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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Menlo-Atherton: Siosaia Haatoa

Thursday Oct 12

Victor Maccharoli / Daily News

Menlo-Atherton's Siosaia Haatoa only has eight carries in two PAL Bay Division games, but has scored touchdowns on six of them.

Athlete of the Week: M-A fullback a TD machine

Haatoa shines on and off the field for the unbeaten Bears

Fullback Siosaia Haatoa has carried the football eight times in two Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division games for Menlo-Atherton. Six of those carries have ended with him standing in the end zone, watching the scoreboard lights flicker six additional points to the Bears' total.

That means he's scoring 75 percent of the time he carries the ball.

Two weeks ago against San Mateo, Haatoa only had three carries for 1-, 20- and 8-yard runs. That sounds meager, but these efforts resulted in three touchdowns. So, technically, he picked up 100 percent of the potential yards.

Against South San Francisco High last week, Haatoa didn't max out all five of his carries. But he did take three the distance, scoring all of the Bears' touchdowns. His last, a 1-yard plunge, erased a Warriors' one-point lead with six seconds remaining, and bagged a 19-14 win for the Bears.

Still, Haatoa is not satisfied. Like his team's record, he wants to remain perfect in all aspects of his game, or at least stay close to it.

With the Bears (5-0, 2-0) off to a great start, and opposing teams struggling to stop Haatoa in front of the goal line, winning and offense only account for 66 percent of his game.

"I've played good on offense, but I prefer playing defense," Haatoa said. "I am a defensive player, you know? It's weird because I am playing better offensively."

Haatoa fancies himself as a linebacker first. After all, last year a stack of letters from colleges piled up in the M-A athletic office before Haatoa played fullback. That's why his expectations are so high on defense, and he expects to match his offensive performances.

"He's got 36 tackles this year," said Bob Sykes, a first-year varsity coach at Menlo-Atherton who was previously an offensive assistant at the University of Nevada at Reno. "He's got something like four sacks, too."

M-A also has two shutouts this season, a sign that Haatoa has done his job on defense.
The Bears have also bounced back from a disappointing 1-9 season in 2005. Although a major part of their success can be attributed to incoming players from a polar opposite J.V. squad (9-1), incoming players immediately respected Haatoa.

"He's a quiet guy, but he's a leader," said quarterback Troy McCabe, who passed for a 140 yards against South San Francisco. "We respect him. We know his capabilities."

Sykes, a coach with an offensive mind-set, came to the conclusion his linebacker should run based on size and mobility. Despite Haatoa's 6-foot-1, 240-pound build that derives from genetics, Haatoa's speed stems from another part of his life.

"We weren't that surprised that he could run," McCabe said. "He is a rugby player. We knew he could run well."

According to Haatoa, a member of the East Palo Alto Razorbacks, rugby developed his "physical strength and quickness."

As a sophomore, he discovered the popular European sport, and Haatoa, whose favorite subject is math, began dividing time between football and rugby.

Haatoa is not half football, half rugby. He's a combination of both - a complete athlete, which has made him a complete football player.

"I like both sports," Haatoa said with a smile. "Yeah, I like them both."

He is also the complete student-athlete, and carries, not just the football, but a 3.3 grade point average. His solid marks in the classroom, a strict requirement local schools look at, might allow him an opportunity to attend college and play with his parents and seven sisters nearby next year.

"He would love to go to Cal," Sykes said. "He won't be making any decisions until after the season, though."

Staying in the area also permits Haatoa to attend church with his family, which he does every Sunday in Menlo Park.

"I am a very religious person," said Haatoa, a Methodist who thanks God along with his offensive and defensive line for his team's success. "That's important to me."

Haatoa's conversion to fullback has proved valuable, and Sykes' discovery is comparable to finding a rare silver dollar stashed in the attic He has two faces on the field - linebacker and fullback - but away from the game, there are more than two sides to this coin, and all seem to shine.

When the Bears take on Burlingame this Saturday at 3 p.m., Haatoa hopes to shine in one area more than the others.

"Yup," Haatoa said. "I want to play good defense."

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