Long journey reaches Corona
FOOTBALL: Linebacker Vaiomounga is in another world, making the change from rugby.
11:58 PM PDT on Tuesday, September 19, 2006
CORONA - Little did Corona High senior linebacker Nate Vaiomounga know at the time, but when his parents sent him from his home on American Samoa to spend the summer with relatives in Auckland, New Zealand, eight years ago, it was the start of the path to a possible college scholarship in football.
While in Auckland, Vaiomounga learned to play rugby. From New Zealand, he moved to America, first to Mesa, Ariz., then Anaheim and finally Corona. As a freshman, Vaiomounga went out for football.
Vaiomounga, who has 13 tackles and four sacks in two games this season, leads Corona (3-0) against visiting Riverside North (2-0) Friday.
From the start, Vaiomounga approached football with the fervor of a rugby player.
"He came in and made an immediate impact," Corona coach John Brandom said. "He didn't know what he was doing, but he hit people, which for a freshman is a big step in the right direction."
Gradually, Vaiomounga added skill and savvy. He broadened his game to include play at running back. As a junior, he was an All-Mountain View League first-team linebacker and All-Riverside County honorable mention selection.
This year, he's listed among the top 20 senior linebackers by Scout.com. And he's just 16 years old.
Oregon, San Diego State, Arizona State and New Mexico are among the colleges that have offered scholarships, Vaiomounga said.
"It's shocking," Vaiomounga said of the offers. "It's new to me. (Previously) I was thinking of going to college to just make it out there and be like one of the family members, to go to college."
When he started playing football, Vaiomounga had the legs of a rugby player. The 6-foot, 200-pounder has added upper body strength. He cleans 345 pounds and benches 310. He runs the 40 in 4.53 seconds. And he still plays rugby during the winter in Newport Beach.
Learning football was not easy.
"Rugby is like a nonstop game, and in football we get to stop and call plays. Rugby just goes until time runs out," Vaiomounga said.
Vaiomounga is not boastful about his accomplishments in football.
"He smiles and grins when you ask if he's going to have a good game," Ed Thomas, one of his teachers, said. "If he has a good game, and I say, 'I saw that tackle you made,' he'll kind of look down and not make direct eye contact."
When Brandom watches Vaiomounga on film, he's reminded of rugby.
"It's not one of those games where you can stand around and take plays off," Brandom said. "It's a constant hurry-up offense style of game. That's what he does. From snap to whistle, he's all over the place."
Reach Jerry Soifer at jsoifer@PE.com or 951-893-2112.