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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Corona star lineman misses senior season but keeps his focus sharp as he prepares for college

10:00 PM PST on Thursday, December 20, 2007
By JERRY SOIFER
The Press-Enterprise

CORONA - Corona High offensive lineman Max Tuioti-Mariner was primed for a huge senior season. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder bench-pressed 405 pounds last spring. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds. He was an All-Riverside County selection as a junior.

Then he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when he stepped in a hole on the first day of spring practice last May. Tuioti-Mariner went from a blocker who intimidated opponents to an anxious 17-year-old who was afraid he would lose his scholarship possibilities and was uncertain how the injury would be treated.

He said his uncertainty eased when Corona Panthers coach John Brandom assured him that he would still be a hot prospect. Tuioti-Mariner said the only college that backed off was USC. He recently said he would attend Colorado. He chose the Buffaloes over Hawaii, where his brother Clarence plays, California and Arizona.

"I felt comfortable there," Tuioti-Mariner said. "I have a good friend (Corona grad Nate Vaiomounga) there. I thought Coach (Dan) Hawkins wants to win a championship. I want to come and help him."

Corona High athletic trainer Jim Winn said he reassured the lineman that surgery would correct the injury and that he could play college football on scholarship. Winn said Tuioti-Mariner's injury was not complicated by damage to the medial collateral ligament and the cartilage in the knee.

Tuioti-Mariner had surgery on Aug. 17. Winn said the knee had good range of motion after the operation and the teenager's rehabilitation has been going well.

During the season, Tuioti-Mariner stood on the sidelines, cheering on his teammates, aching for action. But he said the injury made him more mature.

"I know how fast the big man upstairs can take away your stuff," he said.

Tuioti-Mariner can be an all-conference college player, Norco coach Todd Gerhart said.

"His overall athleticism as a big man is very good," Gerhart said.

Brandom said Tuioti-Mariner was so powerful as a junior that opponents seemed to shy away from contact and his teammates drew inspiration from him.

"He brings a presences that is infectious to the whole team," Brandom said. "If he stays on track, works hard and stays healthy he could be a first-day-of-the-draft pick (by the NFL) and play for years."

Reach Jerry Soifer at 951-893-2112 or jsoifer@PE.com

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