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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Gorman defensive back goes from reserve to all-league performer

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.

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Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer sign off on football season by discussing this weekend's state championship game between Bishop Gorman and Reno's McQueen High. They also look back at the two semifinal games from last weekend — and get fired up Gorman-style with a pregame chant.
When Tony Sanchez became the Bishop Gorman High football team’s coach two years ago, he gathered game film from the previous fall to become better acquainted with the program he was inheriting.
As he watched hours and hours of film, one thing became glaringly obvious: There were talented performers at several positions.
And while those players can be partially credited for the Gaels unprecedented success, Sanchez will be the first to confirm it’s been the program’s less-heralded players — those athletes whose careers will likely end after high school — who have keyed the domination.
Gorman will play Reno’s McQueen High in the state championship game at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday, attempting to win its second consecutive state title and third crown in four years. The game starts at 12:07 p.m.
McQueen will surely game plan ways to stop the likes of defensive lineman Jalen Grimble, a top college prospect who verbally committed to Southern California.
That’s a reason why players such as senior defensive back Togasii Peko have become valuable parts of the team.
The 5-foot-11, 175–pound Peko was a reserve last year and not expected to be a major contributor this fall. But he’s transformed into a key performer on Gorman’s defense that has recorded eight shutouts in 14 games, and a first-team All-Southwest Division selection.
Considering he wasn’t even first-string on the depth chart this summer, Peko’s emergence fits into Sanchez’s longtime argument of role players having as much importance as superstars.
“(Peko) had some raw ability and was extremely coachable,” Sanchez said. “That when you get excited as a coach, when you see a kid who worked extremely hard in the off-season being able to flourish because of that.”
Peko solidified his starting spot a few weeks into the season and has arguably been one of the stellar defense’s most consistent performers ever since.
Just don’t tell that to the soft-spoken Peko. He has a humble approach to the game and is enjoying being part of dynasty that has become Gorman football.
“My coaches always told me to work hard and practice hard, and that everything would work out,” Peko said. “I just needed to focus on what was in front of me.”
Peko isn’t the only one in his family to experience athletic success.
His dad, Tony, played offensive line for UNLV in the late 1980s, while his mom ran track for the Rebels.
His younger sister, Asi Peko, is one of the nation’s top teenage gymnasts who was part of the USA Junior National team. The high school junior is already committed to UCLA.
Togasii Peko never tried gymnastics competitively, but has spent more than his share of time watching his sister’s practices and meets. It’s indirectly helped him better understand performing under pressure.
In preparation for the most significant football game of his career, Peko’s approach is to enjoy his moment in the spotlight. He realizes playing on the state’s biggest stage is a privilege and knows winning consecutive championships is something he can cherish the rest of his life.
“You have to stay focused on the game and not be worried about any of the hype,” he said.
There is plenty of hype surrounding his Gorman team.
The Gaels have a 53-4 record over the last four years and have only been defeated once by a local opponent. The defense Peko is part of only surrendered 12 points in eight league games.
The list of accomplishments could include another state title, which would be the perfect ending to Peko’s rise from reserve to all-league performer.
“Slowly but surely, it was one of those deals were he started having confidence in himself,” Sanchez said.

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