Seumalo a quick study for a good reason
Veteran guard comes from a family mix of football, academics
By Dale Lolley  Jun 12, 2023

At 29, Isaac Seumalo is now the elder statesman on the Steelers offense.

Even so, he needed a history lesson from his father, Joe, when he signed a free agent deal with the team earlier this year after spending seven seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"When he signed with the Steelers, I said you're signing with an historic franchise," Joe Seumalo said. "I remember watching those teams, the Steel Curtain back in the day. He said 'I don't know the Steel Curtain.' I said, 'What do you mean you don't know the Steel Curtain?' He said, 'You mean the (Terrible) Towel?' I said, 'No, the Steel Curtain.' Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, all of them."

Isaac Seumalo might not have known the history of the Steelers then, but he's a quick learner. He's rapidly developed an understanding of the franchise and his new teammates.

"It's been awesome. The offensive line room is younger, but not necessarily inexperienced," Seumalo said of his new teammates, whom he has gotten to know during the Steelers' OTA sessions. "A lot of guys have played a bunch of games. It's been a good opportunity to help out where I can while also honing in on my craft while working against a good defensive line that we have. And Coach Tomlin is everything and more. I've enjoyed it so far."

Seumalo will continue that process this week as the Steelers hold their mandatory minicamp starting Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. And then, after that, the players will be off until the start of training camp at Saint Vincent College when they report on July 27.

So, where is home for Seumalo? That's where things get more interesting.

Joe Seumalo is a football coach, currently serving as the defensive line coach at San Jose State. As such, the Seumalo family had to move around a bit when Isaac and his siblings were younger.

Joe Seumalo was a defensive lineman at the University of Hawaii from 1985 through 1988 before spending time in the CFL with the Ottawa Roughriders, Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos. He ended his playing career in 1995 with the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe and during that time span, he and his wife, Karen, had five children, including four sons, Andrew, Isaac, Noah and Levi, and one daughter, Jessi.

Karen Seumalo's family is well established in the world of academia. Her father was a math professor, while her brother is a professor at Cornell.

It was the perfect environment for kids. But Karen Seumalo kept a strict classroom schedule. The kids might not have been in a traditional school, but the expectations were greater.

"My three boys, when it came to math and science, that stuff came easy to them," Joe Seumalo said.

And it led to Isaac being very analytical about his approach to things.

"The expectations and the standard, once you set a standard, that becomes the standard, regardless of what's relatively good for you," Isaac said regarding his home schooling and the tough grading. "It may objectively be good, but subjectively, it might not be good for you."

He approaches football much the same way.

Joe Seumalo was hired by Oregon State in 2006, which meant leaving California for Corvallis, Oregon. And that became home for the Seumalo family.

Joe was coaching defensive linemen, including Andrew, who would go on to become a team captain as a defensive lineman and is now the defensive line coach at Lafayette College in Easton. Pa. But Isaac was beginning to drift in another direction. Though he played on both sides of the ball at Corvallis High School, it became apparent he wasn't going to follow in his father's footsteps and play defense. His skill set would lead him to the offensive side of the ball.

"I played d-line in high school. It came down to I'd be better on this side," said Isaac, who was the No. 3-ranked interior offensive line prospect in the country as a senior according to

"Thankfully, I'm very blessed to have the opportunity to play offensive line in the NFL. It kind of worked out. As an offensive lineman, the more you know about defensive linemen, the better you can play. I see things from their perspective and what they do. It makes me more comfortable as an offensive lineman."

When Joe Seumalo's playing days were over, he became an assistant high school coach in Hawaii and Karen Seumalo and her mother chose to home school the children, something that continued even when Joe was hired by Cal-Poly University in San Luis Obispo after a stint as a grad assistant at the University of Hawaii.

Part of the home schooling was athletic testing in the backyard.

"We had the body drills and the ladder in the back yard when they were little," Joe Seumalo said. "I just wanted them to be in good shape to get ready for any sport they were involved in. I just wanted to make sure they were in great shape. I didn't want them sitting in the house all day. Most of them were getting home schooled. For the most part, they were getting home schooled. With Issac, I was living in San Luis Obispo, working at Cal Poly. We had a lot of free time when we were in Cal Poly."

The boys were training at football-type drills, even if they didn't always realize it.

"Me and my older brother used to do box jump drills and all kinds of crazy stuff in the backyard," Isaac said. "I don't regret it all. It was a good time."

Moving away from the islands wasn't easy for the two Hawaiian natives, but if Joe wanted to pursue coaching as a profession, it was a must.

And San Luis Obispo was an ideal spot to land.

"I think I married the right person for us to do these adventures and these journeys we've been on. She was excited when I got the position at Cal-Poly. She was like, 'Let's go,'" Joe Seumalo said. "Both of us were born in Hawaii and all of our kids with the exception of Levi, who is 13 years old now. My wife looked at it as just another adventure. It wasn't hard. For me, as well. California, if there was a place I wanted to land in for my first job, my first Division I job, San Luis Obispo is the most beautiful place in California. They have this thing called the Green Belt, you can't build homes there, you can't build anything. Everybody is outside."

Knowing the inner workings of what is going on in the minds of defensive linemen is one situation where having a dad who coaches that side of the ball is a huge benefit.

It also doesn't hurt that even though he plays offense, Seumalo does so with an edge.

"He had a defensive demeanor, but he wanted to play o-line," Joe Seumalo said. "All I said was that our relationship will never be the same if Isaac ended up playing d-line. He was right. He's got a defensive mindset playing o-line."

Isaac Seumalo's approach to playing offensive line aggressively comes from – what else – a well-thought out plan.

"I think the thing that gets overlooked on the offensive line is you have the ability and license to play violently at times," he said. "You're allowed to go out there and hit people without any regard for laws and rules of mankind. It's an awesome feeling."

An awesome feeling, indeed.

And Seumalo set a standard for that at Oregon State. Though Joe was a coach on the staff, that had no bearing with Isaac breaking into the lineup as a true freshman.

In fact, he became the first true freshman to start at center for the Beavers since Roger Levasa in the late 1970s. 

Seumalo earned freshman All-America honors and, despite missing the entire 2014 season with a foot injury that required several surgeries, wound up starting games at everywhere but left tackle on Oregon State's line during his four seasons there.

The Eagles selected Seumalo in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft and he was on the move again, this time going cross country to the East Coast.

"That was not a problem. If anything, the transition of going from California to (Corvallis) was probably a little bit of a challenge," Joe Seumalo said. "In terms of football, he was more than prepared – sometimes too much prepared. You get too much information, now you think you've got to do everything. That's that learning curve he went through early on. You don't have to do everybody's job."

It helped that he walked into a Philadelphia locker room that included a number of established veterans in tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, center Jason Kelce and guard Brandon Brooks.

"It was like walking into a high stakes poker room in the o-line room," Seumalo admits. "It was a great thing. They were willing to help guys, too. They weren't like, 'Ah, we're older.' They were open and accepting. I'm thankful for mentors like that."

They quickly became friends.

Seumalo and Kelce, in particular, bonded. And recently, the five-time first-team All-Pro admitted the Eagles will miss Seumalo dearly on their line this season.

"We're not going to replace Isaac," the 35-year-old Kelce said. "I think he's probably the smartest player I've ever been around. Really, really gifted physically, mentally, across the board.

"Isaac is a really, really special player. I know we've said that here for a long time, and I still don't think people really truly grasp what he did for our room. I think he's one of the best guards in the NFL, and I think he has been. I think he's one of the most consistent players I've ever been around, and one of the most consistent people I've ever been around."

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

Kelce himself is considered a very smart football player. And he and Seumalo pushed each other – sometimes with the prodding of Joe Seumalo.

Joe Seumalo said he watches Isaac's games as both a proud father and a football coach.

"A little bit of both. I'm looking for the effort," Joe said. "Get downfield and see if he can block one more guy. Can you go and block one more guy? I would point to Jason Kelce. 'Look at Jason. He's blocking a safety.' He expects the running back to outdo everybody on the line and linebackers. If he can get to the safety, that's the home run level.'"

It's an interesting dynamic and one reason why Seumalo has continued to get better and better each year.

When you're part of a football family, that's just a given.

Not only are the Seumalo boys all part of the game, Jessi Seumalo now is, as well.

A standout volleyball player in college, she transitioned to becoming a recruiting coordinator at Utah, Washington State and Oregon State. Now, she works in the scouting department for the San Francisco 49ers as player personnel coordinator.

"She loves it," Joe Seumalo said. "She was doing recruiting with Wazzu and Utah and she was a GA for recruiting at Oregon State and she was like, 'Dad, I'm not ever going back to college.' I'm going to do whatever it takes to stay here."

Kind of like Isaac in the NFL.

Before and after every OTA session this spring, he and the other Steelers offensive linemen would get extra work in, honing their craft.

Even at 29 years old, Seumalo is still learning and perfecting his craft.

As the son of a coach and former player himself, he has a good understanding of not just what it takes to get to the NFL, but to stick and be good for a long period of time.

And he has his upbringing to thank for that.

"It's a unique life, but I think it gave me a lot of advantages and insights being able to go to games and be able to spend time with other college coaches and college players and see the other side of it," Isaac said. "It was really cool."

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