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Friday, September 28, 2007

Ex-Little League star shines on another stage

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

Barely two years after his face flashed across the nation's television screens and on the front page of The Honolulu Advertiser — not to mention throughout parade routes in 'Ewa Beach and Waikiki — Vonn Feao is back to being a regular teenaged face in the crowd.

But maybe not for long.

Feao, the fierce-faced, fire-throwing closer for 'Ewa Beach's 2005 Little League World Series championship team, is now a sophomore fullback for Saint Louis School's No. 1-ranked football team.

And after last week's breakout performance against No. 2 Punahou (12 carries, 94 yards), he is showing the potential to become a center-stage performer to watch once again.

"He has great instincts, does some things you cannot coach," Saint Louis coach Delbert Tengan said. "He hits the hole hard, but he also knows how to cut back when there's an opening and juke the safety. He's also a great blocker, and he helped us with our pass protection."

After rushing for 31 yards on just six carries in his first two varsity games (he missed the 'Aiea game with a tweaked neck), Feao broke out fast on the Crusaders' opening drive against Punahou last week.

On his first carry, he shot through the line for a 14-yard gain. On his next rush, Feao fought for five yards, and then he ran seven yards on third-and-5 for a first down on the Buffanblu 11-yard line.

His three runs for 26 yards helped Saint Louis assemble an impressive 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and a 7-0 lead.

On the first drive of the second half, Feao's 29-yard scamper helped set up Micah Mamiya's 34-yard TD pass to Lucas Gonsalves as the Crusaders moved ahead for good en route to a 28-14 victory.

"I just tried to get as much yards as I could," Feao said. "It was a breakout game for me, but only because of the (offensive) line. I wouldn't have gotten those yards if it wasn't for the line."

Feao learned the importance of teamwork during 'Ewa Beach's magical ride to the World Series title, a journey that was captured in live ESPN broadcasts from Williamsport, Pa., and then on SportsCenter highlights every night.

Feao, whose fierce scowl made for great TV after every dramatic strikeout in the final two innings of the championship game, quickly became one of Hawai'i's most recognizable faces.

But he then transitioned to his role as a linebacker for the Waipi'o Panthers youth football team, and enrolled at Saint Louis in the fall of 2006 after finishing Ilima Intermediate in 'Ewa Beach.

"It was a big change," Feao said.

For one, it meant waking up at 6 a.m. to make the long trek from Mililani (where his family moved after the World Series) and not getting home until 7:30 after intermediate football practice.

It also meant wearing a new school uniform and adjusting to private school life.

"I have a better focus now, more on school," Feao said.

He also changed positions in football. "I wanted to carry the ball," he said.

Despite the national attention from the year before, Feao entered Saint Louis without much fanfare.

"He had no celebrity status at all," Tengan said. "Everybody knew who he was, but to his credit he wanted to just blend in and he was very low-key. He's very soft-spoken and business-like, and even on the field he works hard and there's no talking.

"Sometimes, when a kid has had the kind of attention he had (in Little League), other kids tend to be jealous, but for him it was easy for the other kids to like him."

Feao credits something else for his anonymity at Saint Louis.

"I had to cut my hair," he said, referring to the long mane he had flowing out the back of his Little League cap.

Feao joined former 'Ewa Beach teammates Kaeo Aliviado, Sheyne Baniaga and Kini Enos on the Crusaders' JV baseball team, which is coached by former 'Ewa Beach coach Layton Aliviado. Feao was the catcher and also served as the team's closer.

Feao played on the intermediate football team because a baseball trip caused him to miss several weeks of JV football practice.

But now, as a solid, 5-foot-9, 202-pound 15-year-old, he has made the big jump to varsity.

"He's not very big, but he has a lot of natural strength and has really strong drive in his hips and legs," Tengan said.

Feao said the varsity game is "a lot faster" and "a big difference" from intermediate.

"I love being part of this program," he said. "We have great tradition and great coaching."

Feao said he still hangs out with former 'Ewa Beach teammates Michael Memea and Alaka'i Aglipay, and the team reunited at Ty Tirpak's house to watch the Little League World Series final last month.

"It was exciting," he said.

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