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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Payson bruiser set to bust out

By Jim Rayburn
Deseret Morning News
Published: August 12, 2007
PAYSON — Coming off a season in which he was one of the state's top 10 rushers, Payson fullback Leroy Unga is only hoping he can have an even better year as a senior.

What he might unknowingly do, however, is put Payson Lions football back on the map. Some say Unga, at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, is the best-kept-secret of Utah prep football. Hidden away in south Utah County, he'd be mentioned regularly, many believe, in newspaper articles and on top 10 recruiting lists if he was playing football elsewhere.

But Unga and coach Jared Woolstenhulme believe they can do a lot this year to dispel that need-to-play-for-a-big-time-school myth. If Unga improves on his 1,100-yard season of a year ago and helps the Lions win a few more games and return to the playoffs once again, he will surely open some eyes and finally get the respect and recognition he deserves.

"If you are a player, college coaches will find you," Woolstenhulme said. "They don't care who you play for. If you are an athlete, they will find you."

Still, some admit that Unga and his family were tempted a few years back to take his football skills elsewhere — to a bigger school with bigger linemen and a school that catches more newspaper headlines. But the Unga family resisted that urging and has remained loyal to Payson's program.

"His dad laid down the line that he's a Payson man and Leroy's a Payson kid," Woolstenhulme said.

It's looking like the Lions and Unga are a good fit. Even in some obscurity last season, Unga still earned second-team All-State honors as he gained more than five yards per carry on a 4-6 team. A few colleges are showing interest in Unga, but he'd like a few more to come courting his skills.

"If I have another good year this year, I think they'll start taking a better look at me," Unga said.

Payson fans say Unga is one of those once-in-a-decade athletes. He's bigger and stronger this season, and he has the potential to be one of the school's best ever. He's fast, quick and runs with power.

"He's one of the best pure instinctive runners that I've ever seen. He runs really low, he knows when to lower his shoulder and he knows when to use his feet. You cannot tackle him one on one. He will run you over one time, and the next time he will juke around you," Woolstenhulme said.

Perhaps Unga's best assets, his coach says, are his humility and leadership skills.

"He's a great young man. He's focused, he cares and he never thinks he's bigger than the team or the coaches," Woolstenhulme said.

While Unga might be a secret to some, he's no mystery to the teams the Lions will be playing. Opponents know that Unga is sure to get 25 to 30 carries per game, and defenses know how difficult he is to bring down.

"Every team that plays us is going to know what they need to do, and that's stop Leroy," Woolstenhulme said. "So we have to be able to throw things at them that will keep them off balance."

Quarterback Misi Wolfgramm is a talented and elusive runner himself. The Lions should also have an effective passing game with big and skillful tight-end Alex Maynes. The Lions are depending on both to take a little attention away from their star runner.

"Take your pick — you're going to have to stop them or stop me," Unga said.

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