coach Jeff Pitman, a former offensive lineman, for instilling that attitude.
“I just want to give it all I’ve got — that’s it,” he said. “I want to contribute and I want to win. I want to help us win.”