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Thursday, September 07, 2006

San Lorenzo Valley's Julius Sosaia, the growin' Samoan

August 31, 2006

SLV's Sosaia, the growin' Somoan


San Lorenzo Valley High's Julius Sosaia, who is part Samoan, believes he has a growth spurt left.

Scary. The Cougars' senior football player is 6-foot-4, 245 pounds.

"I don't think I'm done," said Sosaia, a tight end and linebacker. "I'm still 16."

He's the growin' Samoan. You could also call him the "Big Cat," a play on SLV's cougar mascot.

That suggestion draws laughter from members of the Sosaia household.

The family cat, named Little One, tips the scales at 30-plus pounds. Little One is bigger than the family dog, "Lucky," a lhasa apso.

"Little One eats everything," said Eileen, Sosaia's mother. "Squirrels. Birds. It just brings just about everything in. He's a terminator."

The football player and pet aren't have some similarities. Sosaia is, pardon the pun, cat quick.

At the Nike Stanford camp last spring, he was twice timed in the 40-yard dash and turned in times of 4.9 and 5.0 seconds. Not bad for a big man.

"We get to see what kind of downhill speed he has standing up," Cougars coach Doug Morris said of Sosaia moving from defensive line last year to linebacker this year. "He's very strong and athletic. He's not lightning fast, but he runs a sub-5-second 40. He brings it."

Must be all those sprints he does to the dinner table. "He eats a lot," his mom said.

When Eileen makes meals for the family, she doubles the portions for Julius.

Because of his height, she had to buy him an extra long twin bed. Also, when her husband Lipano got her a new PT Cruiser for her birthday this year, Julius factored into the decision.

"He doesn't really fit in the other cars," Eileen said. "His head hits the roof in the '59 El Camino and sticks out the sun roof in the in the '74 Monte Carlo. I can't drive him around in the rain."

On the field, Sosaia's skills are huge, yet still growing.

"He started out like a lot of juniors," Morris said. "Because of his size, he probably expected to dominate. But you can't push people around like you're used to doing. But he was a major factor in the Palma [playoff] game. By that time, he'd gotten into the speed of things."

Sosaia turns 17 on Oct. 20, the day before the Cougars take on Santa Cruz in their Homecoming game.

SLV opens the season Saturday with a 2 p.m. home game against Valley Christian, the defending Central Coast Section Open Division champion.

"I think the kids look to him to play some ball," Morris said. "Obviously, he's not the only one."

Sosaia — who shines in the classroom — may be young, academically speaking, but he's a veteran on the field. He's one of a handful of returning players trying to help the junior-laden Cougars repeat as Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League champion and make another postseason run.

A mountain of a young man, Sosaia is the largest member of his family. His dad is 5-10 and his mom is 5-6.

"I think I eat every 15 minutes," the youngster said.

Sosaia, the youngest of three siblings, has twice been to Samoa. He's also been to Hawaii three times.

He embraces his heritage. He's a fan of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and he met San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga.

But it goes beyond that. Before the majority of games last season, Sosaia led the Cougars through the New Zealand-inspired haka tribal dance in the locker room.

Sosaia had displayed the motions of the dance during breaks in practice. Teammates asked him to perform it on the bus trip home from San Francisco after a win against St. Ignatius.

So intrigued were teammates, they asked Sosaia to teach it to them. One thing led to another and Sosaia asked Morris if the team could perform the invigorating dance before each game. Morris agreed as long as it stayed behind closed doors.

"I think it really boosts team confidence," said Cougars lineman Brandon Burgess. "It really hits me. It's a good dance. I think everyone takes it to heart."

In the past few years, many high schools throughout the section have performed the dance on the field. The most notable rendition was displayed by Seaside at midfield prior to its games, including a playoff contest against Scotts Valley last season.

"I can't wait to see them," Sosaia said of a Sept. 30 date with Seaside. "I love my culture. I'm all about my culture."

Several schools in San Mateo County, which has a large Samoan community, also perform the dance.

The Central Coast Section later set guidelines, mandating that teams performing the dance can't direct it toward another team.

"I'm just glad were able to do it," Sosaia said. "I respect coach Morris. He knows the point of us doing the dance is to fire us up, not parade around and intimidate people."

Unlike many other schools performing the dance, SLV's player base is predominantly white.

"We had kids who were worried others would look upon it as culturally demeaning, but we worked through that," Morris said. "They realized it was kind of bridging a gap between cultures. In the long run, it was something that brought us all together."

Sosaia also wears a lava-lava — the equivalent of a Scottish kilt — during pregame stretching. He says he has more lava-lavas than he does T-shirts.

"My aunt brings them back for us," he said. "They're multi-functional. On hot nights, I use them as blankets. I can also curl it up and use it as a pillow," he said.

And the food? Sosaia's mouth waters when he describes some of his favorite Samoan dishes.

His lean body is evidence he compensates for his big diet with a steady dose of weight lifting and running.

"He's too big for a lot of things," his mom said. "He'll be on a bike or something and I'll say, 'Get off it, you're too big for that.'"

He says, 'Mom, I'm not too big, I'm still 16.'"

She adds: "No, Juls. You're too big for it. Get off it."

No one is going to tell him to get off the football field. Every one in the Cougars program loves his size, and how he uses it.

Contact Jim Seimas at jseimas@santacruzsentinel.com.

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