Tough to get off the field at any time, the two-way player tries to lead Colts to City title..Jack Sula doesn't have a flashy nickname, tattoos from head to toe or an oversized ego. Instead, the 6-foot, 205-pound Carson senior running back and two-time Marine League player of the year has speed, strength, and a competitive streak that has helped the Colts reach the City Championship semifinals.
To play in the title game on Dec. 7 at the Coliseum, Carson (10-2) has to defeat visiting Los Angeles Dorsey (9-3) on Friday night. It's a rematch of last year's quarterfinal game, which the Colts won, 38-20.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Carson's last City championship was in 1999. It was in 2003.
It will also be the last game Sula plays on his home field.
"It's going to be another tough game," he said. "Last year, it wasn't easy. It was a dogfight. They came out pretty strong on us. We ended up finishing them off in the fourth quarter."
And this year?
"I wouldn't say we're taking them lightly or anything. They're in the way of our City championship dream. And they feel the same way about us."
Sula, 17, is considered one of the City's top two-way players. He has rushed for 1,591 yards and 24 touchdowns and has caught 19 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns. As a linebacker, he has made or assisted on 126 tackles, including three sacks, and intercepted one pass.
"You don't gain an appreciation of him until you watch him over time," Carson Coach Michael Christensen said. "His stats are not all luck or against a team that can't tackle. His durability separates him from most people. He doesn't ever want to come off the field."
Dorsey's coaches have a first-hand respect for Sula's durability. In last year's game, he rushed for 226 yards in 29 carries, wearing down the Dons' defense so Carson could break the game open in the fourth quarter.
"Our biggest fear last year was playing a big back who could run right at us because we weren't very stout up front," Dorsey Coach Paul Knox said. "And that's what Sula did."
The Dons may be surprised to learn that Sula played in that game and in the Colts' two other playoff games with a separated left shoulder. "It was painful. I had to wrap it up," he said. "Nobody knew but the trainer. But I couldn't do that to my teammates, be out of the game. If I can run, I can play."
Sula's mother Jessica Misaalefua, who does medical billing for Cedar Sinai Hospital, said she has "stopped counting" the injuries her football-playing son has collected, including ankle sprains, a concussion that cost him a couple of games this season, and several broken fingers.
In fact, he cannot bend or straighten his left ring finger and will need surgery to fix it. "I always have to remind him he's not made of iron," Misaalefua said. "Last year, when we went to doctors about his shoulder, they said don't play for three weeks. But two weeks was the longest he stayed out."
Sula smiled when asked about playing hurt. "I was brought up to believe that pain is only weakness leaving the body," he said. "Again, if I can run, I can play. I see a bigger picture than my health."
The oldest of six children, Sula picked up his love for football from his stepfather, Jack Misaalefua, a truck driver and independent contractor. Jack didn't play football at Carson but had two brothers, Jess and Jimmy Misaalefua, who did.
"He started bringing me to the games and I thought I wanted to do that, playing under the lights in front of all these people," Sula said. "So I was brought up watching Carson games, and from the first game I went to, I wanted to be a Colt."
College is on his mind. Potential suitors include Washington, San Diego State, Nevada and Utah. He's being evaluated as a running back and a linebacker. But at this time, all his attention is on reaching the City championship game and trying to bring home Carson's first title since 2003.
The Colts reached the semifinals last year too, but. . . .
"Losing to San Pedro left a bitter taste that is still inside of us," Sula said. "We were so close last year, and it's within our reach this year. "But now we have more hunger to reach our goal."