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Thursday, November 22, 2012

The News Tribune’s 2012 All-Area football player of the year: Sefo Liufau

Under Sefo Liufau’s watch, the ship never goes down.
Of course, that is a bit of an exaggerated allegory. Liufau has never been a brave-faced, seven-seas sailor — but plays one for the Bellarmine Prep football team. He is the starting quarterback, and is vying to bring the local private Catholic school its first state football championship.
As much for the things he does off the field as what he does on it — values that do not show up in a statistics ledger — Liufau has been selected The News Tribune’s 2012 All-Area football player of the year.
The numbers make him worthy: During his 37 career games as a starter, Liufau has passed for 6,799 yards and 63 touchdowns. He has rushed for another 566 yards and 17 scores.
Even with a new starting tailback (Lou Millie), and a transfer No. 1 receiving target (Garrett McKay), Liufau has put together his best season as a senior — completing
154 of his 226 passes for 2,020 yards and 19 touchdowns.
And his record as a three-year starter? 33-4 as the Lions prepare for their Class 4A state semifinal game Saturday against Auburn.
There is so much more to this soft-spoken, kind-hearted, too-good-to-be-true leader of the Lions. He plays for team goals before individual, even though his skill set rivals that of Skyline High’s Max Browne and King’s High’s Billy Green — two quarterbacks who post ridiculous numbers in passer-friendly offenses.
He greatly respects others — his coaches, teammates and opponents — as well as what life throws at him. That comes from being the oldest of three siblings in a traditional Somoan household where his father, Joe, is retired from the U.S. Army.
He is both disciplined and patient — a direct byproduct of having both a special-needs brother and sister who suffer from various disabilities.
And his love, thirst and passion to absorb information, to communicate that to teammates — and to produce winning results — seem unquenchable. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder will take all of that to the University of Colorado on a full-ride scholarship starting next fall.
“You know, the leadership is both God-given and also from the way my dad raised me — always telling me to pick my teammates up, to always be there for them and have a positive attitude,” Liufau said. “I am always upbeat, I always try and bring teammates up and I never look down at a circumstance.”
His father thinks the heavy learning started in Jensen Gymnasium on the base at Fort Lewis. As a youth, Liufau used to be a ballboy for his father’s athletic teams, but graduated to being a basketball team member as a sixth grader — playing against grown soldiers.
“Some of the soldiers would tell me, ‘Man, you got a good one (son) there,’ ” Joe Liufau said. “They would teach him, and he would listen. That is where his leadership came from.”
From Visitation Catholic in South Tacoma, Sefo Liufau enrolled at Bellarmine Prep in 2009. He spent his ninth-grade season running the veer offense on the freshman team, then turned out for varsity basketball.
That winter, the Lions hired Brian Jensen as their new offensive coordinator. The former Curtis High and Central Washington quarterback had been at Bellarmine Prep once before, but left for a while to coach in college.
“The thing I was most impressed with was Sefo’s eagerness to learn, and his maturity,” Jensen said. “And he wasn’t just memorizing stuff — he was learning it. … He would take something from the film room and immediately apply it on the field. That is rare. There are guys like that. But most quarterbacks are repetition-type guys, and need to do it that way before they can really see it.”
In his first season, Liufau threw for 2,526 yards and 21 touchdowns, leading the Lions to the 4A semifinals before losing to Ferris.
As Liufau grew in operating Jensen’s pro-style offense — one that demands a run-pass balance — the Lions began taking off, winning back-to-back Narrows League 4A titles, and reaching the state playoff in each of the quarterback’s three seasons.
“What he does for his team on a daily basis — solid leadership and his unselfishness — you can tell his team respects him by the way it plays around him,” Lakes High School coach Dave Miller said. “He is a high-character kid. His experience is unbelievable. And Brian has helped him take his game to a whole new level.”
Every time Joe Liufau thinks about a story Millie’s mother relayed to him a year ago, it makes him laugh. It also reinforces the kind of unquestioned leader his son has become in the Bellarmine Prep huddle.
“There was a game when Michael Rector (now at Stanford) was dehydrated and cramping up,” Joe Liufau said. “West (O’Brien) runs into the huddle. It was his first time being on the field, and he was nervous.
“Sefo turns to him and says, ‘Just like practice, West! Run your route and look for the ball.’ He called the play, and made West feel he had been in the huddle all season.
“Lou went home that night and told his mom it was like something seen in a movie.”
If there were ever two qualities that define Sefo Liufau’s legacy at Bellarmine Prep, they would be calmness and confidence. He has been the rock of the program. Think of him as the wily captain of his ship.
“I feel like being a great leader is what I want to be remembered as — not for the stats or all the wins, but someone who has been there for all of his teammates, kicking them in the butt when I needed to, but also someone who fought for them until the end,” Liufau said.

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