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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Leaving 'Junior' behind

In the past, Faafiaula Ena - Hermiston's starting quarterback for the 2008 season - has simply been known as Junior to those around him.

But there was nothing junior about leading the Bulldogs to the state quarterfinals while taking home player of the year honors in the Intermountain Conference.

During summer workouts it was all new, not just for Ena but for the entire squad with first year head coach Mark Hodges bringing in something completely foreign. If anyone were to complain about being overwhelmed with all the changes, they would have only to look at Ena.

"Last year it was just run, run, run and maybe slip in a pass every once in a while," he said. "This caught me totally off guard, we were coming into a high powered offense ... Every day it was back to mechanics - fundamental footwork, reads - and everything was basic."

With tireless hours put in by Ena and quarterback coach Colin Hodges - who played under his father Mark during his tenure at North Medford - slowly the transformation into a gunslinger took place and the fruits of their labor began to pay big dividends.

"At first our timing was bad, let's just say that," said Ena about the rapport between him and his receivers. "We had to get that down so every day we'd come out in specials and throw and get our timing down. You have to know how each receiver is ... it just takes a lot of reps to get it down."

By the end of the season there were no more concerns about timing, route running or confidence as the Bulldogs had begun to excel in each area.

Benefiting the most from that was Ena, who could have his pick of the litter when it came to options on any given play.

Between All-IMC first teamer Luis Ortiz and any combination of Anthony Montez, Johnny Kayembe, Dorian Williams or Cody Humphrey, there was always someone slipping behind coverage.

"Everyone touches the ball and that's a really good thing for us," Ortiz said. "It's not just a one-man show out there, it's a whole team effort."

Ena also benefited from one of the most stalwart offensive lines in the IMC, if not the state. With big brother Lale Ena leading the way at left guard, the Bulldog offensive line excelled at keeping Faafiaula upright and healthy.

It was them blowing open holes that allowed him to rush for 616 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground - many coming up the middle on quarterback sneaks.

"When my line is really comfortable in the game it is easy for me to do the things I need to do," Ena said. "It's when they are giving me a lot of time. I really have to thank the linemen because they made it possible for me."

In addition to his bruising, fullback-style of running, Ena also torched secondaries from almost every team he faced. In 11 games this season, Ena threw for 2,196 yards (119.6 yards per game) at a 59 percent completion percentage.

He also found the end zone through his receivers 24 times to only 10 interceptions as a first-year starter.

Hodges was not the only coach to take notice of the fast-growing skills of his QB and the IMC deemed him the offensive player of the year.

"I didn't really think about that too much," said Ena when he first heard about the announcement before Hermiston's playoff tilt with Corvallis. "We had to worry about our playoff game. It's fun to hear it, but I had a game to worry about right away. And it doesn't really matter because it's all about winning the next game."

The Bulldogs did just that, blasting through the Corvallis Spartans and into the state quarterfinals, where they would eventually fall to the Glencoe Crimson Tide.

In that game, Ena cemented himself as a force to be reckoned with around the state, commanding his troops to a second-half comeback with 13 unanswered fourth-quarter points and throwing for 176 yards after the break.

Yet holding firm to their goal of winning a state title, the Bulldogs felt real disappointment for the first time this season.

"We are hungry; kids are not happy about how we finished," Ena said. "They're happy because people didn't expect this from us, we expected it from ourselves. But we fell short from our goal."

That team will have a big leg up on the one that just finished it's season with the player making reads and taking snaps. And the kid they call Junior, is a junior no more.

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