When Sequoia-Redwood City linebacker Josh Lauese lays out an opposing running back, it's not just some hard-hitting football player getting physical to be physical. There is a burning passion for laying hat that has been with Lauese since he was "9 or 10."That's when Lauese, an East Palo Alto resident, learned of his father's suicide. Kosileo Lauese was 26, living in his native Tonga, when he took his own life. Josh and his six brothers and sisters were living in East Palo Alto at the time with their mother, Kathy, who works in human resources for the Sequoia School District.
"My mom didn't tell us," Josh said. "We were sitting in the car the whole time wondering why our mom was crying. She was driving fast to get to the house. By the time we got to the house, we saw all our family members sitting inside. When we got in there, my mom broke down and kept crying. My grandma told us that our dad passed away."
Lauese didn't know how to react to the tragic news. The family had lived with their dad in Tonga a couple of years before he died.
"I couldn't cry," Lauese said. "I didn't know what to do. I was just lost at the time. My sisters cried. My brothers cried. I felt like I wanted to cry."
To this day, Lauese has never visited his father's grave in Tonga. Josh has an idea why his father chose to end his life.
"We were out here and he was going through a depression," he said. "He used alcohol to try to get over his pain."
Josh praises his mother for raising the brood by herself.
"My mom is a strong lady," he said. "If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here right now."
Finding his strength
Lauese uses his past as his strength."My dad's suicide made me stronger," Lauese said. "If I can build all that frustration and pain inside, I can release it on the football field. When I hit someone, I feel like I'm giving them the pain I feel. I use football as an outlet."
Lauese started playing football with the East Palo Alto Warriors, a Pop Warner Football team.
"My first year playing football, I was scared to get hit," Lauese said. "As the years went on, I wanted to deliver that to other people. My second year playing football, I was laying everybody out. It was 'hecka' good."
There may not be a harder hitter in the Central Coast Section than Lauese, who was the Peninsula Athletic League Lake Division's Most Valuable Defensive player as a sophomore. Last year, Lauese was runner-up in that same award, making first-team offense at running back and first-team defense at safety and punter, a tribute to his athletic ability.
The Cherokees went 11-1-1 in 2010, losing to Willow Glen-San Jose in the CCS Div. II title game. Lauese had himself quite a year, rushing for 1,167 yards on 142 carries with 12 touchdowns. He caught nine passes for 109 yards. The 6-foot, 210-pound Lauese was credited with 46 tackles and four sacks, picking off one pass and returning it 52 yards. He was a first-team all-Daily News pick at safety.
"It felt good being in the championship game," Lauese said. "I know we lost, but it was a great experience being in a championship game. The kids before us never got to have that experience."
This season, Lauese has rushed for 319 yards on 42 carries, a 7.6 yards-per-carry average. He scored three times in a 27-18 win over Pinole Valley. Lauese has been a three-year starter since coach Rob Poulos took over the program."Josh has college speed," Poulos said. "You watch him on film and there is no hesitation. He's not a fast kid, but he's a football-fast kid. He's phenomenal in changing direction, moving in a straight line and making a decision quickly. He's a beast of a runner, too. He's starting to figure out now that he doesn't have to run over everybody. He's trying to make guys miss."
The Cherokees are off to a 3-0 start entering Friday's homecoming game with Valley Christian-Dublin. Last weekend, Lauese and the rest of his teammates traveled to Klamath Falls, Ore., to play Mazama. The Cherokees returned home with a 28-7 win.
"It was fun," Lauese said. "There were a lot of goofballs on the bus. We did Cosmic bowling. I grabbed a 6-pound ball and I was just launching it and was getting strikes with it. We went to a climbing place and did some wall-climbing."
On the way back, the Sequoia players took in Sacramento State's game with Montana. The Hornets are one of two colleges who are high on Lauese with San Jose State being the other. Nevada, Utah, Iowa State, Washington, plus other colleges have shown interest.
"I'm interested in going to Sac State," Lauese said. "I've been talking to their coach. I want to play college ball, any school I can get in to."
"Josh should be playing at the next level somewhere next year," Poulos said. "If someone does not offer him, somebody is screwing up."
Sequoia boys basketball coach Fine Lauese is Josh's uncle and older brother of the late Kosileo. Fine Lauese was one of the main reasons Josh chose Sequoia over Menlo-Atherton or Woodside. Fine coached Josh on the gridiron his sophomore and junior seasons and on the hardwood last season."My mom wanted me to stay away from my friends because every time I was around them, bad stuff happened," Josh said. "She sent me to Sequoia because my uncle Fine could keep an eye on me. If bad things happen, he can straighten us out. That was the best thing that ever happened to us. If I went to Woodside, I don't think I would be playing football. It was a good idea to send me to Sequoia."
"Josh is a great kid," his uncle said. "He has overcome some obstacles. He's a good student. Football is his passion. It has been fun for me to watch him grow up, as his uncle and as his football and basketball coach. He works really hard. He can play football at the next level, but he has to put more focus in it."
Josh hasn't cut his hair for three years and eight months. He says it's not a testament to Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, one of the first in the NFL to wear his hair down to his shoulder pads.
"I don't think I'm ever going to cut it," Lauese said.
No sense messing with Lauese's strength for his hardened past is serving him well.
Email John Reid at firstname.lastname@example.org.