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Friday, November 26, 2010

Huge Grant linemen feed on fellowship

By Joe Davidson

These are the Grant Pacers, teenagers the size of men.
The offensive linemen weigh 235 to 340 pounds, with ample bellies and behinds that don't fit into jerseys and pants as much as they pour into them.
They have helped propel the Del Paso Heights high school to top ranking in the state with a 12-0 record. Tonight, the players of St. Mary's of Stockton will walk onto Grant's field in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal and see a wall of size and skill.
"They're so big, so talented," Franklin High School coach Mike Johnson marveled recently. "They could beat junior college teams. Unreal."
Prep teams commonly line up big bodies – it is football, after all – but Grant truly tips the scales. Averaging 273 pounds, Grant sports the heaviest collection of linemen of any state-ranked team. Coaches generally feel fortunate to wheel out 250-pound linemen. Grant has nine that size or bigger, and several more approaching 250 pounds.
So teams that face Grant do not face Grant-like bulk and burst in practice, and then they find their spirits buckled in games. Grant uses as many as eight offensive linemen. It starts five – two guards, two tackles and a center – with a tight end. No matter how they rotate, they line up large.
They include Charles Faraimo, 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds; Bernard Wilson, 6-3, 285; Puka Lopa, 6-2, 245; Filipo Sau, 6-5, 295; Darryl Paulo, 6-2, 230; David Jones, 6-2, 260.
And there's Villiami Moala, 6-3, 340. Of course, he goes by "Tiny."
Moala, 17, has fingers too thick to text legibly. His shoe size is 17. Earlier this season, he had a strained knee checked at the hospital. The physician was perplexed. He asked, "Uh, which one is swollen?"
"He said he'd never seen a body that large before," Moala said, grinning. "I thought that was cool."
Also large is Moala's national recruiting profile. He receives up to 30 pieces of recruiting mail a day – from USC, Cal, Alabama, Florida and more. He heads a host of Grant players drawing recruiting interest.
What the Pacers also do collectively is eat. It's one thing to try to prepare for this beefy lot. Imagine trying to feed this bunch.
"You run out of turkeys with these guys," Coach Mike Alberghini said earlier this week.
During the season, the team has a Wednesday barbecue night just north of the stadium. It is a bonding, feeding frenzy.
At a recent barbecue, players mingled with coaches as parents ushered in meats for five pits and 80 appetites. Chicken, steak, ribs. Players, who 30 minutes earlier had been in serious practice mode, waded through the lines for food, laughing and joking. Then they and the coaches moved into the team locker room to eat.
"We practice hard on Wednesdays and we eat just as hard after practice," said center George Folau, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 260 pounds. "How can you not love this?"
Later, as the players cleaned up and folded up tables, Folau joked, "We're fat, fat, fat." His teammates smiled in agreement.
"We're not exactly ruining beautiful bodies here," Alberghini said.
Tiamu Lopa, father of Puka Lopa, is one of the barbecue chefs. He watched his son's teammates line up and handed them plates of food and kudos.
"It's the least we can do for these kids, for how hard they work, the good students and leaders they are," Lopa said. "The thing about this community is we all care about our kids – and we love to feed them."
They eat a lot, but wisely. Coaches and parents frown on junk food. Folau lost nearly 50 pounds in the last year to get to his current weight. The senior stopped drinking sodas and he drives past fast-food temptations.
Jovial by nature, willing to joke about weight and food, he is somber and reflective about his oldest brother, whom he lost in 2007. Sione Folau Jr., a football team captain and homecoming king for Valley High School in 2003, was randomly shot dead outside the VFW hall on Stockton Boulevard. The crime remains unsolved.
George Folau transferred from Valley to Grant two years ago for a fresh start. Grant football is a melting pot of diversity. Three Pacer Polynesian captains unite the offensive line. They bicker and bond like brothers. Here, Folau found large players, like him, and a large family.
"I'm thankful every day for what I have," Folau said.
The Lopa family celebrated Thanksgiving by hosting 100 people, including some of the linemen. Tiamu Lopa knew he would have to pack them all in, from the kitchen to the garage.
Tonight, family and friends will pack into Rutherford Stadium and cheer on these hearty eaters. At this point last year Grant's season was derailed. Four attempts at the goal line in the closing seconds against Rocklin, all power-run plays behind many of these same linemen, did not generate a yard. Rocklin upset the defending state champions 21-19.
The Pacers burn to return to the state championship game, needing two more victories to do so.
"That Rocklin loss," Moala said, "it inspires us every day. It's the engine to our car. We feed on that."

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