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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hemet High (CA): Tevita & Samiuela Stevens

By MATT VEVODA
The Press-Enterprise

HEMET - For more than a decade, the Stevens brothers have been symbols of Hemet High School football.

But this season marks the end of the Stevens era as the last of the five Tongan brothers, twin seniors Hamani and Samiuela, play their final year for Hemet.

"We've been here so long that we're kind of enrooted with this school. When you think of Hemet High football, you think about the Stevens brothers," Samiuela said.

Hamani, the youngest brother by a mere nine minutes, may be the best Stevens yet.

The 6-foot-3, 290-pound offensive lineman is one of the most highly recruited players in the country, evident by his ranking as the No. 1 center prospect in high school football by the rivals.com Web site.

"You see high school kids all the time. You don't see many like him. Hamani's the complete package," said Bulldogs coach Andy Boynton, who in his 13 years with the Bulldogs has coached all of the Stevens brothers. "He's so special. There's no question about it. I doubt I'll have the opportunity to coach another like him ever."

While being projected as a center at the college level, Hamani Stevens has not played the position since he was a Bulldogs freshman. The senior, who serves as a right tackle for the Bulldogs, is not fazed by the position change.

"I like blowing up the inside. I just like that position better," Hamani said. "A lot of colleges look at me as the prototypical center."

Eight boxes filled with college recruitment letters sit in Stevens' room at home.

The buzz about Hamani began circulating when he was a sophomore, when recruiters from the University of Oregon told Boynton they would have no problem taking Stevens right then.

"I was shocked. I said, 'I'm just a sophomore. They want me to come play for their school?' It was pretty crazy," Hamani said of the many offers.

Colorado's recruiting effort, for example, included a bundle of fake money with the picture of Coach Dan Hawkins on the bills.

"It's little things like that where I'm like, 'Wow, they must be going through a lot of things to try and get me to this school,' " Hamani said.

The recruiting process seemed to be over in June, when Hamani told UCLA that he would accept a scholarship offer.

But Stevens soon changed his mind, feeling that he had been rushed into a decision.

"The coaches were telling me they were low on scholarships and that if I didn't commit early, I might not have it," Stevens said of UCLA, which the Web site scout.com said currently has 24 players pledged to be part of its 2008 class.

"I realized I wasn't ready to actually make the final decision and I went and talked to the coaches -- and we got everything settled out," he said.

Hamani is still considering UCLA, along with Oregon, Arizona State, BYU and Colorado, where the lineman is scheduled to be picked up by limousine to begin his visit Saturday.

"A limo pulling up in front of our house, that's just great," Samiuela said. "I'm loving it too. I'm his twin brother."

Separation next year will be a difficult adjustment for the twins. San Diego State is looking at Samiuela as an outside linebacker prospect.

"Ever since we we've been born, me and him have been together," Samiuela said. "We've just said whatever happens, we'll go with it."

The departure of the final Stevens brothers will also weigh heavily on Boynton.

"Hamani and Samiu, they've been riding the bus since they were 5 years old. It's going to be a tough parting at the end of the season to see the last two Stevens brothers go," Boynton said.

As he and his brother write the closing chapter of the Stevens era at Hemet, Hamani wants his senior year with the Bulldogs to be a memorable one.

"I feel honored to be part of this great tradition," he said. "To finish it out, the last two Stevenses to come through Hemet high, I think we've got to do something that someone will remember."

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