Too many Aggie fans will never now how good a player Shana Leaupepe would have been this year on the football field. Worse yet, far too many will never get to know how good a person he was off it.

A soft-spoken, gentle giant away from the field Leaupepe could flip a switch between the sidelines to become a feared, punishing defender who was chosen by coaches as the worthy successor to fill the huge shoes left by former Aggie Jimmy Cottrell at the middle linebacker position.

Although he never played a down of football in the Crimson and White jerseys of New Mexico State University, this coming season will have plenty of Leaupepe's legacy shining through the resurgent play of his teammates.

At a time when many people — especially young, college-aged kids — would resign themselves to the fact that they are part of a dismal football program, owners of the nation's longest losing streak (13 in a row dating back to the end of the 2004 season), the Aggies never hung their heads this offseason. They never carried themselves like a losing program.

Either they didn't know any better, or they knew something the rest of us did not. By the time spring football practice began in April, it was apparent the Aggies' confidence was due to the latter.

The Aggies this offseason were leaps and bounds ahead of where they were a year ago and they had a genuine belief a foundation for a brighter future was being laid beneath the wreckage of their winless 2005 campaign. And quietly taking one of the leading roles in the program's transition from 0-12 to the future was Shana Leaupepe.

It was a handful of players like Leaupepe who allowed hope to survive in the Aggies' locker room this offseason. He was one of those guys destined to surprise everyone who played the Aggies this year as an unbelievable on-field talent who never showed up on last year's scouting films and he was a shoe-in to contend this season for All-Western Athletic Conference honors. The Aggie players and coaches knew the coming year was going to be better because of talented players and respected leaders like Leaupepe.

But you'd never know any of this from him. He didn't talk a big game, he just played one. If there were ever a living, breathing example of the proverb "speak softly and carry a big stick" it was Shana Leaupepe.

The 6-1, 245-pound American Samoan native had a humble disposition which made him a horrible interview, but an admirable person. I won't ever forget the brief time I had covering him, talking to him and the impression he made on me. He carried himself the way you'd hope your own son does one day — the way you wish more athletes did today.

In the all-too-often isolated world of sports, sobering news such as that which hit the Aggie football family Saturday forces a regrouping of priorities and a refocus on the important things in life.

Mourning a loss is a very personal process each person must deal with on their own terms.

If the Aggie teammates Leaupepe left behind choose to honor his life this coming season by emulating his work ethic and discipline as a football player, nobody will have to worry about another 0-12 season. But an even bigger tribute would be if those teammates decide to honor him by emulating the way he conducted himself as a teammate and as a person.

This fall, the Aggies likely won't be competing for a league title, but they will show signs of improvement. And even though Shana Leaupepe won't make one tackle or intercept one pass this season, the legacy he leaves behind has already improved the 2006 Aggie football team.

Geoff Grammer can be reached at