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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Norwalk HS (CA): Uaita Emosi

Big man on campus
By Ben Villa, Staff writer

Before Lane Kiffin became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, he spent some time at Norwalk High last season.

He was not lost.

He wasn't looking for Mayfair or asking for directions to Poly. He knew exactly where he was and what he was doing.

Kiffin was recruiting for USC at the time and he was there trying to land Uaita Emosi, a 6-foot-3, 360-pound offensive lineman so talented and so smart, that his transcripts even make Ivy League recruiters blush.

Kiffin went to Lancers coach Dean Gray's door thinking he would get in right away, but on that day, he had to wait outside just like everybody else. The Harvard recruiter was there first.

That should say a lot about Emosi, a player so gifted physically and mentally, that he not only put Norwalk back on the map, he also made it a must-stop on the recruiting trail.

Emosi figure's to become the first Lancers player since 1991 to sign a Division I scholarship. Tonight at 7 o'clock, he's hoping to help Norwalk (2-0) remain undefeated when it takes on La Serna (1-0) in a nonleague game at Excelsior High.

"Lane Kiffin, I mean Lane Kiffin, who's now coaching the Raiders, was here in my office twice last season trying to recruit Uaita," Gray said. "A bunch of really big-name people have been coming through my doors lately, and I'm loving it.

"That hasn't happened around here for 16 years. USC, Harvard, Penn, Columbia, all have been here to talk about Uaita. Can you imagine a guy from Harvard looking at a Lancer? That's my greatest joy. Not watching him play, but looking at his grades. That's what separates him from a lot of players."

Over the last decade, Norwalk has been a virtual football wasteland full of revolving-door coaches and losing seasons. No self-respecting recruiter would have ever visited the campus, unless they were looking for La Mirada.

However, Emosi has started to change that. With his massive size and 3.9 GPA, the Lancers have gone from Suburban League laughing stock to a team that's competitive each week.

Two years ago, Norwalk went 3-7 followed by 5-5 in 2006. And after starting 2007 2-0, who knows?

"We want to be better than 5-5, we want to make the playoffs," Emosi said. "But we're not in position to take anybody lightly. We're still going to take things one game at a time and try and get better every game."

Emosi is a two-year All-Suburban League selection, and this season, he's helped make the offensive line the strength of the Norwalk squad. Through two games, the Lancers are averaging 383 yards a game rushing and their top two running backs - Jose Guzman and Robert Penny - are each averaging over 11 yards per carry.

While those numbers are certainly impressive, they hardly compare to the ones on Emosi's transcripts. He's taking honor roll classes and he's never received a C in his life.

That's the biggest reason recruiters are flocking to Norwalk to talk to Gray. Not only can Emosi help their football team win, but also they don't have to worry about his academics.

"When colleges see his grades, they see a person with a lot of character," Gray said. "They don't have to worry about him in the classroom and they love that. Now, they can just concentrate on coaching him.

"He's a student before he's a football player. If he hasn't received a C yet, he's not going to now."

"Academics always come before football," Emosi said. "Academics are going to take me further in life and my parents always wanted me to focus on school first. They didn't have the same opportunities as I did growing up and they want better for me.

"When the letters first started coming in, I didn't know how to handle it. It was overwhelming, knowing colleges wanted me. I didn't want to get a big head so I'm trying to do everything that's right. Hopefully, when people look at me, that's what they'll say."

Eric Peterson was the last Lancers football player to sign a letter of intent, but he did it way back in 1991 when he committed to San Diego State. Emosi hinted on Tuesday that he might follow Peterson's footsteps and become an Aztec, but if he had to choose right now, Utah is in the lead. That's a thought that doesn't sit to well with his mother.

"She wants me to stay closer to home," Emosi said. "When I first mentioned Utah, the thing she said was that's far. But she's just saying that. She wants the best for me and if Utah is it, she'll stand by me 100 percent.

"I never thought about somebody paying for my education. Sometimes there's some pressure that goes with it, because everybody is looking up to me, but I think I'll be able to handle it."

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