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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Oceanside's Paopao continues a rich family legacy

OCEANSIDE -- Ask Tofi Paopao about his first varsity football game at Oceanside High, and he grimaces.
The sophomore quarterback would prefer to talk about any other game this season than that trip to face Anaheim Servite in the regular-season opener.
Not only did the game go badly for the defending CIF Division I state bowl game champion Pirates, but Paopao's debut in the 31-7 loss was sullied by four interceptions, four fumbled snaps and many overthrown passes.
Through all that disappointment, Israel Tautofi Paopao never let down. He can't. Being a member of the first family of Oceanside doesn't allow him to quit.
There have been Paopaos playing football in this community for more than four decades. Most recently, Paopaos have carried crosstown rival El Camino to prominence.
With Tofi's emergence as a quarterback at Oceanside, which is seeking a seventh consecutive CIF San Diego Section Division II crown on Monday, the family tradition is back where it first emerged.
Seven brothers played for the Pirates before El Camino became home to the Paopaos.
"I was thrilled when I found out he was a Pirate because I knew what tradition he brought back to Oceanside,'' Pirates coach John Carroll said. "Just the Paopao mentality, I knew would make us a good team.''
Carroll was right. Despite losing most of last year's undefeated team, the Pirates are back for another championship shot behind their young leader.
Paopao, despite a few ups and downs, has taken his place among the elite quarterbacks who have played for the Pirates. He heads into the title game having passed for 2,140 yards with 19 TDs and 14 interceptions -- or only 10 interceptions in 11 games since that opening fiasco.
"The first game was a nightmare,'' Paopao said. "It wasn't until the Vista game that I really felt comfortable as the quarterback. We weren't ready for Servite, and neither was I.
"Leading the team down the field against Vista that last time with the other 10 guys in the huddle trusting me was great. Against Helix, everyone looked to me to keep everyone focused and calm and moving forward. That moment when you can see in their eyes that they trust you is the best feeling for a quarterback.''
Especially one from a family with a long history of outstanding play on the football field.
"It's been an honor to follow in the footsteps of my family,'' he said. "The really cool part comes when people hear my name for the first time and they give me the look. You know, adults and even teachers give me a look like they know something about my family and me.
"I've been coming to watch Oceanside since seventh grade when I'd come and watch spring practice.''
Paopao didn't earn the quarterback job until after the team's scrimmage last August. Before that, he was just one of the guys.
"Quarterback was our biggest question mark coming into the season,'' Carroll said. "There was a time when I didn't think any of them would win the job.
"Most people wouldn't have bounced back from that Servite game. The way he played the next game against Chaparral answered everyone's questions about him and quarterback.
"Tofi has a mastery, as a sophomore, of how to play the game. He never gets too high in a win and never too low in a loss. He's very mature.''
Slowly, Paopao emerged from that competition to replace departed QB Quentis Clark.
As if the need to succeed weren't enormous enough because of his family tradition, keeping the Pirates as one of elite teams in the county and state was just as daunting. Paopao never shied away.
"You should want to play football if you're a Paopao,'' Tofi said. "There have been 20, maybe 30 of us who have played in the city of Oceanside. There will be a busload of Paopaos at the stadium. Knowing my uncles and cousins played so well in this game is a great incentive for me.
"I have to keep it going. I don't want to be the first Paopao sitting on the bench his whole career.''

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