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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Higland HS (Gilbert, AZ): Nuku Latu

Nuku Latu: DE/TE, 6'2, 250, Sr (Highland HS, Gilbert, AZ)

5A spotlight on Nuku Latu
Two years ago, the school Nuku Latu attended dropped football, and he needed a place to play. Fortunately for Gilbert Highland, he landed with the Hawks.

‘‘He played at a charter school and they folded their program,’’ Highland coach Preston Jones said. ‘‘We’ve had him for two years. He’s the kind of kid we wish we had for another year or had from the start.’’

Latu, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior, leads Highland in receiving (25 catches) and sacks (six). His contribution this year was expected to be mostly on offense. He’s provided more.

‘‘He’s been better on defense than we thought,’’ Jones said. ‘‘He proved he’s tough enough to handle it. Heck, he just turned 17. He’s young and he’s going to get a lot better in college.’’

Latu is one of the few players to have gone head-to-head with Chandler defensive end Cameron Jordan and come out even or a little better.

‘‘(Chandler) Coach (Jim) Ewan said they were really impressed with his hitting,’’ Jones said. ‘‘There were a couple plays where he and (Cameron) Jordan met and it sounded like two trains colliding.’’

Latu is glad Highland got a chance to redeem itself from a game it lost that it should have won. The Hawks blew a 17-0 lead against Sierra Vista Buena the second week of the season. Highland made the turn with a 3-2 record and had Gilbert, Hamilton and Chandler left on the schedule. They knew they needed to win one of those games to be in the playoff hunt. ‘‘Beating Gilbert was big for us,’’ Latu said.

Latu’s timing was perfect. Four of his six sacks came in that game, and he caught a 2-point conversion that ended up being the difference.

Playing at the next level may be an option. Idaho will be on hand to watch Latu play tonight against Chandler Basha in the first round of the playoffs. Boise State, Wyoming, San Diego and South Dakota State are also interested.

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