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Friday, December 07, 2007

St. Mary's: Mafi can make a difference this time around

STOCKTON - By late Saturday afternoon, Sam Mafi may be the answer to a trivia question: Who is the only St. Mary's High football player with two Sac-Joaquin Section championship rings?

The senior middle linebacker is the only current St. Mary's player who was on the roster when the Rams won the 2004 Division I title.

"It would be an honor to get two rings," Mafi said.

St. Mary's (12-1) has a chance to win its second section crown when it faces Napa (12-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Stagg Memorial Stadium.

Mafi was a standout on the frosh-soph team as a freshman, and coach Tony Franks promoted him to varsity for the playoffs.

"We didn't look at him as a freshman player," Franks said. "We were looking for players who would be varsity players the next year. It made sense to get him as much varsity experience as we could as early as we could."

Mafi played sparingly in wins over Modesto and Franklin, but he stayed on the sidelines in a 50-45 section championship win over Nevada Union.

"I was happy even though I didn't play," Mafi said. "It was one of the biggest games of my life. All the players were jumping when the clock hit zero, and we knew that we won."

Mafi keeps his championship ring in a drawer near his bed and has looked at it a lot this week. And he knows he'll have a bigger impact this time. The 5-foot-11, 216-pounder had a team-high 92 tackles in the regular season.

"Whenever, I see that ring, I think, 'I can get another one this week,' " said Mafi, a three-year starter.

Mafi was a key player on the Rams' defense as a sophomore and junior, but those teams lost in the section semifinals and first round, respectively.

"At the beginning of the year, the seniors told the team we needed a ring this year, and in order to get us there, we needed to work hard in the weight room and on the field," Mafi said.

Mafi became interested in football after watching then-San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau on television 11 years ago.

"I always looked at him, thinking I could be like him someday," Mafi said. "The way he played, the explosiveness. He was everywhere on the field, and he always made a tackle."

Mafi began playing youth football, and there was one thing he especially enjoyed.

"Just hitting people, and hearing 'Oh, that was a good hit,' " said Mafi, who hopes to play football at Nevada next fall.

Football may have helped him develop toughness, but working part-time for his father's concrete company also has been a factor.

"It's pretty difficult," Mafi said. "You've got to figure out stuff, how to do this and that. It helps me get stronger. Pouring the concrete is a lot of weight."

He has combined that toughness with leadership ability.

"He gets everyone pumped up, and he's just a team player," senior linebacker Adam Poirier said. "He plays hard every game for the team, and we do the same for him."

He also does his homework. Mafi takes game film home so he can study his assignments and learn the reads of linemen. It's paid dividends.

"He's a drive-stopper all by himself," Franks said. "Nobody is going to run over the guy. He's a straight-ahead, fill-the A-gap kind of linebacker. If you're coming at him and he's coming at you, there's going to be some discomfort."

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