Costa Mesa HS
6'0, 245, Sr
DAILY PILOT HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE WEEK:
Mesa lineman adds leadership to his skills
FOOTBALL: Sapolu, a two-way starter for the Mustangs, answers coach's call for a verbal team leader.
London Sapolu prefers his football be played acoustically, with the guttural sounds from the trenches drowning out any unnecessary verbiage.
But as the Costa Mesa High Mustangs struggled through a 1-5 start, Coach Jeremy Osso found it increasingly difficult to allow his standout two-way lineman to continue to dominate unplugged.
"He is the guy everyone on our team looks up to, the guy everyone is a little scared of and intimidated by," Osso said of the 6-foot, 245-pound senior, who sparkles at left guard as well as defensive end. "We really needed him to take more a leadership role, which meant being more vocal with his teammates."
Sapolu reluctantly complied and the results — like those that follow his explosion from a three-point stance — were impressive.
"When [Sapolu] changed to become more of a vocal leader, it meant a big change in our team," Osso said. "When London made it clear how serious he was about doing things at practice, our guys started to take things more seriously as a team."
The result was a 16-7 nonleague upset of Cerritos Friday at Gahr High, which helped propel the Mustangs into Friday's Orange Coast League opener against crosstown rival Estancia with some much-needed momentum.
"[Osso] told me I needed to step up," said Sapolu, whose father, Jesse, was an All-Pro offensive linemen for the San Francisco 49ers and whose older brother, Luke, has been the starting center the last two seasons at Orange Coast College after starring for the Mustangs.
"He told me kids would listen to me, so, right away, I started speaking up in practice."
But instead of rattling off rah-rah speeches, Sapolu chose a more understated approach.
His advice is most often delivered in civil tones, typically face-to-face with small groups of teammates, often outside the auditory range of the coaches.
"If people are yelling at each other, I tell them to shut up," Sapolu said. "Or if guys aren't doing things they're supposed to be doing, I tell them to knock it off. Before, I was only worried about doing my job, so the coach wouldn't yell at me. Now, I want us to do things right as a team. And I'm not about to let my guard down."
Sapolu, though in only his third season of football, rarely fails to do things right between the snap and the whistle.
"He's a good offensive lineman, who gets amazing leverage for a guy his size," Osso said. "We try to run behind him, or have him leading the play after pulling, as often as we can."
Osso, however, said Sapolu's biggest impact can be felt when opponents have the ball.
"He's probably a better defensive player," Osso said. "Teams just have not been able to run anything at him this season."
Sapolu began his prep career at Canyon Springs High in Moreno Valley. Plans for him to start on the varsity as a sophomore at Canyon Springs were derailed by his mother, who insisted he improve his grades, before being allowed to compete.
After sitting out his sophomore season, Sapolu came to live with his father in Costa Mesa. He started at guard and linebacker last season, but admitted he didn't really start to get the hang of things until late in a forgettable 2-8 campaign.
This season, Sapolu, who now boasts a 3.6 grade-point average, has utilized help from his father and older brother to refine his technique on both sides of the ball.
He adjusted to playing end this season, but said defense has become his favorite.
"Offensive is more work and you get more tired," he said. "But on defense, you just get to hit people."
Sapolu, however, hasn't limited his big hits to defense this season. He is engaged in a friendly competition with his older brother, as well as a couple other OCC offensive linemen, to see who can record the most pancake blocks [achieved when an opponent is driven or launched to the ground on his back] this season.
"I don't know how many I have, but I know I'm leading," Sapolu said.
London Sapolu info
Born: May 19, 1989
Hometown: Costa Mesa
Postions: Left guard, defensive end
Coach: Jeremy Osso
Favorite food: Samoan food
Favorite movie: "Remember the Titans "
Favorite athletic moment: "Getting a sack to close out the Westminster game last year [a 47-6 Golden West League loss to the Lions]."
Week in review: He sparkled on both sides of the ball to help lead the Mustangs to a 16-7 nonleague victory over Cerritos Friday at Gahr High. He was part of the defensive front that held the Dons scoreless in the final three quarters.