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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pressure on? He won't call handoff

Published: Friday, Dec. 19, 2008 | Page 1C

Kipeli Koniseti isn't afraid to say it. He feels the pressure. As quarterback of the Grant High School football team that plays Long Beach Poly in the prestigious California Interscholastic Federation Open Division championship game Saturday in Carson, it's on him.

The dreams of his teammates.

The desires of his community.

The crowning achievement for his coach.

The last chance to impress college recruiters.

"I'm nervous, real nervous," Koniseti said after a recent weightlifting session. "This is huge for us. But I like the fact that the pressure's on me, that my teammates are willing to follow."

At 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, with wide hips and shoulders, and powerful legs that anchor an imposing physical package, Koniseti is a big, strong kid. But he's still a kid. And he's right – this is huge. His most daunting challenge will be to avoid being overwhelmed by the situation.

With 50 or so relatives and busloads of Pacers supporters in the crowd, he will be asked to lead the undefeated Pacers with his bruising carries up the middle, with his ability to read and react to the defense and, occasionally, with a booming right arm that behaves like a precocious 6-year-old.

"I tell Kipeli, 'You can get your glory, but do it with your legs, not always with your arm,' " Pacers coach Mike Alberghini said. "My personality is to pound people, wear out the clock, throw the ball now and then. He understands that now. It just took a while for us to become compatible."

A year ago, says Alberghini, Koniseti was a "volcano" on the field. He was easily frustrated and prone to fits of temper, his excitable demeanor resulting in poor decisions. Other times he withdrew into periods of brooding silence.

"Because of his mentality, I was convinced Kipeli was going to be a linebacker (in college)," added the coach. "He was so aggressive, such a warrior, but he had that temper. The more I see of him now, though, I think, 'You know what? He is a quarterback.' He's big, he's fast, he's strong. He'll improve his touch in college. Wait till people see him Saturday. Wait till they see us."

Combine a perennial urban powerhouse, a volcano and a pit bull – Mary Alberghini's description of her husband – and the drama is Hollywood worthy. Nothing soft about this Sacramento team.

The Pacers arrive with a 13-0 record. Alberghini gets to deliver his jokes in front of a statewide audience. Del Paso Heights steals the local audience from the dysfunctional Kings. And a thoughtful, engaging senior introduces himself, in a red carpet sort of strut, to an opponent that lists actors and NFL stars among alumni.

As for recruiters in the audience, Koniseti, one of 17 Polynesians on the roster, predicts they'll like what they see. The pressure, the tension, the anxiety, he says, are all good. The fits of frustration, he swears, are all gone.


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